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Using Herbs: Herbal Tinctures, Glycerites, And Vinegars

Using Herbs: Herbal Tinctures, Glycerites, And Vinegars | Growing Up Herbal | Learn all about herbal tinctures, glycerites, and vinegars in today's How To Start Using Herbs post!

When I first started learning about and using herbs, my idea of herbal medicine centered around the use of herbal tinctures for everything.

Not only was I trying to fit herbs in a box (as you learn more about herbs you’ll find that they do NOT fit into boxes), but I was limiting them in so many ways. Besides that, I had no idea how herbs really worked, and when I didn’t get the results I thought I was supposed to be getting it was frustrating. As I’ve said many times in previous posts, herbs themselves aren’t going to “cure” your problem. They gently assist the body in healing itself. Basically, they give the body little nudges to get itself back to normal. I hope I’m making sense.

Now if you too have thought the same thing about herbal medicine, today’s post is for you. Today I’m going to talk about herbal tinctures, glycerites, and vinegars. I’ll be talking about the differences in these preparations, what they’re used for, how long they last, and of course, how to make them.

Herbal Tinctures, Glycerites, and Vinegars

Tinctures, glycerites, and vinegars are all very similar, and the great thing about these herbal preparations, compared to some of the others I’ve covered in this series, is that they’re more convenient. Of course that’s probably a matter of opinion; however, not only are they stronger and therefore the daily dosages are smaller, but they’re easy to take with you on the go and have a longer shelf-life. To me, that is convenient, and when it comes to using herbs as medicine, I’ll take convenience where I can get it!

Preparation Differences

Herbal tinctures are made when you infuse herbs into alcohol for a certain amount of time. The end result is an extract that is concentrated with the herb’s chemicals. Smaller dosages are usually taken more frequently for acute issues where larger dosages can be taken less often for chronic, ongoing conditions.

Herbal glycerites are made the same as a tincture except that instead of using alcohol you use glycerin. Glycerin is a vegetable oil by-product (commonly palm, soy, and coconut). So why use glycerin over alcohol? Well, glycerin tastes sweet so kids will take it easily, and it can really improve the flavor of some of the grosser tasting herbs. Have you ever tried a yellow dock tincture to boost your iron levels? It works great, but tastes oh so terrible! Another benefit to glycerin is that it doesn’t affect your blood sugar so if that’s a concern, glycerin can be a good fit. If you don’t know much about glycerin, you can learn more from Global Healing Center.

Herbal vinegars are also made similarly to tinctures and glycerites, but they’re used more for their nutritional benefits than medicinal (although they can be used that way). We’ll talk more about what each of these menstruums extract from the herbs below, but herbal vinegars have a variety of uses from skincare to haircare to using in your foods.

Fresh Vs. Dried Herbs

Fresh and dried herbs can be used to make herbal tinctures, glycerites, and vinegars, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • You’ll need less dried herbs in your jar than you will fresh herbs.
  • When using dried herbs, don’t fill your jars too full as they will swell after soaking in your menstruum.
  • Fresh herbs need to be washed and chopped up as finely as possible. This increases their surface area and allows the constituents to be extracted easier.
  • Fresh herbs sometimes need to be extracted with a stronger percentage of alcohol to prevent spoilage because they contain water.

What Kind Of Alcohol, Glycerin, or Vinegar?

Alcohol

When it comes to using alcohol in your tinctures, you have a lot of choices. I’m not going to in detail on alcohols today since these Using Herbs posts are for beginners, but just know that this is a topic you can research further if you’d like.

Different alcohols not only taste different, but they have different amounts of water in them which will affect the plant constituents they extract as well as the dosage.

For example, Everclear (or pure grain alcohol) is a 190-proof alcohol. It contains 95% alcohol and 5% water. It will extract and preserve really well, but it will be very strong tasting. Also, your dose for tinctures made with this alcohol may be smaller than your dose for a tincture made using brandy. Brandy has a great flavor and is a 80-proof alcohol. This means it contains 40% alcohol and 60% water. Brandy tinctures won’t taste as strong, and they’ll have higher dosages. It’s important to know that these are not hard and fast rules. Some brands of alcohol have different proofs.

Glycerin

When using glycerin with herbs, make sure that your source your glycerin from a trusted company that offers non-GMO, food-grade glycerin. This type of glycerin has been approved for internal use.

Vinegar

The best vinegar to use with herbs is raw apple cider vinegar that contains the mother. This is my favorite brand.

If you’re in a pinch you can use kombucha that has finished fermenting. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s as effective at drawing out constituents as raw ACV is, but I’ve read that you can use it in place of ACV if you need to.

Lastly, plain ACV from the store can be used as well. The only downside is that it doesn’t contain all the live enzymes that the raw vinegars do.

How Much Herb to Liquid?

Another thing that affects tinctures, glycerites, and vinegars are the amount of herbs you use compared to the amount of liquid. This is called the “ratio,” and it is written as follows: 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, etc.. The ratio of herb to menstruum can be complicated for beginners so I’m not going to go into too much detail in this post. For our purposes today, I’ll be showing you how to make your preparations using the “folk method”. If you’re interested in learning how to use the ratio method in your preparations, my Making Herbal Infused Oils guide goes into detail on how to do it.

The folk method (also known a “simpler’s method”) is not only easy to make, but it does make effective tinctures that work. This is the method I first learned and used, and it’s often my go-to if I’m in a hurry or if I don’t need to be exact with my end results. The only downside to folk preparations is that you have to titrate your doses to find what works. Most herbalists will give you dosages based on preparations made using the ratio method because they tend to provide more consistent or standardized results.

Extraction Methods

There are several extraction methods to making tinctures, glycerites, and vinegars. This is something else I go into detail on in Making Herbal Infused Oils, but basically, extraction methods come down to two things.

  1. Time (cold-processed)
  2. Temperature (hot-processed)

You can mix your herbs and menstruum and let it set for 2-6 weeks before straining to get a great quality preparation or you can let your mixture sit in a warmer environment for a shorter amount of time to get the same results. Again, I’m not going to detail these methods in this post, but it’s always something you can do more research on if you want.

Which method is best? I honestly don’t know. I’m not sure if there’s any science behind which method is best, but every herbalist has their preference. I use both depending on what I’m making, but I prefer to make cold-processed methods following moon cycles if I have time. I don’t know why, but I feel like it provides a better quality end-product. Either that or I’m just old-fashioned!

What Plant Properties Are Extracted In These Preparations

The following information is from herbalist Rosalee de la Foret in her post – What’s Chemistry Got To Do With It.

  • Alcohol – alkaloids, glycosides, saponins, flavonoids, tannins, resins
  • Glycerine – tannins, some minerals, trace minerals, alkaloids, and acids
  • Vinegar – alkaloids, minerals, trace minerals

As you can see… alcohol will pull out the most properties from a plant, and this is why I prefer to use it; however, the menstruum you choose will ultimately depend on what you want your tincture to do and which constituents you want to extract.

Alcohol & Kids

One question I’m commonly asked by moms who want to use herbs with their kids is, “Are alcohol tinctures safe to use with my children?”

The short answer is “yes,” but this is totally a matter of preference.

Like I said earlier, tinctures are stronger preparations and therefore have lower dosages which are based on a child’s weight. This means that your child isn’t going to get drunk from you giving them doses of an alcohol tincture around the clock. Really. First of all, if your child has food on their stomach, they absorb the alcohol more slowly than if their stomach is empty. Next, the adult liver metabolizes one ounce of liquor in one hour, and you won’t be giving your child anywhere near that amount. (Brown University, n.d.)

The only worse-case scenario that I can think of with alcohol tinctures and kids is if your kid somehow drinks a whole bottle of a tincture. This is highly unlikely as alcohol tinctures don’t taste that great. If they did drink a whole bottle of a tincture, besides the amount of alcohol they consume, I’d be concerned about the effects of that much herb at one time. Again, it’s not that likely that your kid is going to down a bottle of tincture. It’s more likely that they’ll drink a bottle of a glycerite because it’s sweet. Just remember, herbs have effects on the body… put them up and out of reach like you would any other medicine.

Now, if you still have an aversion to using alcohol with your kids, or even yourself, that’s totally fine. You have other options. You can use herbal teas, infusions, and decoctions, herbal electuaries and powders, herbal glycerites and vinegars, or herbal syrups, honeys, and oxymels which I’ll be talking about next week. Aren’t you glad you have lots of options when it comes to using herbs? I sure am!

What About Evaporating The Alcohol Out Of A Tincture With Hot Water?

Many people will say to boil water, pour it in a cup, and drop their tincture drops in there to evaporate the alcohol off, but did you know that this is a misconception? Yeah, it is! Only a small amount of the alcohol will evaporate this way (around 15%). Alcohol disperses in water, and it’s very difficult to separate them. Plus, when you add tinctures to hot waters you can lose some of the essential oils and other constitutes in the tincture. (USDA, 2007)

CLICK HERE to learn more about using herbal alcohol tinctures with children.

How To Make Herbal Tinctures, Glycerites, & Vinegars

Below are the basic steps to making a cold-processed herbal tincture, glycerite, or vinegar using the folk method.

  1. Take a clean glass jar and fill it 1/3 full of your herbs. (Be sure to chop fresh herbs finely if possible.)
  2. * Glycerites only – Pour a small amount of boiled water over your dry herbs to moisten them. This will help to extract more properties from them than glycerin can do alone.
  3. Next, pour your menstrum (alcohol, glycerin, vinegar) over the herbs, filling the jar up 1 inch from the top.
  4. Put your lid on, label, and shake to mix herbs and menstrum well.
  5. Place jar in a cool, dark cabinet to sit for 2-6 weeks. Harder herbs (seeds, roots, barks) will need to sit longer than soft herbs (flowers, leaves). Shake daily if possible.
  6. After 2-6 weeks, pour tincture through a cloth. Compost herbs and bottle tincture. Be sure to label properly and store it correctly. It should last 2+ years!

REFERENCES:

  • Alcohol & your body. (n.d.). [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.brown.edu/Student_Services/Health_Services/Health_Education/alcohol,_tobacco,_&_other_drugs/alcohol/alcohol_&_your_body.php
  • De la Foret, R. (2008, September 19). What’s chemistry got to do with it? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.methowvalleyherbs.com/2008/09/whats-chemistry-got-to-do-with-it.html
  • USDA table of nutrient retention factors. (2007, December 1). [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/80400525/Data/retn/retn06.pdf
So there you have it! I hope this post has helped you learn more about making herbal tinctures, glycerites, and vinegars. As always, if you have questions or need me to clarify anything, leave me a comment below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Click here to get back to the “How To Start Using Herbs” series intro.

28 thoughts on “Using Herbs: Herbal Tinctures, Glycerites, And Vinegars”

  1. Good morning!

    Thank you for this blog. I do not have children, but I am attempting to take charge of my own health. Do you have any book suggestions (must have) to study to help with educating myself on herb usage – from infusing them into oils to making tinctures and anything else of use? Books that you bascially swear by.

    Thank you in advance for your assistance. I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

  2. Someone told me that they give their kids alcohol tinctures in a small glass of hot (not boiling) water, which evaporates much of the alcohol itself. I’ve always wondered if the hot ater would kill some of the herbal properties. Thoughts?

    Thanks for a great article!

    1. That does help to evaporate some of the alcohol, Yanic. Not all, of course, but some. And I don’t think it would damage a large amount of the properties, but I suppose it could to some extent if the water is still very hot.

  3. I made my first tincture (chamomile) this afternoon but I’m wondering if it was done correctly. Another blog said to pour boiling water over the herbs, then pour the alcohol over that. It doesn’t sound right to me and now I’m wondering if I wasted the herbs and alcohol.

    1. Well, it’s definitely not wasted. You can use it. The only time that I know of where you would pour water over your herbs first is if you’re using a 95% alcohol and you want to cut it with water. Most people use vodka or brandy in their tinctures which are around 40-50% so they already contain water. What kind of alcohol did you use? If you put too much water in, the tincture doesn’t last as long, but if you have at least 25% alcohol, your tincture should last around a year. If you added too much water, you’d need to refrigerate it or use it quickly so it doesn’t spoil. Feel free to share the blog post and how you made your tincture, and perhaps I can be of more help.

    1. Thanks, Linda. So, yes, you’ve made a chamomile tincture that you can use. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be as shelf stable or as strong since you’ve added extra water to it, but it’s not ruined or anything like that. If you followed her directions exactly, you basically have a tincture with 20% alcohol, and like I said earlier, most herbalists recommend at least 25% alcohol for something to be shelf stable. Tinctures can be made many ways, as I described in this post, and everyone will have their preferences as to how they like to make them. The easiest way to make them when getting started is using 80 proof (40%) vodka or brandy and following the folk method. This is the method I used in the steps of the post.
      Anyway, if it were me, I’d store this tincture in the fridge and use it within a year. Don’t feel like you need to throw it away. You may need to increase the dose to get the effects from it because it’s watered down, but chamomile is a nice, gentle herb so you will be fine doing that. The next time you go to make a tincture, though, if you use dried herbs and 40% alcohol, I’d skip the extra water so your tincture comes out nice and strong and will last you 2-3 years without refrigeration. Thanks for your comment, Linda, and I hope I’ve been of some help to you. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  4. Hi, generally how many types of tinctures could an adult take on a daily basis? Are there any types of tinctures that should not be taken together?

    1. It really just depends on the tinctures and what you’re taking them for, Ling. Ideally, you want to focus on one issue at a time which can involve multiple tinctures being used together to support the body and gently nudge it back to a more balanced state of health. And yes, there are some tinctures you wouldn’t want to take together, but again it depends on what they are. Some tinctures can potentiate one another. This can be a good thing, but it can also overdo it so you really just have to test and see how it works. Another problem with mixing tinctures can come when the primary constituents of one plant tincture bind with the constituents of another one rendering them less effective. If you’re new to using tinctures, many herbalists recommend using “simples” to start out with so that you really learn how one herb effects you. Simples aren’t “weaker” or “not as good” as combinations or formulas, it’s just a different approach to using herbs. In my opinion, simples are the best way to start out learning to use herbs. You can always grow from there and learn more about formulating blends as your knowledge and experience grow. Best of luck!

  5. Hi,

    Thanks ever so much for this wonderful blog. Very useful and I admire you for taking the time to spread this useful knowledge. Just a quick question. For regligious reason we can’t drink alcohol in any amount small or large. But I know alcohol is a great solvent in extracting the components of herbs. My question is could you not use 40% alcohol, 40% water and 20% glycerine since they all extract different parts of the herbs. Then agyer two months pour the tincture into a sauce pan and place into a bucket of ice cold water to Burn off the alcohol with a lighter. The reason for the ice cold bucket is to make sure the tincture stays cool to prevent degradation of the tincture when heat is used to remove the alcohol. You will have very small amount of alcohol. So you hve a tincture now that has glycerine as it’s based and also as a perservative? Do you think that’s possible?

    1. Honestly, Lawin. I have NO idea if that would work or not. First, I don’t think it would actually catch fire and burn because there is more water than alcohol in it. Next, my guess would be that you would still loose some herbal properties by burning the tincture… if it did burn. Lastly, if all of it did work, I’m not sure that 100% of your alcohol would be removed. It would have to be tested to know for sure. If alcohol is 100% off limits, even as medicines, then I’d simply make my tinctures with vinegar or glycerine. Glycerine extracts fairly similarly to alcohol and preserves well so that would be the route I’d take.

  6. Hi Meagan,
    I made a glycerite recently, which is one that I’ve made before for my allergies, and this time, it seemed to build up pressure in the jar so that when I took the lid off, it popped and some of the glycerite actually squirting out. Could it be fermenting? I’m worried I may have done something wrong and that all of this is going to go to waste…glycerin is expensive stuff. I’m curious if that’s even happened to you?
    Thanks much!

    1. Glycerine doesn’t contain water and isn’t a true sugar so I don’t think it can ferment. I’m not 100% sure about that, but I’ve never heard of that happening. Even if you used fresh herbs (which contain water) I think the amount of glycerine would preserve it and not let the water ferment. As far as pressure goes, if you did a hot-process glycerite where you kept your tincture warm in a crockpot or on a heating pad (or even if it was warm in your house)… that can cause pressure to build up in your jar. Other than that, I really have no clue. I’ve never had a traditionally made tincture (those that sit at room temperature for 2-6 weeks) build pressure, but those that are made using heat definitely do. I hope this helps you a bit, Kimberly!

  7. Thanks for your quick reply Meagan! Hmmm…I think it was a cold process that I did. There were two different possibilities I was thinking, either I put too many herbs in or too much water in, and it’s actually the herbs fermenting or building pressure, or maybe I put too much in all together without leaving enough headspace and it expanded and built pressure. If it’s the first, I’m a bit worried about it, so I may just scrap the whole thing and start over. I’m not sure it’s worth risking botulism. :/ Thanks so much for your help!

    Oh another thing…when I made the mixture, it was so thick that it seemed like some of the herbs were dampened by the glycerin but not completely covered. I wasn’t really able to shake it, or even stir it that well. Does that mean I used too many herbs? Thanks again Meagan!

    1. Humm… for glycerine tinctures, if you’re using the folk method (where you eyeball the ingredient amounts rather than weight or measure things out), I always fill my jar 1/3 full of dried herbs. Next, I wet the herbs with boiled water. The water should not cover the herbs… it’s just meant to dampen them. This breaks the cell walls open and makes the properties more accessible. Next, I add my glycerine, filling the jar within 1 inch of the top of the jar. Next, I add my lid. You can let that sit for 2-6 weeks (depending on the herb and the temperature in your home) or you can let it sit on a heating pad for 3-5 days, being sure to open the lid and stir everything daily. Hope this helps! Let me know how your second batch goes!

  8. I think I must have just added either too many herbs or too much water. I will order more glycerine and try again, measuring better this time. Thanks for all your help!!

  9. Pingback: How To Make A Fresh Yarrow Tincture (Plus 5 Ways To Use It)

  10. Hi! Many great tips in here for a newbie like me! I have a few questions if you don’t mind helping a sista out. I make a mosquito spray with witch hazel, distilled water and essential oils that works pretty darn well. This year I am considering adding a tincture to it of catnip and yarrow either infused in alcohol or glycerine although I am leading towards the glycerine.

    My questions:
    1) I am leaning towards the glycerine because I think it will help the spray stick to our clothes/skin better than just alcohol and distilled water would. Thoughts? Also, I am afraid if I do 4 oz of vodka infused with herbs in my spray we will smell like we have been drinking all day. 🙂 Which sometimes we do, but ya know. Not all the time. I have never made a tincture in alcohol though so I am not sure if the final product after six weeks smells like strong alcohol or not. Plus I think glycerine would be cheaper that alcohol as a base.

    2) I can see that you mention when using dried herbs in glycerin to pour a little boiling water over the herbs to rehydrate them. That makes complete sense. I am curious your thoughts on a post I read from mountain rose herbs that mentions mixing the glycerine with distilled water (75% glycerine, 25% water) when tincturing the herbs. Do you think this is necessary?

    3) Is there anyway to safely speed up the process of glycerin tinctures?

    Thank you for your help!

    1. Hi, Haley. Thanks for your comment. To answer your questions…

      1) I’m not sure about glycerine in your spray as I’ve never tried it. I’d think alcohol would be best simply because the alcohol will help disperse the EOs a bit (only a tiny bit, though — it’s not a great carrier). That way, when you spray your bug spray on your clothing, the alcohol will eventually evaporate, leaving the EOs and the smell that deters the bugs. Alcohol tinctures do smell like alcohol, but they also smell like herbs. If you use EOs mixed in with the tincture, it would smell less like alcohol. Anyway, if you try the glycerine, I’d love to know what you think of it.

      2) My mention of pouring boiling water over the dried herbs and MRH’s saying to add distilled water follows the same line of thought — moisten the dried herbs before covering them with glycerine. This serves two purposes. First, it rehydrates the dried herbs quickly causing their cells to bust open and yield their properties faster (This happens more quickly with boiling water which is why I prefer that but any temperature water will work.), and secondly, it helps to dilute the glycerine a bit. Glycerine is strong, thick, and concentrated. It’s a good preservative, and it’s totally safe to dilute it by 25% percent with water.

      3) Heat will speed up the maceration time of tinctures and glycerites. The top of the fridge or water heater will work — even the top of the dryer. Just keep it out of direct sunlight and keep it free of too much moisture. You can place your sealed jar on a cloth in a crockpot on low heat for 3-5 days (keeping the water level up in the crockpot), but you have to be careful not to let your tincture get too hot. Crockpots, even on low settings, can reach over 100 degrees. Yogurt makers and dehydrators work well for consistent temperatures. Use extreme caution when heating alcohol tinctures in crockpots. Ideally, they shouldn’t be sealed in jars because they will build up pressure and explode. Don’t ask me how I know. 😉

      Best of luck, and do let me know if adding glycerine to your bug spray is a win or not. You’ve got me curious now!

  11. Hi Meagan,
    do you think they can mix apple vinegar with glycerin?
    The idea is to obtain a strong (potent) extract of the herbs and can be used by children.
    Thank you!

    1. Yes, definitely, Valentin. You can mix them. If you use dried herbs, they’ll have a shelf-life of one year, but if you use fresh herbs, it will drop to 3-6 months. Best of luck!

  12. Hello! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog today. I have been making herbal medicinals successfully and I am curious on your opinion of using fresh raw unprocessed honey.

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