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This is Part II of a series of posts about making your own herbal medicines.  Part I was on wild-harvesting your own herbs.  The link to the article can be found here (Harvesting Herbs article)

Introduction

For herbalists and fellow herb-lovers the beginning of wild-harvesting season also brings a new season of herbal medicine and tincture making.  Vital to the formation of your own herbal medicines is the creation of a menstruum.  When I first heard this term, it was completely unfamiliar to me.  My exact words were something along the lines of “men… what?”

Technically a menstruum is “a solvent, especially one used in extracting compounds from plant and animal tissues and preparing drugs.” 1 In laymen’s terms, a menstruum is the medium you are using to extract the constituents from the plants.  If you are making tinctures, your menstruum will most likely be alcohol based.

Every person who works with herbs, either professionally or as a hobby, will have their own methods for making plant-based medicines.  The following menstruum recipe is the one that my teacher shared with us in our field studies classes.2  It is not the only method available and I invite you to experiment with a variety of menstruums to find one that you feel works best for your needs.

The Ingredients

Alcohol

Unless you have a license for the purchase of 95% alcohol, your choices are limited to what you can procure from your local beer/spirits store (e.g. LCBO in Ontario).  After doing a brief Internet search on making menstruums I quickly discovered that most people simply listed “alcohol” as the main (or only) ingredient.  Although your choices can vary from rum to brandy, not all alcohols are created equal.

When choosing an alcohol to use as your base you have to consider what its ingredients are and what it’s made from.  If your alcohol contains sugar, other herbs, colouring or added flavourings, these ingredients could affect the extraction of the constituents.  There is also the possibility of altering or adding to the effects of the constituents.  For example, gin is made from juniper berries (a common herb used in herbal medicine).  The gin will still contain some of the constituents from the juniper berries, which means your medicine/tincture will as well.

The alcohol of choice (as suggested to us in class) is vodka.  Vodka is composed of ethanol (usually 40%) and water.  That’s it.  It can be made from any of the following fermented substances: potatoes, rye, wheat, molasses, sugar beets, grapes or rice.  Of your choices of alcohol, vodka has the cleanest list of ingredients.

 

Water

The percentage of alcohol to use in the making of your menstruum is almost as varied as your choices in alcohol.  Some herbalists prefer 50% alcohol solutions and others less than that.  Most vodka that you can purchase in liquor stores is 40% alcohol.  Some folks have a preference for straight vodka, which is a perfectly acceptable option.  This will give you a tincture made in a 40% alcohol solution.    

If you choose to make a menstruum solution with a lower percentage of alcohol, you will have to water it down.  The water you use should be filtered or from a spring.  Personally I use twice filtered well water (using my Berkey Water Filtration System).  Avoid using water that has been stored in plastic bottles.  When making my own herbal tinctures, I use a 30% alcohol solution.  This means that my vodka has been watered down by 10% (see below for the exact recipe).

 

Glycerine

Vegetable grade glycerine is another popular option for the making of tinctures.  I use approximately 10% in the making of my menstruum.  Glycerine’s sweet taste helps to cut the harshness of alcohol.  It also works with the alcohol to extract some of the herb’s constituents.

When making tinctures for recovering alcoholics, glycerine is often used as the main ingredient in a menstruum.  As an example you could use 50% glycerine and 50% water.

 

The Recipe

What You Will Need

  • Measuring cup
  • 1 litre mason jar
  • Vodka or other 40% alcohol
  • Filtered or spring water
  • Vegetable grade glycerine (optional)

Instructions – with glycerine

  • In your measuring cup pour out 750 mL of vodka (or other alcohol)

  • Add 150 mL of filtered or spring water to the alcohol

  • Measure out 100 mL of glycerine and add to the measuring cup
    • Ensure that it is vegetable grade glycerine that is safe for consumption

  • Pour contents of the measuring cup into the mason jar

  • Shake the jar vigorously to ensure the glycerine doesn’t separate

The end product will contain 30% alcohol, 60% water and 10% glycerine.

Instructions – without glycerine

  • In your measuring cup pour out 750 mL of vodka (or other alcohol)
  • Add 250 mL of filtered or spring water to the measuring cup
  • Pour the contents of the measuring cup into the mason jar and shake vigorously

The end product will contain 30% alcohol and 60% water.

For more information making tinctures please check out my free ebook on making tinctures. You can snag your copy right here.

In good health,

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References

Dictionary.com – http://dictionary.reference.com/ 1

Living Earth School Field Studies – class notes 2