Tuesday, October 04, 2005

How to make your own herbal tinctures, vinegars, and infusions (Herbal information/teas)

Herbal extracts, herbal vinegars, and herbal infusions are very easy to make. As many of you know from reading this blog, I really love making my own products. It's fun, easy, and extremely cost effective! When people first start out with making their own products, it may seem like a bit of an investment of time and money, but once you start, you realize that it really isn't that hard at all, and it ends up being much less expensive than already prepared products. (That, however, does not stop me from buying commerical products though--I'm busy too, after all!

Herbal extracts/tinctures:

Herbal extracts aka tinctures are made by infusing plant material in alcohol or sometimes vinegar or glycerin, usually for 3-6 weeks. Depending on the ratio of plant to medium, you can make quite a concentrated solution; there are usually more active constituents extracted from plants in an extract than in a water based infusion. Plus they have a long shelf life (1-3 years) and the small bottles (if you purchase them) don't take a large amount of room in your cupboard. They are a great way to store and expand the shelf life of herbs, and make a concentrated solution (they are more potent).

Generally they are used in cosmetics (to add the benefit of the herb to the product, and as a natural preservative), and also as medicine (typically 1-4 drops are comsumed, one to a couple times a day). For those of you that are sensitive to alcohol (children and hypoglycemics) you can add the tinctures to a cup of boiling water, which will evaporate the alcohol but leave the herbal constitutes, or try a glycerin based tincture.

To make a herbal extract: to a very clean and sterile glass jar, fill it with fresh or dried herbs, and cover the herbs with vodka or brandy. Keep it in a dark place and let infuse 3-6 weeks. Strain. Ratios of herb to medium can vary: some authors suggest a 1:1, some a 2:1, or a 4:1 ratio. I usually just fill the jar with herbs and then pour enough alcohol to cover the herbs.

It is better to use fresh herbs (as they contain more of the essential oils). Lightly use a damp paper towel to clean the dirt off them, and then let them air out and slightly wilt in an open brown paper bag for a day before using the herbs. This will also give time for bugs to escape! Then on the day you are making the tincture, lightly chop the herbs and then add to the jar. Some people will also infuse the mixture TWICE (after steeping the first time, strain out the old herbs and then add new herbs and then steep again), but this isn't neccessary unless you are using herbs that are old (not recommended), or use herbs that don't have a lot of essential oils in them.

Glycerin based tinctures; if I am not mistaken, are made first using alcohol, then somehow companies will remove the alcohol and then combine what's left with the glycerin.

Places to purchase tinctures: Mountain Rose Herbs and local health food stores. If you purchase them make sure you read the ratios of herb to medium. Better companies will typically use higher ratios (more herbs).

Herbal vinegar:

A herbal vinegar is made in the same way as a tincture, however, instead of alcohol, vinegar is used. I like using apple cider vinegar, but I've also had good results with red wine vinegar too. But you can really make them with all kinds of vinegar.
I've made herbal vinegars successfully with dried and fresh herbs. Some herbalists recommend placing herbal vinegars in a warm, sunny place to steep (like making a sun tea), though to me that doesn't make sense since sunlight typically destroys/degrades the natural essential oils faster. But then again, there is that whole concept of infusing your vinegars with solar and luna energies, so maybe next time I'll try that! To shorten the time of steeping, you can also try gently warming the vinegar before adding the herbs, and the steep for only ten to fifteen days. Long shelf like 1-3 years. Store in a dark bottle.

Some uses of herbal vinegars:
-cleaning (made with white vinegar)
-a toner, hair rinse, or body rinse (in the shower; very deodorizing), or a natural deodorant. Be sure to dilute!!! 1-2 teaspoons or less per ounce of distilled/spring water. Don't worry, you won't smell like a pickle; the smell quickly dissapates. Drier and sensitive skins may not want to use this.
-for food! A sage vinegar is excellent on salad, or you can use them as marinades. You can make some very tasty combinations: like a balsamic vinegar/sage combo. Yum.

For a quick herbal vinegar add 10 drops of essential oils per ounce of vinegar! (I wouldn't eat this kind though, unless you used small amounts of essential oils (1-3 drops), and used the oils from known 'food' (like orange or lime, or peppermint). Some essential oils are solvent extracted, and they are very concentrated indeed!

To make an herbal infusion:

That said, water herbal infusions (a fancy name for tea) are great too; but they don't have a long shelf life. They aren't nearly as potent but to make a strong infusion for cosmetic/medicine uses, bring the water to a boil, take the water off the stove, add the herbs, make sure your pot is capped tightly (to make sure no essential oils escape; or you could use a jar), and infuse for 20 minutes to an hour, then strain. One book that I have suggests 1 to 8 hours. Roots and berries and heavier materials need to be simmered for at least 20 minutes and then infused for at least an hour.

I think extracts and vinegars (used on the skin) are also better for oily prone skin (since it contains alcohol or vinegar which can be drying) while infusions are great for drier skins.

Have fun crafting!


Anonymous said...

You said the water herbal infusions (teas) don't have a long shelf life. How long do they keep? Can you leave it in the shower for a few days/a week to save it for the next time you want to use it, or do they just last one day?

Solarkat said...


Nearly all teas keep only a few days in the refrigerator, and only a shelf life of a few hours when not refrigerated.

The only exception I can think of is an infusion of soapwort root, which is a natural saponin (soap like substance). Soapwort infusion will keep for several days (some sources say a week or so, some say several weeks). I woouldn't use soapwort as a hair rinse but it makes a very nice shampoo and gentle skin cleanser and is also good for cleaning delicate fabrics.


Solarkat said...


If you want you could use a hydrosol as a hair rinse since they are good for several months, but that could get expensive (to make them last dilute them with distilled water)


Anonymous said...

Hi, Solarkat

What would your recommend on making a natural foaming body exfoliant with a shelf life of at least 6 months and what would you recommend especially using aromatherapy oils to make the scent last in your scrub.


Solarkat said...

Hi Rose

Thanks for posting :)

About the foaming exfoliant--by foaming do you mean an exfoliant that lathers or something that fizzes? (Sorry, don't know exactly what you mean since I've never used a foaming exfoliant before)

If you check my links (right side of main page of blog) there are several articles I've written about natural preservatives.

For essential oils you need to use more of the middle and base (heavier) notes to help the retain the (lighter/easily evaporated) top notes. Examples of base notes: patchouli or Frankincense.