Category Archives: Extracts

How I Make Tinctures

I suppose I should start this out by saying that I am not mad about fluid extracts or tinctures. The term “folk tincture” bugs me because it implies that at some point “the folk” used tinctures when they are in fact, a standardized, industrial product of pharmacy.  In all the folk knowledge I inherited from my family and my first teacher, not once was the word tincture mentioned.

I much prefer getting herbs into my clients using methods that the folk used such as a hot diaphoretic infusion or a cold mucilaginous Irish moss lemonade.  I recommend broths, hydromels (syrups, cordials), oxymels (shrubs), or even just a good old-fashioned infused wine or a hot toddy.

Steams, chest rubs and poultices are the kind of medicine my people used. External preparations (especially those made with saturated fats) work better to bring relief to avascular parts of the body.

There are times though, especially in today’s, “take this pill and get back to work” society when these preparations are useful, especially for a clientele who are conditioned to TID type prescriptions and are unlikely to go to the extra work to make the medicines I have listed above.

Although even when I make a formula, my base is likely to be some sort of homemade syrup.  I am kind of known for my tart cherry cordial base. I make it with cherries I grow myself and its pretty damn good.

I mentioned my spreadsheet in a group the other day and then got kind of self-conscious about sharing it, because my tinctures are quite a bit different than a lot I see for sale at conferences these days.

This is partly to do with my early training away from the “herbal community” that I am a part of today and the fact that some of my teachers at school were trained in the UK.    So I thought I would just offer some background about my methods.

I am not at all invested in people agreeing with my approach, nor are people likely to change my mind about it.  It’s been working for me for a very long time.

Here in America herbal extract making is often approached with a “go big or go home” attitude which has been very much influenced by pharmacologists in the profession, such as the Eclectic physicians.

The goal of today’s apothecary is often to extract large amounts of the most biologically active constituent in a plant, but how can we be sure that in this process we aren’t missing out on the synergistic effects of a preparation that might capture a more complete chemical profile of the plant?

British tinctures aren’t quite as bracing. Take a barberry tincture made by Baldwins in England which starts with 45% alcohol and a 1:3 plant ratio.   A lot of Americans will tell you that a preparation of barberry (or goldenseal) made this weak is inferior, because it fails to extract as much pure berberine and of course pharmacists have isolated that constituent as being the one we “want” from the plant.

Most Brits seem to think their weaker preparations work just fine.  I should point out that they though they do use larger doses, which is more affordable when you use less booze.

I know its not as pretty, but the only way you will be able to get to my ratios is to grind your plant material as finely as you can.

Fluid Extracts

A fluid extract is a hydroethanolic extract made at a 1:1 ratio.  1 ml of a fluid extract  = 1 gm of the dried herb. Fluid extracts are useful because they are somewhat standardized and help to deliver large daily doses of plant constituents in a concentrated form.   You use equal amounts of dried plant material and strong ethanol.

Originally these were produced by cold percolation, although there is a cheater’s method I will mention below.  I sometimes dread making percolations because I think there is a lot of waste involved. I usually make fluid extracts with my percolation cone, and then press the marc out in my press when I am done.

My British physick garden curator friend who gets me all the fun seeds, says that hardly anyone in the UK makes percolations, probably because the process entails using stronger booze than they can easily get their hands on.   This is a cheat he taught me that I use sometimes, because I might harvest small amounts of a plant several times over the course of the summer.

 Cheaters Fluid Extract

Macerate 125 g of dried herb in 500 ml of alcohol. If you grind your herbs well and have a good press you won’t lose much. It is usually just short of 500 ml of 1:4 tincture. You can top it off if you would like. Use this tincture to macerate a further 125g of herb and you are at 1:2. Do this until at the end, you have macerated 500 g of dried herb in 500 ml of alcohol.

Why Tinctures?

So, if we have fluid extracts which deliver a uniform amount of concentrated plant constituents every time, what is the purpose, or usefulness of making tinctures?   I was taught that tinctures are useful in sampling a more complete profile of a plant. Making a tincture is a process that recognizes that we can’t catch all the useful constituents of a plant, with high-potency alcohol nor is it necessarily desirable.

Also, when I am making tinctures, there are a couple of tricks I use to save money on alcohol, while at the same time making more potent preparations.

Recycling Tinctures

You can use the previous year’s tincture as a menstruum for this year’s batch of tincture.  (You can do this with a percolation, for that matter.) This does not produce a uniform preparation from year-to-year. If the first year you have a 1:4 ratio, the second year you will have a 1:2 ratio.

So, you must keep good records to adjust your dosing strategies.  Most people don’t want to bother with this, but it can save money for people on a budget due to running a free clinic, or working on sliding fee scales.

Secondary Extracts

You can also use a spent marc to make a secondary extract that will be used as the menstruum for next year’s primary extract or for a percolation of the dry plant material if you run out during the winter.

If you are going to do this, I recommend getting a proofing hydrometer so you can test the potency of your preparation and bump it up if necessary, before using it.   Proofing hydrometers take so much math out of medicine making.  Another thing to keep in mind is that canning jars are not air tight, so if you are using them to store tinctures, your alcohol is evaporating away.

Proofing last year’s calendula tincture. It’s probably too far down to be bumped up again, but at least I know its still good!

I guess I take a kind of middle of the road approach based on what I learned in phytochemistry and years of fiddling around.  I work mostly with fresh herbs I’ve grown myself. Often, I fresh wilt my herbs for 24 hours because I can’t buy 95% alcohol in Iowa.

If you don’t see something on here it is likely because I only make it as a fluid extract OR I don’t make an alcohol preparation with certain plants such as marshmallow, astragalus, Irish moss, raspberry leaf and so on.

There are also some plants on there that you might be surprised to see.  I work with historical herbs,  I don’t advise that people without advanced training make these tinctures,  or use them.

That was a whole lot of talking to say here is a link to an Excel spreadsheet that you can download and take a look at.  Feel free to change it up and use it yourself.  It’s the one I give my students in my year-long program, so they have a little more background as to why I do some of the things I do, but it’s kind of self-explanatory.

I print this off as my Master Formula File list to keep in my lab log book.  For people who don’t have Excel you can look at that.

 

 

Instant Gratification: Dried Tea Powders

The title of this article may be misleading, because there is really nothing quick about the procedure I am about to describe. It is however, a valuable way to quickly incorporate more herbs and foods into your diet, once you get through the process,  which I will explain below.

I first came across a recipe for dried tea extracts on Christopher Hobbs website and as I am always looking for  new projects, I decided to give it a whirl.   The first time I did this I did it with nettles looking for a tolerable way to choke them down.  I’ve messed with the recipe a bit after a lot of trial-and-error experimentation and having a chance to pick Thomas Easley’s brain about the process at TWHC.

6 cups of water: 3 cups of chopped fresh herbs

or

8 cups water: 2 cups ground dried herb

Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer it until the liquid has been reduced by 1/3 . This takes a long time-maybe give yourself a facial or start another project because you are going to need 2-4 hours depending on the day.  Strain the liquid and allow it to cool. Press the marc (I used my tincture press), then weigh it after pressing. Return 1/2 to 1/3 of the solids to the liquid. I blend the mixture with my immersion blender at this point. I  also add 1/4 cup of astragalus powder at this point.

dried tea extractBring this liquid to a boil and simmer some more. When the mixture has reduced by again 1/3 and become sort of a slurry, I dissolve one tablespoon of arrowroot powder in some cold water and blend it in. This step is optional, but helps to keep the slurry from running off the dehydrator’s fruit leather tray or sticking to it.

Dry this at 100ºF to 120ºF until the mixture becomes brittle and then break it in to pieces and grind them into a fine powder.  I used a coffee grinder and then sifted the powder.  If you don’t grind them, you can suck on these like hard candy. I am storing that in the back of my mind for future experimentation.

It is true that a single herb dried extract of nettles might be easier to choke down in this form (yes, I am a bad herbalist who doesn’t like nettle infusions) but why would I do this when I could just make have a nice nettle chai, or maybe a creamy nettle soup that I would actually enjoy? Keep in mind,  I think herbal preparations should actually taste good. Especially if you are trying to get them into children, or people whose taste buds have grown accustomed to the standard American diet.

Next,  I tried a hawthorn chai blend, but I found that the final product didn’t retain enough flavor even though I used a goodly amount of corrigent spices.   I decided that I don’t think I would recommend this method of herbal preparation for  aromatic herbs.  The length of cooking time seems to have evaporated away most volatile constituents.This probably explains why I’ve seen it recommended to add some peppermint extract or some other corrigent, right before putting the mixture on the dehydrator tray.  I think hawthorn is a good candidate though.  Just wait to add the flavor until later.

Raspberry Hibiscus Dried Tea ExtractSo the next time,  I moved away from aromatics and started with with a raspberry leaf/hibiscus blend that I enjoy to see how that handled reducing.  I also used the trick of adding some of my orange flavored honey and some cinnamon extract right before I dumped it on the dehydrator tray. That seemed to work a bit better.   The result is a pleasant little instant tea that I could happily have two cups of a day.   I mix one teaspoon of the powder with a cup of hot water. According to Dr. Hobbs, each teaspoon is the equivalent 6- 8 teaspoons of the herb.

Those who know me know that I am rarely content with following  directions and I started thinking of uses for the powder other than as a dosing strategy.

I started thinking about cooking and suddenly the light came on. I could use these powders to flavor food. I made  powdered kale “tea” to sneak into sauces,  dips, or smoothies and a mixed vegetable powder that I will use to  thicken stews.  Really the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

From a practical homesteading point of view, this makes good sense.  These powders take up less room and may even have a little bit longer shelf life than conventional dehydrated vegetables-lasting up to a year.     So experiment with the method and see what you come up with.  I haven’t even gotten to fruit yet, but a dried apple powder is next on my list.

Bitters: From Medicine Cabinet to Bar Shelf…and back again

Angelica is a popular aromatic bitter with carminative and spasmolytic actions. Candied angelica stems are also a tasty treat.

Angelica is a popular aromatic bitter with carminative and spasmolytic actions. Candied angelica stems are also a tasty treat.

There has been a lot of talk of bitters lately as promoting digestion, but many times people are interested in how exactly that occurs.In a nutshell, when we taste “bitter’ it triggers a physiological process in the body.

Salivary secretion is stimulated as is the production of gastric secretions such as pepsin.  Pepsin is an enzyme responsible for breaking proteins in the stomach down into peptides. The presence of these peptides in turn stimulate the release of gastrin. Gastrin is a hormone which stimulates the release of gastric acids and cholecystokinin.  This hormone, in turn,  stimulates the pancreas and gall bladder to release digestive enzymes and bile.

This net result of all this biochemistry is improved digestion and relief of indigestion.  Some herbs have additional actions such as being spasmolytic which means  they relieve spasms in smooth muscle or carminative which means they help to dispel gas.

The earliest documented medicinal use of bitter herbs was in Ancient Egypt where archeologists have been able to determine that herbs and tree resins were steeped in grape wine. All of the major botanical medicine traditions: Greek, Chinese and Āyurveda incorporated the use of bitter herbs.

In Italy, particularly, the preparations evolved from being medicinal preparations to being routinely served with meals. Amaro  literally means ‘bitter’.  The Italian apéritif Nocino was a medicinal bitter preparation which found its way to Italian monasteries via wandering Celts.  Historians maintain that bitter herbs brewed into malt liquors were used to “diminish the noxious effects of such potations.”

Apéritifs were  served  before meals to stimulate the appetite while digestifs were served afterward to aid digestion.  Digestifs tend to be more sweet and heavy than apéritifs, which are light and dry.

In Britain, bitter preparations began to appear that were made by steeping herbs in alcohol which extracts and concentrates their flavorful constituents. Lash’s Bitters Company began marketing these medicinal preparations in the mid-19th century but after the company moved to San Francisco they found a market for their bitters as a bar room staple in the form and other companies followed suit. Many remember the familiar bottle of Angostura bitters in the liquor closet.

So how does one use bitters “medicinally”?  Traditionally the bitters blends would have been added to soda water. Tonic water is technically a bitters preparation being made with cinchona bark.  However I don’t tend to view them as medicine,  I see them as just another component of a health promoting diet.

Make Your Own Bitters

Bitters by Stephany Hoffelt Iowa City Herbalist

Don’t overlooks the usefulness of these bitter preparations during meal preparation.  A few dashes can add amazing   depth of flavor to your favorite recipe.

Making  homemade bitters can be quite simple and while there are more complex methods of making bitters, the following simple recipes will produce good results.

Traditional Bitters
2 tbsp. dried orange peel
Zest of one orange
¼ sour dried cherries
6 cardamom pods
1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon chips
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 vanilla bean
¼ tsp. whole cloves
¼ tsp. quassia chips (I substitute dried angelica root.)
¼ tsp. gentian root
¼ tsp. powdered black walnut leaf
2 ½ cups rye whiskey (honestly I use Irish whiskey, but rye comes closer to Angostura)

Put your ingredients in  jar and pour the alcohol over them until it reaches the top. Put the lid on tightly and let this steep for  at least three weeks.

Strain the liquid into a clean jar and set aside.

Now pour just enough filtered water over the ingredients in the jar to cover them. Add 1 tablespoon of cherry syrup or honey. Let this steep for three days, strain and add to the alcohol mixture you set aside.

Cranberry Orange Bitters
Zest of one orange
¼ cup dried orange peel
¼ cup fresh cranberries – crushed
½ teaspoon coriander seed
½ tsp. whole allspice
½ teaspoon gentian powder
1 slice of  fresh ginger root
2 ¼ cup 100 proof vodka

Use same process as above.

Angelica Bitters
3 oz. fresh angelica root
1 cups fresh basil leaves (common garden variety)
1 cups fresh rosemary
2 tbsp. dried orange peel  and zest from one orange
2 tbsp. fenugreek seed

Place the herbs in a blender and pour enough 100 proof vodka over the herbs to cover them. Blend the ingredients well. Pour them in a mason jar, cover tightly and let this mixture steep for 3 weeks.  Skip the secondary step from the directions above because alcohol will pull a lot of water from the fresh ingredients in this blend.  You don’t want to dilute it too much.

How to Use Your Bitters

There are an overwhelming number of articles flavoring cocktails with bitters, which neglects many other alternatives.  To begin with think of ways you can cook with your bitters concoctions.  Experiment with adding a few dashes  to salad dressings, relishes, marinades or soups.  Here are a few recipes to get you started.

Braised Greens
1 pound chopped greens of your choice
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 small diced onion
1 tsp. real salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. bitters blend

Heat the oil in a large fry pan which has a lid and sauté the garlic and onions until tender. Add the greens and stir them around over the heat for a moment. Turn down the heat and cover the pan. Allow the greens to cook down, stirring occasionally. When they are tender sprinkle with the salt, pepper and bitters. Stir well and serve.

This is a nice way to make a quick fruit salad.

Fruit Salad Dressing

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup packed mint leaves
Zest of one citrus fruit
1 tsp. bitters preparation
Put all of the ingredients except the bitters in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow this to steep overnight. Then strain. Toss with 9 cups of cubed fruit.

There are also ways to turn your  bitters preparations into  tasty beverages with negligible alcohol content.  You could add a half-teaspoon to a smoothie.  Or try the following recipes.

Lassi Digestif
1 1/4 cup frozen fruit
1 cup yogurt
2 tbsp. honey
1/2 teaspoon bitters blend

Mix these ingredients in a blender and enjoy in place of a dessert.

My take on the traditional bitters and soda water :

Bitters and Soda Water
½ tsp homemade bitters
8 ounce glass of sparkling water
1 tsp raw local honey or a few drops of stevia extract
Slice of orange

Add the bitters and orange slice to the sparkling water and stir.

This amount of bitters adds no more alcohol content than an equal amount of vanilla extract would add, so it is safe for children. An adult may adjust the dose to a teaspoon in the case of indigestion. You can also add a few drops to a cup of chamomile tea which has been used traditionally to enhance digestion.

My own personal favorite, which avoids alcohol entirely, is to make a seasoning mixture by grinding dry versions of  bitter herbs and sprinkling this blend on my food in place of salt and pepper.

*Note: make sure the Sumac you use has red berries. Poison Sumac has white berries and should not be touched, harvested or eaten since it is very toxic.

Homemade Liqueurs

IMG_0211So I promised another quickie gift idea and this one builds on the recipe I shared yesterday.

The first one involves making a simple syrup with cacao nibs.  For the second you need a simple syrup made with very strong coffee. 

Crème de Cacao
Mix  2 cups of a simple syrup made with cacao nibs (strained) and 2 cups of vodka.  Add a tablespoon of a nice vanilla extract.    Bottle this and give as gifts.    Alternatively if you do this ahead of time  you can infuse 1 cup of cacao nibs in the vodka and just add vanilla simple syrup.   I prefer the second method because the aromatic bitters come out in the flavor. 

Coffee Liqueur
Make a simple syrup with strong coffee.   For every 2 cups of simple syrup add a cup of vodka (100 proof) or light rum.   Add a couple tablespoons of your creme de cacao and stir it up well. If you omit the vanilla beans in the making the simple syrup, you will want to add a tablespoon of vanilla extract.

Cranberry Liqueur
If you have any cranberries, you can make up a homemade cranberry sauce.   In this recipe you mix things up a little by making a syrup with 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water and the zest of one orange and 3 cloves.    Then add this syrup to your cranberry sauce along with 3 cups of vodka.  Let this sit for a couple of days and then strain and bottle it. 

You can make a variety of cocktails with these liqueurs. Because I am not a sweets person, I usually mix them with sparkling water or cream to cut back on the sweetness.