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Be Your Own Herbal Expert - Part 4
an article by Susun S. Weed

Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used - and our neighbors around the world still use - plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It's easy. You can do it too.

In your first lessons, you learned how to "listen" to the messages of plant's tastes, how to make effective water-based herbal remedies, and how to distinguish safe nourishing and tonifying herbs from the more dangerous stimulating and sedating herbs.

In this lesson, you will learn how to how make herbal tinctures. You will make tinctures from fresh and dried roots as well as from fresh flowers and leaves.

Then you will collect your tinctures into an Herbal Medicine Chest and begin to use them. Shall we begin?

Tinctures Act Fast

Tinctures are alcohol-based plant medicines. Alcohol extracts and concentrates many properties from plants, including their poisons. Alcohol does not extract significant amounts of nutrients, so tinctures are used when we want to stimulate, sedate, or make use of a poison. (Remember that nourishing herbs are best used in water bases such as infusions and vinegars.)

The concentrated nature of tinctures allows them to act quickly. It also makes them perfect for a first-aid kit or herbal medicine chest: a little goes a long way.

I have dozens of tinctures in my cabinet. But these are the ones I carry with me when I travel; they are the ones I don't leave home without. This is my traveling herbal medicine chest.

Echinacea tincture Motherwort tincture Skullcap tincture
Ginseng tincture Dandelion root tincture Wormwood tincture
St Joan's Wort tincture Poke root tincture(danger) Yarrow tincture

Making Dried Root Tinctures

I strongly prefer to make tinctures from fresh plants. But many people have a hard time getting fresh plants. Most books therefore ignore fresh plant tinctures and focus on making tinctures only from dried plants. The only dried plant parts I use to make tinctures are roots and seeds. All other plant parts I use fresh when making a tincture. And I actually prefer to use fresh roots too.

To make a tincture from dried roots:

• Buy an ounce of dried Echinacea augustifolia or Panax ginseng root.
• Put the whole ounce in a pint jar.
• The dried root should fill the jar about a third full. If not, use a smaller jar.
• Fill the jar to the top with the alcohol. Cap tightly and label.

Almost any alcohol can be used to make a tincture. My preference is 100 proof vodka. A lower proof, such as 80 proof, does not work nearly as well. Higher proofs, such as 198 proof or Everclear, can damage the liver and kidneys, so I don't use them to make medicine.

The tincture is ready in six weeks, but gets stronger the longer it sits. I like to wait about six months before using my ginseng tincture and a year before using my echinacea tincture.

Making Fresh Root Tinctures

Roots generally hold their properties even when dried. But two of my favorite root tinctures must be made from fresh roots are the dried ones have lost much of their effect.

Making a tincture with a fresh root is similar to making one with a dried root.

• With great respect for the plant, dig up its root.
• Gently rinse mud away. (For more about digging dandelion root, see Healing Wise.)
• Chop root into small pieces and fill a jar to the top with the chopped root.
• Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label.
• Fresh root tinctures are ready to use in six weeks.

Making Fresh Leaf and Flower Tinctures

I use only fresh flowers and leaves in my tinctures. These delicate plant parts lose aroma and medicinal qualities when dried.

Tinctures can be made from dried herbs, but I find them inferior in both effect (how well they work) and energetics (how many fairies are in it), not to mention taste (how many volatile substances remain) and somatics (how something makes you "feel").

What if the plants you need to make all the tinctures in your medicine chest don't grow where you live or you can't find them? Try one or more of these solutions.

• Take a vacation to a place where the plant you need does grow. And make sure to go at the best time to gather it.

• Find an herbal pen-pal who lives in the area where the plant you want to tincture grows. Have your pen-pal make a tincture of the fresh plant for you. You could make a tincture of something you have lots of to give to her too.

Even if the plants do grow where you live, it may take a year or longer for you to find them, harvest them and make tinctures. While you are "in limbo," it's fine to buy tinctures to use in your herbal medicine chest.

When you finally find the plants you want, don't be afraid to make several quarts of tincture. Tinctures last for hundreds of years if protected from heat and light.

St. Joan's wort tincture: Eases muscles spasms, anti-viral, pain-relieving.

• Pick yellow Hypericum perforatum flowers in the summer's heat.
• Fill - don't stuff - a jar with the blossoms and leaves.
• Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label. (It will turn bright red.)
• Your fresh St. Joan's wort tincture is ready to use in six weeks.

Motherwort tincture: Eases menstrual cramps, mood swings, stress.

• Pick Leonurus cardiaca flowering tops (leaves and flowers) in early fall or late summer.
• Fill - don't stuff - a jar with coarsely chopped blossoms and leaves.
• Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label.
• Your fresh motherwort tincture is ready to use in six weeks.

Skullcap tincture: Pain-relief, headache remedy

• Pick Scutellaria lateriflora flowering tops when there are seeds as well as flowers.
• Fill - don't stuff - a jar with the blossoms and leaves.
• Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label.
• Your fresh skullcap tincture is ready to use in six weeks.

Wormwood tincture: Counters food poisoning and parasites.

• Pick Artemisia absinthemum leaves in the late summer or early fall, when mature.
• Fill - don't stuff - a jar, with the coarsely chopped leaves.
• Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label.
• Your fresh wormwood tincture is ready to use in six weeks.

Yarrow tincture: Counters all bacteria internally and externally, repels insects.

• Pick Achillea millefolium flowering tops, white ones only, when in bloom.
• Fill - don't stuff - a jar, with the coarsely chopped herb.
• Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label.
• Your fresh yarrow tincture is ready to use in six weeks.

Double and Triple Tinctures

An herbalist in Austin Texas shared her special way of preparing a tincture that helps her keep her cool in stressful situations. She tinctures fresh lemon balm, gathered before it flowers, for six weeks, in 100 proof vodka. She pours that tincture over a new jar of fresh lemon balm leaves. After that sits for six more weeks, it's a double tincture. She then pours the double tincture over another new jarful of fresh lemon balm and lets that sit for six weeks. After which she has a triple tincture. She uses: "A dropperful sublingually - works absolute wonders for me when I'm stressed out and ready to scream."

Plant Poisons

You remember that there are four types of poisons in plants: alkaloids, glycosides, essential oils, and resins. The first three are fairly easy to move from plants to a tincture.

Resins, because they "fear" water (hydrophobic) are difficult to tincture. When I want to tincture a resin I do use high proof alcohol. Some examples would be: pine resin tincture, balsam bud tincture, calendula flower tincture.

Taking Tinctures

I see many people put herbal tinctures under their tongues. I prefer to protect my oral tissues from the harsh, possibly cancer-causing, effects of the alcohol.

I dilute my tinctures in a little water or juice or even herbal infusion and drink them.

Using Your Tinctures

Here are a few of the ways I use the tinctures in my herbal medicine chest. For more information on using these tincture, see my books and my website.

Acid indigestion: 5-10 drops of Dandelion root or Wormwood tincture every ten minutes until relieved. I use a dose of Dandelion before meals to prevent heartburn.

Bacterial Infections (including boils, carbuncles, insect bites, snake bite, spider bite, staph): 30‑50 drops Echinacea or Yarrow tincture up to 5 times daily. For severe infections, add one drop of Poke tincture to each dose.

Colds: to prevent them I use Yarrow tincture 5-10 drops daily; to treat them, I rely on Yarrow, but in larger quantity, say a dropperful every 3-4 hours at the worst of the cold and tapering off.

Cramps during menstruation: 10 drops Motherwort every 20 minutes or as needed. Used also as a tonic, 10 drops daily, for the week before.

Cramps in muscle: 25 drops St Joan's every 25‑30 minutes for as long as needed.

Cramps in gut: 5‑10 drops Wormwood, once.

Diarrhea: 3 drops Wormwood hourly for up to four hours.

Energy, lack of: 10 drops of Dandelion or Ginseng tincture in the morning.

Fever: 1 drop Echinacea for every 2 pounds of body weight; taken every two hours to begin, decreasing as symptoms remiss. Or a dropperful of Yarrow tincture every four hours.

Headache: 25 drops St Joan's plus 3-5 drops Skullcap every 10‑15 minutes for up to two hours. 5 drops of Skullcap may prevent some headaches.

High blood pressure: 25 drops of Motherwort or Ginseng tincture 2-4 times a day.

Hot Flashes: 20‑30 drops Motherwort as flash begins and/or 10‑20 drops once or twice daily.

Insect: prevent bites from black flies, mosquitoes, and ticks with a spray of Yarrow tincture; treat bites you do get with Yarrow tincture to prevent infection.

Nervousness, hysteria, hyper behavior: 15 drops Motherwort every 15‑20 minutes.

Premenstrual distress: 10 drops Motherwort twice a day for 7‑10 days preceding menstruation or 10 drops daily all month.

Sore throat: Gargle with Yarrow tincture.

Swollen glands: 1 drop Poke root tincture each 12 hours for 2-5 days.

Viral infections (including colds and the flu): 25 drops of St. Joan's wort tincture every two hours. Add one drop of poke root tincture 2-4 times a day for severe cases.

Wounds: I wash with Yarrow tincture, then wet the dressing with Yarrow tincture, too.

In the next installment of Be Your Own Herbal Expert, you will learn about herbal oils, including infused and essential oils. Future lessons will explore the difference between fixing disease and promoting health, applications of the three traditions of healing, and using the six steps of healing to take charge of your own health and make sense of medicine.

Experiment Number One

Choose one plant and make several small tinctures of it using different types of alcohol. Taste and smell each tincture every week or so for 6-8 weeks.

Experiment Number Two

Buy or make different tinctures of the same plant: dried herb, fresh herb, timed with the moon, in different menstrums, made by different people, harvested in different places. Can you taste differences? Are the effects different? What else do you notice?

Experiment Number Three

Make a double or triple tincture of motherwort, skullcap, or lemon balm. See if it relieves anxiety, hyperactivity, emotional distress, headaches. I use a dose of 5-30 drops. Remember skullcap can induce sleepiness.

Experiment Number Four

Tincture four plants that are common to your area. Learn at least three things they can each be used for and if at all possible, use them.

Further study

1. What is osmosis? Why does 100 proof vodka make stronger tinctures than 80 proof?
2. What is a menstrum? What other menstrums are used to make tinctures?
3. Of the four plant poisons, which are present in each of plants used in the medicine chest?
4. Why don't I consider vinegars tinctures?
5. How is a glyceride different from a tincture?

Advanced work

• Make a tincture from a resinous plant.
• Make a glyceride.
• How is a standardized tincture made?

Study with Susun Weed in the convenience of your home! Choose from three Correspondence Courses: Green Allies, Spirit & Practice of the Wise Woman Tradition, and Green Witch - includes audio/video tapes, books, assignments, special mailings, plus personal time. Learn more at or write to: Susun Weed, PO Box 64, Woodstock, NY 12498.

* This is part 4 in an 8 part series by Susun S. Weed. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | *

Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material on this website/email is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.

Susun Weed
PO Box 64
NY 12498
Fax: 1-845-246-8081

Visit Susun Weed at: and
For permission to reprint this article, contact :

Vibrant, passionate, and involved, Susun Weed has garnered an international reputation for her groundbreaking lectures, teachings, and writings on health and nutrition. She challenges conventional medical approaches with humor, insight, and her vast encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine. Unabashedly pro-woman, her animated and enthusiastic lectures are engaging and often profoundly provocative.

Susun is one of America's best-known authorities on herbal medicine and natural approaches to women's health. Her four best-selling books are recommended by expert herbalists and well-known physicians and are used and cherished by millions of women around the world. Learn more at

This article is © copyright Susun S. Weed 2006 - Republished here with kind permission.


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