Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Making our first Alcohol Tincture

We are quite used to having an intensive first half of the day and a slightly more relaxed second half, as usual when David joins our group, the day remains intensive... to the point we were doing complicated mathematics, which, by the end of the day, we were ignoring and using the old "folk" methods.

This afternoons sessions consisted of us making our first Alcohol Tinctures.

What is a Tincture?

In simple terms, a tincture is the resulting product when herbs, fresh or dried, are left to soak in alcohol. This encourages the active components from the herbs to diffuse into the alcohol. So as when the herbs are removed, and pressed to remove the most potent alcohol, we are left with an alcohol-based herbal medicine, which because of the alcohol content is easily absorbed by the body, making an alcohol tincture a potent and speedy way of delivering a herbal remedy.

When making a tincture, there are different percentages of alcohol that can be used which will influence the solubility of the plant constituents.
  • 25% Alcohol: will help to extract water-soluble constituents such as mucilages, tannins, some flavonoids and some saponins.
  • 45-60% Alcohol: will help to extract essential oils, alkaloids, most saponins and some glycosides.
  • 90% Alcohol: will help to extract resins.
Using 45% Alcohol will provide a fair representation for all chemical constituents.

We don't have to use alcohol as our solvent, other choices are: vinegar, especially apple cider vinegar; water; oils; honey - especially honey and vinegar mixed; and glycerin.
Glycerin is found in plant cells, it is incredibly sweet and is good for childrens remedies. It also attracts water to it, which hydrates tissues (hydroscopic) but is to be used topically.

Why do we use Alcohol?

However, we use alcohol for a number of reasons, such as: it is an excellent preservative; at 25% by volume it is bacteriostatic (meaning bacteria cannot multiply); and at 26% by volume is is bacteriocydal (meaning it will kill bacteria). The preferred alcohol to use is vodka, however brandy is commonly used, as is sherry - the only problem with sherry is that it has an expiry date and therefore the tincture will go off.

For dried herbs percentage changes won't be an issue, however fresh herbs have a natural water content, which will alter the percentage of the tincture.

More plant constituents can be used in alcohol than any other solvent. The range of chemical constituents that can be extracted will depends on the water/alcohol ratio used.

"Haynen's" sells pure alcohol at 97.5%, it is an organic rye alcohol, which can be used to make alcohol tincutres, it also makes the maths calculations of the alcohol to water ratios easier.

Making an Alcohol Tincture.
  • Use an open-mouthed container, such as a jam jar, it should be sterilised, but not to labratory standards, just clean and washed.
  • Chop up the chosen botanical as much as possible (tear with your hands or use a pestle and mortar) and place into the container, do not pack it down as you want maximum extraction.
  • Once you have put as much of the botanical as you want in the jar, cover with alcohol.
  • Seal the container and remember to label. Stating the name of the plant, the date, the % Alcohol used, and the ratio of plant material to alcohol.
  • Shake once a day, leave it to sit for two weeks minimum, one month is the optimum time to leave it.
  • When left for a suitable amount of time, strain the tincture to remove the botanicals, making sure you press the botanicals as they contain a strong percentage of alcohol and therefore constituents.
When making a tincture, one botanical can be used or many - it very much depends on what tincture you want to make, and what its final use is.
A nice trick when trying to tincture Hawthorn, is to collect the blossoms in the spring and tincture them, then in the autumn, using the previous tincture as your solvent, tincture the berries, making it a double whamey solution, collecting all the active components the botanical has to offer.

David, then, painstakingly tried to explain the mathematical calculations behind working out the plant to alcohol ratios and the water to alcohol ratios to create our solvents. This took a considerable amount of time, working with the original alcohol percentage to get ml's, then how many ml's of water needed to make that volume up to a litre. Then how to turn a 37.5% or 40% vodka into a 25% solvent... oh dear goodness, there was a lot of general confusion, a lot of scoring out on my pad of paper and the result... I'm not entirely sure I do know how to work out that calculation!
At this point David left us, and in complete defiance of the maths, we used the folk method to make our alcohol tinctures - put the torn botanical in a jar, covered it with alcohol and some water - no real measurements involved! Done!

Alcoholic Anonymous Meeting

Tearing up our botanicals and making our tinctures.

Alcohol Tinctures: Elderberries, Marigold and Coltsfoot.

Check back in a month and we'll see if they've worked!

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