I like to take the mystery out of tincture making (EDIT: I like to take the math out of tincture making. I obviously revel in the mystery...*rolls eyes*). There are very few things you actually need to know in order to make a tincture, though books always make it seem so complicated. I've been using the "folk" method of tincturing for years now, to great success. ;)
Here's what you need:
-A clean Mason jar with a clean lid (I like to use the size up from the jam jars)
-100 proof drinking alcohol. 100 proof alcohol is the ideal for tincturing because it contains a 50/50 ratio of alcohol to water. When tincturing herbs, you need both alcohol and water to extract the various properties from the plant, because some of them are only water soluble. NEVER EVER EVER use rubbing alcohol for tincturing. EVER. Lots of people use vodka, and others use brandy (because they like the taste). Both of these are fine, as well, but as I said before, I prefer 100 proof grain alcohol for its perfect ratio of water to alcohol. If you use anything OVER 100 proof, you'll need to add a bit of spring water to cut the alcohol content.
-Your herbs! Obviously, it depends on what kind of plant you'll be tincturing whether or not you use the root or the aerial parts (flowers and leaves). Both (roots & leaves/flowers) can be tinctured fresh. In fact, fresh is preferable. For roots, you'll want to chop them very fine prior to using them. PLEASE confer with a trusted herbal reference guide as to which parts of the plant you should use for medicine making. Some plants will have perfectly usable leaves but poisonous roots, for example. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. For roots, you should harvest in the fall, as the plant begins to die back. For leaves/flowers, harvest your herbs once the plant has put on a full flush of flowers, but not after the flowers have begun to die back. The herb is at its highest potency once it has begun flowering. Harvest in the morning, after the dew has burned off and before the heat of the sun starts sapping the plant of moisture. You'll need to harvest enough leaves and flowers to loosely fill (but not PACK) the jar you have chosen.
-2 glass or ceramic bowls, preferably with a lip that accommodates the pouring of liquids
-A few larger brown or cobalt glass bottles meant specifically for storing bulk herbal preparations (places like Mountain Rose Herbs will sell these)
***Many people look to the moon when it comes to tincturing. It may sound like a big bundle of Harry Potter metaphysics, but a fair few folk herbalists swear by putting up tinctures just after a new moon--when the moon begins to wax. The belief is that the moon's mounting "energy" will charge a tincture as it steeps. I personally ascribe to this method, simply because I like doing gardening things by the moon, and because it makes a handy way of charting how long my tincture has been steeping. Okay...so I just really like the moon in general. *****
Bring in your harvested herbs (moonlit or not) and rinse them off. Gently shake them or gently pat them dry with a paper towel, but don't worry too much about getting them completely dry because, after all, they're going to get wet again! Now you're ready to make your tincture.
I like to remove as much of the stem material as possible, though I'm never too picky, because in the end, everything is going to be strained out anyway. Sometimes, though, stems can add unwanted bitterness to your tinctures. Before I put my herbs into the jar, I usually place them in a pestle and bruise them gently with the mortar--not enough to juice them onto the pestle, but enough to get the leaves to start releasing some of their valuable stuff. :) If you don't have a mortar and pestle, you can accomplish this by simply twisting the plants in your hands until you hear the leaves crackling or breaking. Admittedly, I use my mortar and pestle because it makes me feel mysterious. :p
Once your plant material has been gently bruised, put it into the jar and make sure the material reaches almost to the mouth of the jar. Now, uncork your alcohol of choice and fill the jar, leaving about 1/4" of space at the top. Now screw the lid on tightly, label it with the date and materials used, and give it a shake. Now would be the appropriate time to dance in a widdershins circle, sing a Gershwin tune, or cast the ashes of a twice-burned burrito to the four winds...or...you know...you could just put your NEWLY MADE TINCTURE (congrats!) in a warm-ish, dark place. Shake it daily for the next four to six weeks--the longer it steeps, the more potent it will be, though six weeks is a good maximum to observe. At the end of this time, take a glass or stoneware bowl (NEVER use metal for mixing or preparing herbs) and stretch your cheesecloth over the top. Strain your tincture into the bowl, then gather the plant material into the cheesecloth and give it a good squeezing to extract every last drop. Now, repeat the process with another bowl and a fresh piece of cheesecloth.
It's natural for there to be some sediment in your tincture, so don't drive yourself crazy trying to strain out every last "impurity." Sediment just means you tinctured a fresh plant, and you should be proud to have that lil' bit of earth in your bottle. :) Two times usually does the trick. Now it's time to very carefully transport your fresh tincture into the brown or cobalt holding bottles. Use a funnel for this, and pour slowly!
CONGRATULATIONS! You now have several bottles of potent, home-grown tincture! Label your bottle with the bottling date and the ingredients and store it away from direct sunlight. Alcohol-based tinctures will keep for several years--I'd say three is a good maximum to observe.
I hope you found this helpful and that you attempt your own tincturing in the near future. Growing and preparing your own medicine is an incredibly rewarding way to connect with your garden and your body on yet another level.