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Tinctures & Syrups

In this workshop, instructor Alex O'Hanlon shares how to create tinctures and syrups from herbs and flowers! For a printable handout of the information below, go here.

What is a Tincture?

  • A tincture is an alcoholic extraction (or infusion) of the medicinal components of a plant.

  • All Tinctures are extracts but not all extracts are tinctures.

  • Extracts are commonly made using glycerin, vinegar, and alcohol, but only the extracts using alcohol are tinctures. The alcohol breaks down the cell walls of the plants allowing the bio-active components of the plant can be released and stored in the alcohol.

  • Tinctures are commonly made with vodka, brandy, or grain alcohol

A Brief History

Herbalists have been making extractions using vinegar and wine for thousands of years. Making extractions using distilled spirits is almost as old as the practice of distillation. The use of tinctures was widespread from the 1600s until the advent of pills as the primary mode for medicine in the early 20th century. Tinctures have experienced a revival in the last 15 years through the emergence of many independent companies such as Mountain Rose Herbs and Herb Pharm.

Why Use Tinctures

Tinctures are a good mode in which to apply medicines because they allow for immediate absorption through the mouth. Another great reason to use tinctures is that you can make them yourself from plants that either grow naturally in the area or that you can cultivate.

How to Use Tinctures

Using tinctures is like using any medicine, it is important to know how to properly use it. You want to know what to take it for, how much to take, and what contraindications (something, such as a symptom or condition, that makes a particular treatment or procedure inadvisable) there may be. When you take any medicine either you read the directions or a doctor instructs you in the proper way. When you use a tincture you can consult either a doctor, a naturopath, or an herbalist. There is also lots of information online from reputable commercial herbal companies that explain the background, uses, and contraindications of different herbs.

  • A general guideline to taking tinctures is that the smaller the person, the faster the metabolism and so the smaller the dose (because it will be processed more quickly). The larger the person, the slower the metabolism and so the larger the dose.

  • A dose is typically 30 to 60 drops

  • Acute conditions should be treated with smaller, more frequent doses. Chronic cases, less frequently.

  • Tinctures are more effective if taken between meals. The most important time to take is before bedtime as the body is more receptive.

A Note on Using Herbs

Herbs can be powerful. Often different parts of the plant are used for different purposes. The use and study of medicinal herbs is as old as the study of medicine. Originally, medicines were made from medicinal herbs. Many current medicines are derived from medicinal plants (think pain killers and poppies) or synthetic substances that are made to imitate (in a stronger form) a medicinal plant (think aspirin and willow bark). Currently, there is academic interest in medicinal plants and lots of funding for research into plants such as elderberry, Aronia berry, pomegranate, tulsi, and olive leaf. There is a lot to know, and for this reason, many herbalists study for many years, participate in apprenticeships, and continue to ‘practice’ herbalism. That being said, today we will start this process of learning with a basic tincture making technique using plants that grow or can be cultivated in our neighborhood.

How to make a tincture using herbs or berries

  1. Chop the fresh herb or grind the dried herb.

  2. Place the herb in a glass jar labeled with the current date and name of the herb.

  3. Fill ¾ full if using a fresh herb and ½ full if using dried herbs.

  4. Add sufficient menstruum (the solvent you are using, typically vodka, grain alcohol, or as you get more comfortable a ratio of alcohol to water) to cover the herbs.

  5. Screw on the lid and put the jar in a dark place at room temperature. Shake the jar at least once daily (shaking ensures a stronger extraction).

  6. After two to three weeks, pour the contents of the jar through several layers of cheesecloth or unbleached muslin and express the liquid.

  7. Allow the liquid to settle in a clean jar overnight.

  8. Decant the clear liquid through a filter paper.

  9. Store in a labeled, amber glass bottle, out of the light.

How to make a tincture using roots or mushrooms

  1. Chop roots or mushrooms

  2. Place in a glass jar labeled with the current date and name of the root/mushroom. Fill ¾ full if using fresh and ½ full if using dried.

  3. Add sufficient menstruum to cover

  4. Screw the lid on and leave in a dark location at room temperature and shake at least once daily.

  5. After 2 or 3 weeks, strain.

  6. Place roots/mushrooms in a pan and cover with water equal to the amount of alcohol extract

  7. Simmer for 20 minutes

  8. Let cool

  9. Combine the strong tea with the alcohol extraction and shake to assimilate

Plants we are using today


Elderflowers are rich in vitamins A, C, and B-complex as well as numerous phytochemicals and antioxidant compounds. Elderflower tea is a powerful immune booster and is particularly helpful with respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, sinusitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis, asthma, chronic cough, sore throat, cold, flu, and fever.


Sage is known to stimulate the nervous system and digestive tract. It also considered a memory strengthener and an herbal way to good health! Medicinally, its benefits are numerous, including its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and anti-aging qualities.


Mint can help to aid digestion and calm heartburn. It helps to aid in relaxation, reduce inflammation, and improve circulation. Mint is most commonly used to soothe the stomach, aid in digestion, and ease intestinal gas/bloating. It’s great for colds because menthol thins mucus, acting as a decongestant, it also had mild antibacterial properties and stimulates appetite. It can also help soothe coughs and sore throats.


Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar

Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech - for a basic rundown on the benefits of herbs

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