How-To In Tincture Making w/ Elderberries

One of my herbal friends described invoking her inner squirrel today. Yes folks, when the calendar flips to September it is indeed harvest time. And what better thing to harvest than something that will keep your immune system armed for the dreaded season of snuffles and sniffles than with elderberries?!

So nestle in folks. Today we'll go over how exactly to make a tincture demonstrating with the mighty elderberry.

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What the Heck is a Tincture?

Before we start I might as well address this if you are baffled by the word tincture. Basically a tincture is an herb macerated in alcohol or glycerin with plant material strained off after six weeks.  What's left are the medicinal properties of the herb suspended in the alcohol or glycerin. This liquid is then administered from an amber glass bottle that contain a pipet with drop doses placed underneath the tongue.

Why Elderberries?

Why not? If you haven't been in the natural foods section of your nearest grocery store you haven't then seen the enormous variety of elderberry products available. Elderberries have been quite the buzz in the natural world to help prevent colds and flus. Even more exciting there are actually biomedical studies to back this information up.

Below I've put together a few rescources to get you started in understanding just how good elderberries are for our immune systems. 

Types of Tinctures

For our purposes today we will be making an alcohol tincture using vodka. This is my standard way to make a tincture. Below is a guide to the standard types of tinctures you can make.

  • Alcohol - generally a 80 proof vodka is used. (Prairie Organic Vodka is a good choice) Brandy also works (shelf life: 5-7 years)
  • Apple Cider Vinegar - use only organically grown apple cider vinegar with the mother (non-organic can have caramel color and may not even use apples!). Vinegar tinctures are less shelf stable than alcohol (shelf life 1-3 years)
  • Glycerin - uses an organic vegetable glycerin syrup (non-organic can be made from GMO soy beans)…often used for those with alcohol sensitivities. (shelf life 1-3 years)

Ratios of Alcohol to Plant Material

Ratios are super important in making a tincture. This is a pretty standard ratio guide. Make sure to pay attention to whether you are using fresh or dried plant material. This makes a different in your proportions. There are certain plants that can be more potent and require less material. The info below is strictly a guide. Consult with a knowledgeable herbalist for specific plants and how to tincture. them. 

Leafy/Flower Material (Spring/Summer)

  • Fresh Leafy/Flower Material: 1 part leafy plant/flower material : 1 part alcohol
  • Dried Leafy/Flower Material: 1 part dried plant/flower material : 2 parts alcohol

Berries (Summer/Fall)

  • Fresh Berry Material: 1 part berries (loosely packed) : 1 part alcohol
  • Dried Berry Material: 1 part dried berry material : 2 parts alcohol

Roots & Barks (Fall/Winter)

  • Semi Dried Root/Bark Material: 1 part semi-dried root/bark : 5-6 parts alcohol

Nuts & Bolts: How to Make an Alcohol Tincture

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Making the Tincture:

Supplies:

  • container for macerating your tincture (4-8 oz. mason jar with lid works great)
  • 80 proof or higher vodka or brandy
  • label & pen for writing down information on tincture

Directions:

  1. Gather your materials
  2. Seek out your plants and give thanks and ASK them if you may harvest them! Gratitude to the earth and plants!
  3. Harvest your plant/bark/flower material into your tincture vessel tearing (if plant material) into 1” sized pieces. Note: If using bark you will carve off twig material. If using root you will harvest root, chop into 1” pieces and leave to dry overnight—proceeding with step 3 the following morning.
  4. Pack in your plant material and cover the entire material with alcohol. Note: Sometimes the plant material will absorb more of the alcohol than you had though…this requires checking on your tincture after a few days to top off the jar. Above all make sure ALL the material is covered with alcohol top of the container.
  5. Screw on cover and label your tincture. Label should include: Plant, Date, Location of Harvest & Alcohol Used
  6. Place in a dark cool location and leave to macerate for 6 weeks.

Making an Elderberry Tincture:

Supplies:

  • container for macerating your tincture (4-8 oz. mason jar with lid works great)
  • 80 proof or higher vodka or brandy
  • label & pen for writing down information on tincture
  • fresh elderberries (you can use dry you'll just use half the amount of berries called for in the recipe.

Directions:

  1. Take your mason jar and fill lightly packed with elderberries with 1/4 inch room from the top of the container. 
  2. Cover the berries with your vodka or alcohol of choice. Note: Sometimes the plant material will absorb more of the alcohol than you had thought…this requires checking on your tincture after a few days to top off the jar. Above all make sure ALL the material is covered with alcohol top of the container.
  3. Screw on cover and label your tincture. Label should include: Plant, Date, Location of Harvest & Alcohol Used
  4. Place in a dark cool location and leave to macerate for 6 weeks.

Decanting the Tincture:

This is the part where you pour off the plant material to get the medicinal value of the plant suspended in the alcohal. Don't forget this part!

Supplies:

  • tincture to be decanted
  • all natural cheese cloth
  • same sized container as your tincture to decant into
  • funnel (optional)

Directions:

  1. Place the empty container in a bowl and place a piece of cheese cloth that will successfully hold all the material that is macerating in the alcohol.
  2. Unscrew the lid on the macerating container and empty contents of jar onto cheese cloth making sure all the alcohol strains into the jar NOT the bowl. (your bowl is backup in case things go astray.)
  3. Squeeze out plant material to best of your ability till no alcohol is left when you try to squeeze. (this may take several minutes)
  4. Set aside cheese cloth with plant material and screw on the cover…make sure to transfer your label from the original container to the new container so you know what tincture you have!
  5. Discard the remaining plant material from the cheese cloth in a safe place. Do NOT throw it away. Composting it in a special corner of a garden and making sure to give thanks to the plant is IMPORTANT!

Resources:

Websites:

Books:

  • Gladstar, Rosemary. Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow and Use. Storey Publishing. 2012.
  • Hoffman. David. Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies. Thorsons. 2003.

Note: Mad props to Kristine Leuze for the lovely black and white photo. (She's also the wizardress behind all the amazing photos on my website's header pages.) Check her out here if you need an amazing photographer in central Minnesota!


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