The Measurement Method vs. the Folk Method for Creating Herbal Tinctures (Which is Best?)
The question, “Which is the best way to make an herbal tincture? The folk method or the measurement (or standard) method?” has come up several times in my private Facebook group, Practical Herbs with Heidi, recently.
Also, I’ve come across quite a few herbalists who have taken adamant stands one way or the other. So, here’s some information about both methods, how to make a tincture using both the Measurement Method and the Folk Method, and my own personal opinion.
While writing my 12 part series on How to Start Using Herbs, this question came up in conversations and in questions for me. I thought I’d write about the pros and cons of both styles of making herbal tinctures so you can choose the best method for you!
NOTE: This is Part 11 in my 12 part series, How to Start Using Herbs for Your Health.
Which Method is the Best Way to Make an Herbal Tincture? The Folk Method or the Measurement Method?
To examine this issue, you really need to understand the thought process behind each method. Also, you need to apply some common sense to each method as well. Both have benefits and downsides, and when you know what these are, you can choose the best way for you to make your own tinctures.
I’ve been making tinctures for a very long time, now, and I have my own personal opinion about which I prefer and why. I’ll share this at the end of the article, but for now, here is an objective (or as objective as I can be) look at both tincturing methods.
The Measurement Method, Also Called the Standard Method: Benefits & Downsides
Some herbalists will tell you that this is the best way to make tinctures because it is “scientific.” Well, to an extent they are correct. Also, in terms of attempting to put out a product that yields the same effectiveness, the standard method is a good place to start.
You see, with this method, you are measuring your herb in weight, while measuring a ratio of liquid in volume. To do this, you would take, say, an ounce of dried herb, and combine it with 5 ounces of your menstruum, and there you go! You now have a standard ratio of herb to liquid, at 1:5.
Here are some general guidelines for this style of making a tincture:
For dried herbs: 1 ounce herb to 5 ounces (liquid volume) of menstruum.
For fresh herbs: 1 ounce herb to 2 ounces (liquid volume) of menstruum.
If you are using a graduated cylinder, which is a good idea for this method, then you’d be measuring in milliliters. Therefore:
For dried herbs: 10 grams herb to 50 mL menstruum.
For fresh herbs: 10 grams herb to 20 mL menstruum.
There’s a lot more math I could go into dealing with percentages of alcohol to water ratios, etc. But I think you get the gist, right?
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The Benefits of Using the Standard Method:
It is more scientific.
You can make reliable measurements using tools so your herbal products may more likely come out being similar in quality each time.
Using this method takes the guesswork out of your tincture making, and it also makes dosing easier. You simply use the same measurements every time for your tinctures.
It’s a great method to use if you are selling your herbal products, or if you are really worried about consistency, as many newer or non-intuitive herbalists can be. Or, perhaps you just want to be as close to a standard measure as possible. Or, an herbalist who sells products may prefer this method because their formulas are now “standardized” to an extent. This method gives them a hard and fast rule to follow.
The Downsides of Using the Standard Method:
Sometimes…..It just doesn’t work. I’ll explain this in a moment.
The alcohol content makes a big difference in your tincture. Therefore, you need to be sure you are using the same proof alcohol for the herbs you choose to make your extracts every time.
If you are going to standardize, you also should be willing to do the math to be sure your tincture has the correct ratio of alcohol for preservation purposes. There are factors (fresh vs. dried herb, the proof of the alcohol, etc.) that will affect this number. You can find out how to do this in the book, Making Plant Medicine.
It’s quite easy to make mistakes. For example, if you forget to measure your liquid by looking at the side of the graduated cylinder or measuring tool, you’ll not get quite the same amount as if you are looking down on the tool. This is because of the “meniscus” and is called an “error of parallax,” in scientific terms.
There are factors out of your control, such as the quality of the plant, the water content of the herb (if using fresh herbs), to name just two.
You may end up with too much head space in your jar. You do want a little head space, about an inch so the herbs can be agitated when shaking. However, you don’t want too much because evaporation happens, even in the best sealed jars. This can be easily remedied by choosing a different jar, though.
Now, I’ll explain what I mean by, “sometimes the Standard method doesn’t work.”
It’s all about the plant. Some plants are quite dense, like roots, seeds, berries, and even some flower blossoms. Other herbs are light, airy, and fluffy.
For example, if you measure out an ounce of lavender and place it in a jar, it may only take up about an inch of space. And if you measure out a lighter herb, such as raspberry leaf, that same ounce will completely fill the jar, plus some!
The next step is to measure out and add your five ounces of menstruum (liquid volume, remember). With the ounce of lavender blossoms, the five ounces of liquid covers the herb nicely, leaving some good head space and the ability to agitate by shaking the tincture.
However, that same five ounces of alcohol (by volume), when added to the raspberry leaf, barely wets it and definitely doesn’t cover it completely (which is a must if you are making a tincture).
You see, weight and volume are two different kinds of measurements. Although this method works with many plants, it simply does not with others. In the case of the raspberry leaf, you’ll need to increase the ratio of menstruum to plant matter to make a tincture work.
As Richo Cech states in his wonderful book, Making Plant Medicine (which I highly recommend), that “a dry, fluffy ground up herb like motherwort is barely wetted by the menstruum.” He goes on to caution, “do not be tempted to add more liquid, as this would result in a dilute tincture.”
I guess my question is, “What do you do with the amount of herb that isn’t exposed to the menstruum?” The more finely you grind the herb will help more of it be in contact with the liquid, but I’d be concerned there may still be herb not completely macerated at the end.
This is because agitation, which requires the plant matter to move around a bit in the menstruum, is important to the tincturing process.
**I want to quickly note that Richo Cech’s explanation of the standard method and how to figure out the ratios involved is exceptional. It’s the best explanation I’ve ever seen. If you are interested in this method, you really need his book, Making Plant Medicine. I refer to it all the time.
In addition, other factors can affect the actual quality of the herb you may choose to use. Where was the plant grown? How was it processed? Was it wildcrafted? If it was cultivated, is the soil exactly the same from year to year? Are you getting your herbs from the same exact source for every single batch of tincture? There are other factors as well.
Basic Directions for Making a Standardized Tincture:
1) Chop up your fresh herbs or grind up your dried herbs. Measure out the amount you’d like in grams or in ounces by weight.
2) Place your herb in the jar and label the jar with the date and name of the herb.
3) Measure out the correct ratio of liquid by volume in ounces or milliliters. Pour it over the herbs. Shake well.
4) Set it aside in a warm place and shake it daily for between three and six weeks.
5) Strain out your liquid. If any settling occurs, strain it with finer cheesecloth one more time.
6) Store in labeled amber glass jars, in a cool, dark place.
The Folk Method: Benefits & Downsides
The folk method is the way traditional herbalists have been creating tinctures for millennia. It’s a popular way to make a good tincture, and it was the way I was taught at my first herbal school (Rosemary Gladstar’s Science & Art of Herbalism).
Once you begin working with plants as medicine and have experienced a few tinctures using the same herb for yourself, you’ll develop an intuitive sense of the strength of the tincture. Trust this. The more you make and use your own plant medicines, the better able you will be to determine relative strength of the preparation.
The Benefits of the Folk Method of Tincture Making
It’s easy. Plain and simple, it’s as easy as pie. You simply eyeball the amount of herb, fill your jar with your menstruum, shake it daily, and let it macerate for four to six weeks. That’s it.
This method is accessible for everyone. Heavy math may scare some people away from making one of the most effective herbal preparations for quick use. Although the basic proportions I gave above aren’t “heavy math,” by any means, when you start getting into measuring alcohol to water ratios, the return of the tincture amount, etc., you’re doing a lot of math.
It is truly the traditional way of the old time herbalist. I’m not sure how beneficial this factor is ;-), but it’s important to some folks.
The Downsides of the Folk Method of Tincture Making
Your tinctures will be more variable than with the standardized method, which may affect dosing.
It’s possible to make a tincture too strong. This can be a big problem if you are using plants that have any kind of toxicity or drug interactions. Using benign herbs can solve this problem, so it’s something to consider.
On the one hand, when you consider that it’s much easier to make a mistake in tincture strength and dosing using the folk method, the standard method starts to look a bit more attractive.
However, if you’ve made tinctures using the folk method, you can’t argue that the majority of tinctures made using this method are completely legitimate and fabulous with some common sense and experience.
Basic Directions for Making a Tincture Using the Folk Method:
1) Chop up your fresh herbs or grind your dry herbs….or not. Generally, I just use the cut and sifted size and don’t worry about finely grinding my herbs.
2) Place the herb in a glass jar, around 1/3 to 1/2 full for dried; 3/4 of the way for fresh.
3) Add menstruum to within an inch of the top of the jar.
4) After three to six weeks, strain off the liquid.
5) Store in your amber glass bottles, as with the standard method. Be sure to label them!
Final Thoughts About Choosing the Tincturing Method That’s Right for You
There are good arguments on both sides of this issue. Here’s what I think:
Use the Folk Method if:
You feel comfortable with it
You like the thought of the historic value
You feel like you have an intuitive sense of the plants
You’re not afraid to make a tincture that is too weak or strong (this comes with experience, and the only way you’ll get this is by doing it)
You want to keep things simple and easy. There is something to be said for K.I.S.S (Keep it Simple Silly)
You’ve already got lots of experience using herbs and you know the folk method works.
Use the Standard Method if:
You feel at all uncomfortable with dosing a tincture
You are selling your products and need a system to ensure as little variation as possible in the tinctures from month to month and year to year
You love math
You are dealing with plants that have some level of toxicity
I learned to practice the Folk Method from my first herbal school. And I learned to practice the Standard Method from my second herbal school. And both schools gave legitimacy to both methods.
I guess because I learned the folk method initially, I’m just more comfortable with it and feel no reason to change what I’m doing. I’ve acted as a home and community herbalist for years now, and I feel completely satisfied with how my tinctures turn out using the folk method.
I’ve had mostly positive experiences, and with some adjustments, even dosing has never been an issue. I’ll add a caveat here, though: I start with smaller amounts and increase dosing as needed. Also, if I end up with a weaker tincture, I simply create a double infusion to strengthen it.
And, I don’t tend to mess with herbs that are unsafe. The herbs I choose for my friends, neighbors, and family are GRAS (generally regarded as safe) or have contraindications for a small portion of the population only.
With all that said, however, the Standard Method has a LOT of good points.
I don’t think you can ever truly “standardize” a plant, since they are individuals and so very different even among the same species. But if you are looking to create tinctures that are as close to one another as possible, this is definitely the way to go.
Which method appeals to you the most? Leave a comment in the comments section!
You might also be interested in my series, How to Start Using Herbs:
And there are SO many more over on the blog! Head on over and browse around!
And if you want to be part of a supportive, educational group for learning about herbs, I hope you’ll check out my private Facebook group, Practical Herbs with Heidi. It’s a fun and safe place to ask questions and get & share answers about foraging, wild harvesting, and working with herbs.
Finally, if you are interested in taking an online course to learn how to use herbs for your health, I recommend the Herbal Academy of New England. They have courses for all levels and interests!
Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance,
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Disclaimer: I am an herbalist, not a doctor. In no manner, stated or implied, is any content or wording of mine meant to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. Please be sure to seek advice from a medical professional before using herbs or essential oils. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Also, please do your own research before using herbs for your health.