Do you remember that time several weeks ago where I talked about Wildcrafting at Foxfire and showed pictures of all the plants we harvested? Well, I am finally posting about what I did with all the plants. With the Jewelweed I made a succus and an infused oil. Now, I will show you how I made tinctures from the roots of Bloodroot, Black Cohosh and Blue Cohosh that we harvested.
This is right after harvesting and washing all of the roots. I brought them home and put a wet paper towel over the top of the jars so the roots could breath and placed them in the fridge to sit overnight.
After school the next night I pulled them out of the fridge and made them into tinctures. I like to think of tinctures as shelf-stable medicinal plant extracts. You can use alcohol, vegetable glycerin or vinegar as your liquid to extract all the goodies from the herbs (in medicine making this extraction liquid is called a menstrum). You mix your herbs, and menstrum in a jar and let them mix and mingle together for 3-4 weeks shaking the jar every day. Then you strain out the plant material (the marc) and the resulting liquid is your tincture! Full of beneficial medicine extracted from the plant. The great thing about tinctures is that they last a really long time.
Patricia left instructions for us on the board during our medicine making weekend. So, I started with Black Cohosh. The instructions say to tincture the fresh root at 1:2. That is the ratio of herb to menstrum. So, for every 1 part plant material, you need to use 2 parts menstrum. The great thing about using ratios for medicine making is that you can tailor the amount you make based on how much herb you harvested.
After harvesting and washing the roots, the next step is to chop them finely.
This takes a little patience.
Once everything is chopped, it gets weighed. Because my ratio is 1:2, I multiply the weight of the root by 2 to get the amount of menstrum needed for the tincture. I had 7.1 oz of root so I needed 14.2 oz of menstrum for my tincture.
Then after the ratio (1:2) it says 50%, which is the concentration of alcohol I need to get the most medicine from this plant. For this to make sense I need to explain ‘proof’. The proof of an alcohol is twice the concentration of alcohol. So, my alcohol that I use for medicine making is 190 proof, that means it is 95% alcohol. Everclear is a grain alcohol that many people use for medicine making that is also typically 190 proof. That will work well for making your own custom menstrum blends where you can add water to get different concentrations. Or, you can get regular vodka, which is usually 100 proof (50% alcohol) and use it straight without diluting it.
The good thing is that this process is very forgiving, and you can do things a lot of different ways and still get good medicine.
Because I have such high percent alcohol, I made a custom blend for my tincture at 50% alcohol. I know I need 14.2 oz of menstrum, and to get a 50% alcohol solution I just divide 14.2 in half. That means I need 7.1 oz of water and 7.1 oz of alcohol to make my 50% menstrum.
Then I put my chopped roots and menstrum in a jar and label it and my tincture is ready to go.
Then I tinctured Blue Cohosh; which is used to treat menstrual or menopausal discomfort.
The process is the same. Wash, chop and weigh.
Then I made my menstrum, poured it over the chopped roots and it was done.
Finally, I did bloodroot tincture. In my herbal class we got these worksheets for medicine making. They were created by Lorna Mauney-Brodek, a wonderful herbalist in Atlanta, GA. Her focus is providing free herbal based healthcare to undeserved communities. Her website is Herbalista.org and you can download the medicine making sheet from her website under her tab Handouts. They are helpful for good record keeping, and making sure the calculations are correct for creating custom menstrum blends. I print out and fill in a new sheet for every tincture I make.
Bloodroot, when cut open, secretes a dark orange/reddish liquid. I bet this root would be great for dying fabrics. Medicinally this plant is used to treat lung congestion, inflammation, bronchitis and coughs.
Same process. Wash, chop, weigh. Calculate menstrum measurements, mix, and pour into the jar with the chopped roots.
I labelled everything with the name, date, ratio, alcohol concentration, and if the plant was fresh or dried. Now they will sit on my counter for a month and get shaken every day (or as often as I remember :)). In a month I can strain out the spent plant material and my tinctures will be ready to be mixed into medicinal formulas!
This might seem a little daunting with the menstrum calculations. But it is very freeing, because once you figure it out how to make your own custom menstrums for tinctures, you have a lot more options. Also, since I purchased 190 proof alcohol, it saves me some money by mixing in water to make a custom menstrum for each herb. Or if all of this sounds too complicated, you can also skip the calculations, buy vodka, and use it straight without any dilutions. That will work great for most herbs. It is up to you how precise and scientific you want to make your medicine making experience. As long so you do some research, and make sure you have the right plant, you can tailor this process to make it work for you!