Since I was running low, this weekend I made tinctures of both Echinacea root and Vitex agnus castus. One of the great things about tinctures is that they are simple to make, and these strong medicinals have a very long shelf life – depending on whom you ask, anywhere from two to ten years, allowing for good storage conditions.

Here are some pointers on making tinctures for your own use at home (these are not “industry standards,” but general guidelines for your personal household apothecary).

Echinacea root for tincture

For tincturing from dried plant material, brandy is a good tincturing menstruum. Decide how much tincture you want to make – a pint, a quart, etc. – and fill that jar 1/4 full if using dried root, 1/2 full for all other plant materials (leaves, flowers, berries, etc.). Regular canning jars are fine for this – just be sure to use undamaged lids and rings to prevent leakage. Next, add brandy until the jar is completely full to the brim; you want as little air in the jar as possible.

Echinacea tincture, filled to brim with brandy

The dried herb will absorb some of the liquid overnight, so be sure to come back the next day and top off the jar with additional brandy, as necessary. Steep your tinctures for six weeks in a cool, dark place, turning every one or two days to continue mixing the herb in the menstruum. I like to start my tinctures at the new moon, finishing them at the second following full moon – a good, traditional way of tracking the time and working with the natural cycles.

Echinacea and Vitex tinctures - rotate every one or two days to mix.

If you’re tincturing dried berries or seeds, such as a Vitex  (chaste tree) berry tincture, you will want to strain off the berries after a week or two, mash them up a bit in a food processor or mortar and pestle, and then return the berries to the menstruum to continue steeping. Again, this just ensures that you are extracting as much medicine from the plant as possible.

After six weeks, strain off your tincture from the plant material, using a piece of cloth to squeeze as much liquid from the herb as possible. You can compost the leftover herb. Label your tincture clearly (including the date), and store it  in a tinted glass container in a cool, dark place. Congratulations! You’ve made a tincture!

If making a tincture from fresh plant material, there are a few differences to the process:

  1. Fresh plant material needs to be dry on the outside, no residual raindrops or dew sticking to the flowers or leaves, so make sure the herb is harvested when conditions have been sunny and dry and after the dew has lifted.
  2. You need to consider the water content of the plant material – if it has a high level of moisture, you may want to use a menstruum with a higher alcohol content, such as vodka or grain alcohol.
  3. Chop your herb finely and fill your jar almost to the top with the plant material.

Do you have any experiences or advice about home tinctures that you’d like to share?