The World Health Organization (WHO) held a symposium in Kobe, Japan, in 1999, concerning the need to integrate more traditional medicines into modern medical practice before some traditions were lost forever. Traditional medicines were mankind's primary health care, from herbal remedies to physical and spiritual processes, passed down through family and tribal generations. Research conducted prior to the symposium reported an increase in the interest and use of traditional medicines and methods by the global population, despite an increase in pharmacological drug manufacturing. [1]

Through tincturing, herbalists can extract the medicinal properties of the plant along with many other beneficial components like vitamins, minerals, and several unknown properties, that may actually help boost the body's immune system and naturally prevent toxic side effects. Modern pharmacologists isolate only a plant's primary medicinal constituent to synthesize for drug manufacturing, which can sometimes cause unexpected side effects. [2]

Cold & Flu
Herbal Tinctures

This is far from a comprehensive list of herbs used for colds and flu tinctures (given in alphabetical order by common name).

* Angelica root/Dong Quai: fever reduction; nausea; expectorant; upper respiratory

* Boneset: boosts immune system; mucous reduction; fever reduction; expectorant

* Calendula: boosts immune system; fever reduction; reduce swollen glands; sore throat

* Chamomile: pain relief; sleep aid; nausea; fever reduction

* Echinacea: best used at first signs of symptoms; boosts immune system; mucous reduction; good results used with licorice

* Elderberry: best used at first signs of symptoms; boosts immune system; mucous reduction; sore throat; fever reduction; upper respiratory

* Ginger: coughs; expectorant; pain relief; fever reduction; nausea

* Goldenseal: best used near end of sickness to fight off secondary mucous membrane infections; mucous reduction; expectorant; use in small doses

* Hyssops: mucous reduction; expectorant; upper respiratory; fever reduction; sore throat

* Licorice: boosts immune system; sore throat; coughs; upper respiratory; nausea

* Marshmallow root: boosts immune system; sore throat; mucous reduction; expectorant

* Mints (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, horehound, & others): upper respiratory congestion; sore throat; coughs; expectorant; sleep aid; nausea; fever reduction

* Rosemary: pain relief; coughs; upper respiratory

* Sage: sore throat; mucous reduction; fever reduction

* Slippery Elm: expectorant; coughs; sore throat; upper respiratory

* Thyme: sore throat; coughs; nausea

* Yarrow: boosts immune system; reduces pain and fever; mucous reduction

Be sure to check out the anti-viral and healing properties of culinary herbs listed in
...What's For Dinner?
article to consider for tincturing!


Herbal Tincture Dosing:
* dropperful = 30 drops
* 30 drops = 1/2 teaspoon
* 1/2 teaspoon = 2cc (ml)
* US and UK measuring units are slightly different. Consult a unit conversion chart before accepting dosage by teaspoons.

Herbal tinctures can be used for animal ailments, too, but not at the same dosage as for humans. Please consult your veterinarian.

Flavored liquors (vodka, rum, brandy, etc.) can be used to help mask strong unpleasant tasting herbal tinctures.


Everclear is a widely known grain alcohol sold in the United States. It is a neutral, tasteless, liquor with a 95% alcohol (190-proof) content.

Everclear has been banned (made illegal) to sell in several states, and its alcohol limits restricted to 75.5% (151-proof) in a few others. Check your state laws for its legal sell and use!

What is an Herbal Tincture?

Tinctures, also known as herbal, botanical, or ethanol extracts, are herbs macerated (soaked/steeped) in a menstruum (solvent) of alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin, to draw out the soluble plant properties. Alcohol is the most effective solvent at extracting as much of a plant's properties as possible, therefore, alcohol-based tinctures are the strongest of the extracts and have the longest shelf life. If properly stored, and contain at least 25% alcohol, herbal tinctures can sit on the shelf for five years or more. Much of the alcohol can be "burned off" before use by adding the tincture dose to a hot liquid (tea or soup) for five minutes or so.

Vinegar and glycerin-based tinctures [Herbal Tinctures video] are not as strong a solvent as alcohol, used primarily as medicinals for children and babies, and require refrigeration for the few months they can be used. Glycerin extracts only the water soluble properties from a plant, so they are most like an herbal tea, relatively weak compared to the alcohol tinctures.

Not all herbs are created equally. Some plants have only water soluble constituents making alcohol tincturing unnecessary, and others require less alcohol for better results. The entire plant of some herbs can be used medicinally, but some have both beneficial and toxic parts. Refer to a good herbal guide to learn the specific qualities and the best use of a plant before creating a tincture with it.

Please see Additional Herbal References at the end of this article for a list of great herbal books and web sites.

Tincturing Methods

tincture processTincturing is not complicated, although, it does stretch out minute steps over time, which warrants the use of a calendar (for me) to not forget about them. Every herbalist and herbal reference book has a preferred method of making a tincture. They may steep their alcohol-infused herbs for a minimum of two weeks in a warm (100° F), dark place, while others soak their herbs for a couple of months in a cool, dark place. Some claim stronger results are produced by preparing tinctures on a New Moon, and extracting them on the following Full Moon.

Although combinations of herbs can be used at a time, a single herb tincture is more versatile. Single herb tinctures can be combined later for custom mixing to suit specific needs.

The Traditional Folk method is the least complicated method by using whatever one has available, but the results are inconsistent. The strength of each herbal tincture will vary–one might use more or less herbs or alcohol, or different percentages of alcohol, with each batch–creating problems in determining the proper dosage.

The Weight-to-Measure method uses consistent measures, processes, and record-keeping, allowing more uniform potency between tinctures, and doses to be better calculated. The following chart displays universally accepted standards for tincture preparations (established at the International Conference of civilized countries in Brussels, Belgium, in 1902). Following these standards, a person can create tinctures with similar potency and dosing as commercially prepared tinctures. There are exceptions to the rule, so please consult an herbal reference.

Tincture Herb, Alcohol, & Water Ratios
(weight volume)
(liquid volume)
1 part fresh herb 2 parts alcohol (Everclear)
@ 95% (190-proof) / 5%
1 part dried herb 5 parts vodka, rum, or brandy
@ 40% (80-proof) / 60%


1 oz (per kitchen scale) fresh chopped herb, plus
2 oz (per liquid measuring cup) of 95% alcohol.

1 oz (per kitchen scale) dried & powdered herb, plus
5 oz (per liquid measuring cup) of 40% alcohol.

The Tincture Process

1. Pack a glass canning jar big enough to hold your chopped fresh herbs; pour in the 95% alcohol.

Rubbing alcohol CANNOT be used! It is for external use only and cannot be ingested! Use only food grade alcohol (liquor) when making herbal tinctures.

Use the same procedure with ground dried herbs, but use a 40% alcohol. The herbs will partially rehydrate by absorbing the water in the liquor (the reason a liquor with a higher water content is used).

tincture press2. Cap the jar and store in a dark, protected area for the next two weeks.

3. Shake the jar daily.

4. When the maceration (soaking) time is finished, strain the liquid from the herbs into another container. Press the herbs to extract as much of the remaining liquid as possible using any of the following techniques:

  • Place strained herbs in cheesecloth or muslin, pull up corners of the cloth then twist together and squeeze, or press, the liquid over a fresh container.
  • Place strained herbs into a potato-ricer over a fresh container, apply gradual pressure until all liquid is expressed.
  • Place strained herbs in muslin bags and place under a press with a bowl beneath to catch the liquid.

–Discard the spent herbs into compost if you like.–

filtering a tincture5. Combine the strained and pressed liquids together in a capped jar and set aside undisturbed for a day or two. Any fine herbal residue will settle to the bottom of the container.

6. Decant (pour off) the liquid through a fine filter, such as a paper coffee filter, to gain the purest and clearest tincture possible. It may take hours for the liquid to strain through the filter.

7. Store your finished tinctures in dark bottles, labeled with content description and date, in a cool dark place out of direct light. Dropper fitted lids are very handy for dispensing doses when needed.

Additional Herbal References

  • The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook, James Green
  • Herbal Antibiotics, Stephen H. Buhner
  • Making Plant Medicines, Richo Cech
  • Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians, Patricia Howell
Web Sites:
Challenge: discover your native plants with the same healing properties as those well known across the globe!

Using Your Homemade Herbal Tinctures

Some of your potent homemade extracts can be used to help prevent the onset of illnesses with just a few drops added to tea, soup, water, fruit juice, or be taken straight from the dropper. Other tinctures can be used in body washes or rubs, in nasal sprays, and steams, for relief of cold and flu symptoms. The high anti-viral, antibiotic, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties of some herbal tinctures can be used with other homemade creations, such as: creams, lotions, soaps, balms, salves, and ointments. (Please check the sidebar at left for the medicinal properties of herbs commonly used in making tinctures to ease cold and flu symptoms.)

There is a good bit of personal pride and satisfaction that comes with preparing herbal tinctures from your garden plants. Homemade herbal tinctures can be substantially cheaper than similar commercial products, have a very long shelf life, versatile, and you have confidence in knowing the contents of your herbal extracts. That's a lot of bang for the buck!

The information in this article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.

[1] Traditional Medicines. WHO Centre for Health Development Kobe, Japan. 6 Nov 1999.
World Health Organization. 2000. 76-pg. WHO_WKC_SYM.pdf. 5 Jan 2009.
[2] Dr. Chong. History of Herbal Medicine. Herb Palace. 5 Jan 2009.

Article Photo Credits:

All photos belong to the author.

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