Tinctures or liniments are medicines made by extracting the constituents of plants in a liquid. While they’re made using the same process, they’re used differently. Tinctures are taken internally, liniments are applied externally. Extractions of some plants can be used as both tinctures and liniments. For example, yarrow is used as a tincture to reduce a fever and as a liniment to cleanse wounds and stop bleeding. Tinctures and liniments are particularly beneficial in the winter because they preserve plants’ medicinal properties long after the growing season is over.
If you’ve ever cooked with vanilla or had a cocktail with bitters, you’ve used a tincture. Some tinctures don’t taste so great. Motherwort tincture is almost unbearably bitter. However, this is precisely why we make these plants into tinctures. Can you imagine having to sip a cup of bitter tea?
Tinctures and liniments have two main components: the marc and the menstruum. The marc is the plant material and the menstruum is the liquid that dissolves the plant constituents.
The weight to volume method sounds a little finicky at first, but is easy to master. I like this method because it lets people know exactly what they’re getting, dosage-wise, and can be remade over and over again.
The weight to volume method takes into account the ratio of marc to menstruum and the strength of the menstruum. You’ll see it written as a ratio and a percentage.
Let’s decode an example!
dry skullcap in vodka 1:5 45%
This means that for every ounce or gram of skullcap, there are five ounces or milliliters of vodka and that the vodka is 45% ethanol, 55% water.
To make a recipe that has been written in weight to volume, you first weigh your marc in ounces or grams.
Second, calculate how much menstruum you will need.
Third, prepare your mentruum. Remember that alcohol proof is just 2x alcohol percent. So a 160 proof alcohol will be 80% alcohol. If you can’t find the right proof alcohol, you can always dilute a high-proof alcohol.
Last, measure your menstruum’s volume in ounces or milliliters.
For example, let’s say we’re making fresh motherwort in vodka 1:2 70%. We have a pile of motherwort and a bottle of 190 proof grain alcohol.
1. We weigh the motherwort and find out that we have 90 grams.
2. To calculate how much menstruum we need, we look at the recipe and see that it’s 1:2. Since we have 3 ounces of motherwort, we’ll need 180 grams of menstruum.
3. Right now, we have 190 proof – or 95% – grain alcohol. We need 180 grams of 70% grain alcohol and can use water to get there. Now to do that, you can harken back to high school chemistry and titrations, or you can just download my handy-dandy calculator. Just enter the amount and percentage that you want in the green squares and the percentage alcohol that you have on hand in the blue square.
Ta-da! We need 133 grams of 95% grain alcohol and 47 grams of water to get 180 grams of 70% grain alcohol
4. Finally, measure out the alcohol and water, mix it, and add it to a jar with the marc.
When deciding on a ratio of marc to menstruum, you should stick between 1:2 at the lowest and 1:6 at the highest.
- Lower ratios are good to use for delicate plant parts like leaves and flowers and fresh plants because they won’t soak up as much menstruum and will easily stay submerged.
- Higher ratios are helpful when you’re using fibrous parts like roots and barks and dry plant because they soak up so much more menstruum and need to be weighed down so they don’t stick out of the menstruum.
When determining the percentage of the menstruum, you need to consider both shelf stability and solubility.
Pure water is the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of little nasties like mold and harmful bacteria. Alcohol, vinegar, and sugar all have preservative properties that make the tincture inhospitable to gross stuff.
- For alcohol, the lowest you can go is 40% (80 proof) for dried herbs (and higher for fresh herbs). 95% (190 proof) grain alcohol is the highest out there.
- For vinegars and glycerins, stick with 100%.
In terms of solubility, different medicinal parts of plants will dissolve in different liquids.
- A medicinal constituent will be either polar or non-polar and each plant will contain constituents of both types.
- Water is polar, alcohol is both polar and non-polar, and oils are nonpolar.
Since likes dissolve likes, each liquid will dissolve different kinds of medicinal constituents. It’s all about mixing up a menstruum that will extract all the delicious, healing parts of the plant.
Once you’ve got everything mixed together, put it in a jar with a tight-sealing lid and label it with the ingredients and the date. Place the jar in a warm, darkish place for a month to macerate. You should shake the jar every day to move thing around.
After about a month, you can strain out the marc using a mesh sieve or a nut milk bag. Place the tincture or liniment in a clean bottle and, again, label it with the ingredients, radios, percentages, and date. Tinctures that are properly calculated won’t go bad!