This article is part of the series “Basic Recipes for Kitchen Witches,” which is in response to students’ requests for me to post recipes online. The goal of these articles is to give you the how-to-ness, the essential mechanics of creation, as a basis for your own future creativity. You can let your little light shine all on your own from there.
From an accessibility standpoint, folkloric tinctures are the best thing ever. There’s no need for measuring and weighing and doing arithmetic–and you don’t have to study the intricacies of weight-to-volume tinctures to make something truly fabulous. Provided the plants you’re tincturing aren’t poisonous in any dose, you’re good to let your kitchen scale gather dust while you experiment to your heart’s content.
This is my favorite method for making infused vinegars: folkloric tinctures using vinegar instead of alcohol. I like using apple cider vinegar raw because it’s almost impossible to heat it and maintain all the awesome probiotic magic, but some people prefer making a vinegar reduction when they infuse vinegars. I have great results that yield strong, complex medicines using this method, so I see no reason to boil vinegar in a misery of stinging steam, but please make your magic where you find it.
That being said, if your plants are poisonous at all, you could potentially make someone really sick–so be sure your medicines are benign. Dose-dependent medicines should not be made into folkloric tinctures because there’s no way to be sure of the medicine’s strength and concentration. Also, you can’t replicate the medicine from batch to batch. So, with those warnings in mind, here follows a basic recipe for a basic tincture.
- Fill a glass jar with finely chopped herbs
- Cover with the alcohol, vinegar, or glycerine of your choice
- Clearly label with plant, date, moon phase, harvest location, etc. Cover label with packing tape!
- Let sit for 6 weeks or more in a cool, dark place, shaking regularly
- Strain plant matter out of tincture and squeeze strained herbs between 2 plates or in a potato ricer to extract the last of the tincture
- Store in a clearly labeled glass jar or bottle in a cool, dark place
A word on alcohol choice:
Since we’re intentionally not concerning ourselves with solubility here, you’re free to do whatever you want with the myriad choices of alcohol in the world. (That said, if you’re going to use grain alcohol, organic or otherwise, please consider making weight-to-volume tinctures with it because otherwise you’re just pouring your money down the drain with your liver function.) I’ve found in my classes that there seems to be two ways folks react to the announcement that they can use whatever they want: half of you reach for the bottom shelf, plastic bottle vodka, and the other half reach for the certified organic…vodka. I see where you’re coming from with this, I really do: vodka is cheap, it has very limited flavor, and it’s also cheap and relatively flavorless. In a lot of circumstances I prefer flavorless alcohol for tincturing because taste is an important part of medicine: phytochemicals trigger brain activity which in turn triggers physical responses like salivating or increasing metabolic rate. Like you, I don’t want to obscure the herbs in the alcohol. However, there’s as much culinary alchemy in successful tincture making as there is nerdy plant science, so I challenge you to branch out from the blank canvas of vodka and consider the ways different flavors of alcohol can enhance the alchemy of medicine making. Brandy makes a lovely complement to warming tinctures, and gin (a tincture itself) heightens cooling traits.
In the near future I’m hoping to write an article on this subject, but for the time being, start there and experiment yourself–I think you’ll be surprised with your success.