I love herbs, and I also enjoy alcohol. My dedicated readers know for sure that I adore honey…so I generally do my best to combine those three ingredients in as many forms as possible.
My cabinets are full of jars, and those jars are full of strange floating bits in colored liquid. It makes me feel my most witchy to open that cabinet and bring out strange brews to share with friends. I have many jars that are medicine, and jars that are for fun, and jars that are a bit of both.
Let’s start with Tinctures:
Tinctures are medicinal extracts of herbs in alcohol. Some folks use moonshine and others might prefer high-test likkers for their tinctures, but I tend to use a medium-brand, triple-distilled vodka so I don’t have to dilute the tincture until it’s ingested. If you aren’t into vodka, a nice brandy is a good alternative.
The process for making a tincture is simple:
- Get an herb, fresh or dried.
- Put said herb into a jar.
- Pour alcohol to cover the herb.
- Put a lid on it, and give it a good shake every now and again
- Strain after 3-6 weeks and label clearly (date, herb, type of alcohol)
Now, tinctures are potent! When you take tinctures, please do a lot of research if you are dosing yourself, or find a practiced herbalist to give you guidance. Some tinctures, such as poke root or teasel, only need a couple of drops per day to be effective and more than that can cause you harm.
When taking tinctures, you can put a few drops in some water or juice. If you are giving tinctures to children, add it to hot tea and some of the alcohol will burn off. If you’re tough, you might be able to just handle a squirt of tincture without dilution…but it’ll burn your mouth a bit if you don’t drink straight booze often. (Whisky neat, please!)
Elixirs are more palatable:
Elixirs are the sweetened version of those alcohol-expressed medicines. I tend to make “sipping” elixirs out of the more tasty herb tinctures. These can almost cross the line into cordials, which while they may have medicinal benefits, are mostly just for pleasure as far as my definitions go. The sharp tang of elderberry cordial is lovely, but I try to save it for when I’m feeling sick. To use an elixir, just pour a bit into your hot tea, or into a brandy snifter to sip on for a while.
Then there are the less-than-tasty herbal medicines…adding sweetener to the more bitter or astringent herb tinctures can make ingesting them a more palatable experience, especially with kids. Valerian and Horehound are good examples of herbs that can use a splash of honey to cut their bitter strength!
Elixirs are easy to make:
You can start out with a tincture and add a simple syrup (recipe below). Add the cooled syrup to tincture in small bits, then shake the mix to blend it, and then taste. If it isn’t right, add more and taste again! Be careful, these are meant to be sipped as they are still potent medicine, and this sweetening and tasting process can get you loopy.
- Boil one cup of water.
- Add a cup of sugar (or honey, or agave, or whatever you prefer!)
- Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Let it come to a boil for one minute. Turn to low and let it simmer for a few minutes.
- Allow to cool down a bit before funneling into a clean glass bottle with a tight fitting lid.
- Label and date your syrup and store it in the fridge!
Sometimes I use the lazy method. Pour a dollop of honey into a strained tincture and give it a shake. It works, but it ends up being super sticky and thick compared to the simple syrup process described above.
I hope that helps to demystify some of the process and allow you to play around with your Junior Alchemist kit in your kitchen, and have another way to use your herb harvest before the final frost takes it from you!
Here are some cordials and tinctures that I have in the works. All of these are made with vodka.
In the back, we have Cranberry cordial. I buy cranberries when they go on sale every holiday season, and freeze them if I don’t use them immediately. This jar has been full for close to a year, and will remain there until the berries have lost a bit more color to the alcohol. Then there will be a sugar syrup added (perhaps brown sugar this year) and it will sit and settle until Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Clockwise, we next have Goldenrod tincture. Learn more about the wonderful weed Goldenrod!
Yarrow is a strong sister plant for me. She sprang up tall and magnificent from the patch I prepared and transplanted her the first year I lived here. The fronds on this plant were humongous, and her flowers plentiful! Yarrow tincture is good for keeping insects at bay when applied externally, and is an amazing wound cleaner as well. She’ll be handy to keep around for next spring.
Lemon Balm, Sweet Melissa, fills out the next jar with her flat, wide leaves. I crushed them with my fingers as I put them in the jar, to release her lemony, sharp oils. This plant is excellent for anxiety, depression, any emotional rollercoasters and overwhelming dizziness can be slowed down by a couple drops in water and a couple of deep breaths. (Lemon Balm Wine)
Lastly, we have valerian and mint. Some folks can’t stand the smell of Valerian, but I’m quite fond of it. The mint is there to make it palatable, sure, but it also has it’s own benefits in the realm of gas relief and relaxation. In a couple of weeks, I’ll strain that jar and add some honey to the tincture and shake it together for a tonic cordial. My delicate-tummied love sometimes ends up unable to sleep at night with gut pains keeping him awake…but after one good slug of valerian and mint cordial, there’s a couple of burps and then a symphony of snores!
This is my last fresh-harvest hurrah for the season. This week, I’ll be making tasty treats using the elixir method with rum instead of vodka, and leftover apple peels that would otherwise be discarded. Winter is nigh, and I’m set on having plenty of tasty, warming medicines to get me and my loved ones through!
2016 update: Watch me ramble about making cordials for an hour!