It’s really simple. Fill a jar twice, once with plant and then again with vodka, put a lid on, let sit for 6 weeks, strain and voila!
And you can use the same method to make herbal vinegars and oils. It’s called the simplers method and doesn’t require specific calculations of ratios.
Here’s more detail:
1. Jars: you want glass, not plastic. Glass is clean and won’t leach chemicals into your brew, and is easy to sterilise. Use clear glass so you can see what happens as the tincture brews. I like jars with non-poptop lids, because the poptop ones always seem to seep. Keeping a range of clean jars at the ready is handy for when you find herbs unexpectedly.
2. Plant: take your freshly harvested herb or weed and chop and put into the jar. I tend to chop coarsely, unless I want a stronger brew. The finer you chop the herbs the stronger the tincture will be. It important to tincture the herbs as soon as you can after picking because plant starts to deteriorate, especially if it’s hot or wet. I quite often make the tincture right where I have picked the herb.
3. Alcohol: vodka is a good choice because it is plain, with no flavour. Use the highest proof* vodka you can get. In NZ, that’s usually 43% (Smirnoff blue). Duty Free have a Smirnoff blue that is 50%, so if you are returning from overseas, or know anyone, get some bottles. It’s alot cheaper too. 50% vodka is 50% ethanol and 50% water, so it will extract both water soluble and alcohol soluble parts of the plant. Most tinctures are fine made this way. If you can’t get any of these a lower proof will be ok, but you will get less of the more medicinal parts of the plant (that are extracted into alcohol).
*proof is roughly twice the ethanol percentage eg 100 proof is roughly 50% ethanol.
4.Shaken or Stirred: once the jar is full of plant and alcohol, get a chopstick and poke around to get as much air as possibly out. Put a lid on and leave overnight. The next day top up with vodka (the alcohol level will have dropped). Some people like to shake their tinctures regularly, to mix it all up. I don’t because it introduces air back into the brew. Sometimes, depending on the herb, the chopped plant can have a tendency to float up to the top of the alcohol. Keep an eye on it, topping up and/or pushing the herb under, until the herb becomes saturated and stays submerged. You can also make the tincture so it is nearly full of plant and then fill right to the brim with vodka, and keep topped up. That way there will be no space for the herbs to rise up.
5. Label: keep a record of the parts of the plant used, date, alcohol and percentage, place of harvest and any other relevant information. I write on glass jars with a marker pen, and then once the tincture is strained and bottled I use a white sticker to write on. I also write the same information in a notebook, along with longer observations about the harvest, season, locale etc.
6. Time: 6 weeks is what I learned and what alot of herbalist do. Some do less. It’s ok, good even, to leave tinctures to brew for long periods of time. As long as the plant material is completely covered with alcohol they won’t go off (and most herbs won’t go off above the alcohol level either as they are to saturated). I often leave tinctures in the alcohol until I need them, often months, sometimes years.
7. Storage: when you are ready, strain the tincture through a cloth and sieve, squeezing out as much alcohol as you can from the plant. Pour into a clean bottle made of dark glass. Label as you did the jar. Store in a cool, dark place to protect the tincture. Tinctures will keep a long time this way, usually years.