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Tinctures are a potent way to take advantage of a plant’s medicinal powers. And they’re easy to make, too. All you need are your herbs of choice, mason jars, dropper bottles, and some high-proof liquor (we recommend 100-proof vodka).
Why alcohol? While making a tea with your herbs can extract some of the medicinal compounds, alcohol is a more powerful solvent. It also preserves the medicinal compounds for 5 years or more. Don’t worry, nobody gets drunk using tinctures—the typical tincture dosage is equivalent to roughly one-hundredth of a shot of booze—but they are a time-tested way to keep the cold and flu bugs away, and are effective in treating a variety of other ailments. A one-ounce tincture costs anywhere from $10 to $20 or more in a store, but you can make a lifetime supply of your own with a few dollars worth of alcohol.
Note: Some herbs can cause adverse reactions, especially in larger doses. Never use herbs that you are unfamiliar with without first consulting a qualified herbalist or medical professional. Children, pregnant and nursing women, and individuals taking prescription medication should consult with a health professional before taking any herbal product.
Next time you’re in a natural foods store or other establishment with a large selection of tinctures, take a look at the names on the shelf—you may be shocked at how many come from plants that you can find in your neighborhood. Dandelion, yellow dock, cleavers, nettles, chickweed, and plantain are but a few of the common weeds that are used in tinctures. In your garden, you may have mint, thyme, artichokes, cayenne peppers, comfrey, garlic, raspberry leaf, and rosemary, all of which are commonly, too. Common flowering plants to tincture include echinacea (also known as coneflower), yarrow, bee balm, passion flower, and red clover. Many common shrubs and trees yield medicinal compounds as well, such as gingko, white willow, vitex, hawthorn, and black walnut. If you venture into nearby natural areas, you may have access to ginseng, black cohosh, goldenseal, sarsaparilla, saw palmetto, and scores of other medicinal plants.
While it’s exciting to realize how many medicinal plants there are in any backyard or park, there are a few very important things to keep in mind before you start harvesting:
It’s also important to note that the ornamental varieties of medicinal plants found in most nurseries may not have the same concentration of medicinal compounds as their wild relatives. Yarrow, for example, has been bred into many colorful varieties, but it’s best to avoid those and stick with the plain white yarrow for medicinal purposes. If you are unable to find the plants that you want to tincture, you can always purchase dried herbs in bulk from a natural foods store, herb shop, or online supplier.
Identifying a suitable source of plant material is sometimes a little tricky, but tincturing is easy. The ratio of alcohol to herbs varies depending on whether you are using fresh herbs or dried herbs. Use 100-proof vodka for best results.
Fifteen to 30 drops taken 3 times a day is a typical dosage rate, but it’s always best to consult with an herbal remedy reference book for advice on using specific herbs.