When making a tincture, alcohol is used to extract the medicinal properties of the plant material. Tinctures are ideal for herbs you may wish to gather in spring time for use over the winter months.
Herbal tinctures are made with either fresh or dried plant material. If using fresh plant the water content of the fresh plant needs to be taken into account. The quantity of marc (plant material) and menstrum (liquid/alcohol) determines the tincture strengthen*. For some herbs a stronger alcohol is necessary. Important to know as a medical herbalist prescribing herbs on a regular basis.
Don’t panic! For the lay person making herbal remedies, for personal use, there are many herbs that can be extracted well with a 40% vodka. Elderflowers being one. You don’t need to worry too much about the menstrum/marc ratio.
Harvesting and Drying Elderflowers
The following tincture recipe uses Sambucus nigra (elderflowers). These are usually in bloom from mid-May to early July. June is often the best time to harvest.
To avoid difficulties with water content, which can ruin your tincture, collect on a bright and sunny morning. Once you have gathered the flowers lay them out on brown paper. This needs to be somewhere which is warm and dry, out of direct sun and with good air circulation. Once the flowers dry out they will easily rub free from the stems.
25 g chopped dried (Sambucus nigra flos) elderflowers (MARC)
200 ml 40% vodka (MENSTRUM)
measuring scales (to measure out dry plant material),
measuring jug or container (to measure vodka),
clean sterilised jar with lid and label,
and a bottle with lid and label (after decanting)
Place 25 g of chopped dried herb into a jar and cover with the menstrum (in this case vodka). Plant material must be completely covered. If you need to add more vodka do.
Seal the jar and label with date and contents.
Shake daily for two weeks.
Decant and press out marc (plant material), bottle and label with date and contents.
*For information, as a guideline, if you have used the exact quantities above this would make a 1:8 at 40% herbal tincture.
Elderflower is indicated for sinusitis, rhinitis and other respiratory tract infections. A wonderful immune booster. Ideal to make now and keep for the winter or those spring time allergies!
Herbal ointments or salves differ from creams and lotions in that the basic ingredients are oil based. Ointments or salves are simpler to make than creams and lotions as there is no requirement to emulsify water and oil.
The simple basic herbal ointment recipe below is vegetarian but, due to the use of beeswax, it is not vegan.
For the purposes of this particular herbal ointment recipe we will choose a calendula infused oleum (oil) as a base.
This recipe will not work with aromatic waters or infusions but will work very well with oils such as sweet almond and wheatgerm or an infused oleum (oil) of comfrey or marigold. A few drops of essential oils can also be added.
calendula infused oil
saucepan, bowl, measuring scales, measuring jug or container, clean sterilised jar with lid and label
Measure out the appropriate beeswax and infused oleum in relation to the size of the jar(s) for the finished product i.e. approximately 2½ g beeswax and 20ml of oil for a 30g jar.
As a general rule of thumb you use one part beeswax to 8 parts oil. If your ointment sets too firm you have used too much beeswax.
Melt the beeswax using the bain marie method (a bowl over a saucepan of water will work well). Beeswax granules are easier. However, if you have a large piece of beeswax it is quicker to break it up first by chopping or grating.
Once the beeswax has began to melt, stir in the oil(s) slowly and turn off the heat. Note: you don’t want to boil the oil and risk losing the medicinal properties.
Add any essential oil(s) if desired.
Decant into clean, sterilised jar(s) with screw top lids.
Allow to cool, seal, label and date.
Some other ideas:
Once you have mastered the basic ointment you can elaborate on this by adding in essential oils simply for aroma or for therapeutic and/or cosmetic properties.
An ointment could also contain a combination of two or even three infused oils. For example a combination of infused oils of Lavandula (lavender) and Calendula (marigold) as a healing skin ointment. Infused oils of Zinger (ginger) and Symphytum (comfrey) for arthritic aches and pains. Using an infused oil of Hypericum (St John’s wort) makes a great simple lip balm for chapped or cracked lips.
Adding wheatgerm oil and/or essential oils can help preserve an ointment or salve.
As a basic preparation ointments or salves are generally soothing and healing. They can also be used as a protective barrier.