How To Make Alcohol Tinctures
Part 5, and the last installment of The Botanical Extracts Series, is on alcohol based extracts. Botanical extracts made with alcohol are known as tinctures. They are one of the most commonly used forms of herbal extracts and take a little longer to make than those made with oil, water or vinegar. They are also the most concentrated, so use with care.
Tinctures are very stable and will last a long time when stored correctly. Alcohol is a self preserving system so no preservative is needed. Most compounds transfer easily into this medium but alcohol does denature proteins and enzymes, so if you are looking to include biological benefits from plants in your skincare, you may be better off with a water or vinegar based extract.
They do have many other wonderful uses though:
If you use food grade alcohol, you can make your own medicinal tinctures. You can use any food grade alcohol of at least 40% strength (so nothing less than a good vodka, otherwise go stronger if you can).
Tinctures can be taken neat orally, or in tea or food. Please consult a medical professional for dosages.
Tinctures are concentrates that are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream so they are an effective way of treating various conditions.
Alcohol extracts are very potent and some botanics can have powerful scents. Tinctures can be used to fragrance various products. Eg vanilla extract, coffee extract, various flower extracts, spices, etc.
Ever wanted to make your own vanilla essence, almond or coffee essence? Well you can with alcohol extracts!
Alcohol extracts are rarely used in natural skincare because alcohol can be drying when used in large amounts, but they do have a purpose in products for oily skin types as well as problem skin. Alcohols such as isopropyl and ethanol are wonderful at soaking up excess oil and drying out acne and problem skin. They can be used as astringents and the addition of plant extracts makes them that much more effective.
If you aim for about 2% alcohol extract in your formulations, with the addition of a humectant, they should not have a drying effect at all. If you want the astringent property then you can go up to 5-8%.
Low molecular weight alcohols such as isopropyl and ethanol also make products feel lighter on the skin and aid in absorption into the skin. Products dry on the skin quicker, which is sometimes desirable in skincare formulas.
Botanical Tinctures To Try
Choose botanicals depending on the purpose you want them to serve. Some examples could be: ease digestive issues, soothe itchiness, boost the immune system, calm anxiety, add a botanical extract to skincare, act as an astringent etc etc
You can use either fresh or dried herbs, and the infusion time will be at least one month, longer to get a more potent extract. Here are some examples of botanicals that can be used:
Chickweed extract for itchiness
Peppermint tincture for digestion
Turmeric is anti inflammatory
Ginger is immune boosting and anti inflammatory
Echinacea tincture is also immune boosting
Propolis tincture - natural antibiotic, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral
Dried mushrooms make an Ayurvedic extract
Other Ayurvedic extracts for various needs.
Various extracts in skincare/cosmetics:
Vanilla extract for scent
Cacao nib tincture (can also combine with a vanilla pod) for a rich chocolate scent
Coffee extract - in baking or skincare
Various botanical extracts for the skin properties.
For use in the kitchen:
Almond extract (or any other nut) - use ½ c raw slivered almonds or ground almonds in 235ml vodka or other alcohol
Lemon extract - 2 lemon rinds in 235ml vodka or other alcohol
Orange extract - 1 large orange rind in 235ml vodka or other alcohol
Coconut extract - ½ c finely chopped raw coconut meat in 235ml vodka or other alcohol
And so much more!
Notes on alcoholic extracts:
Alcohol tinctures will not be Halaal compliant.
Not everyone wants alcohol in their formulations due to religious, dietary or health/lifestyle reasons, so take this into consideration before formulating with your alcoholic tinctures.
Alcohol does not dissolve the minerals and trace elements found in plants (vinegar extracts are able to do this).
How To Make Tinctures
Here is what you will need:
Glass jar, preferably with a metal lid, that is large enough for the amount of tincture you want to make.
Fresh or dried botanicals of choice
Alcohol of choice
Once you have decided which botanicals you will be using in your extraction, you will need to prepare them.
If using fresh leaves or flowers:
Thoroughly wash before use, then finely chop. Fill the jar ⅔ - ¾ full with plant material and then fill up to the top with alcohol.
If using fresh roots, bark or berries:
Thoroughly wash before use, then finely chop. Fill the jar ⅓ - ½ full with plant material and then fill up/ to the top with alcohol.
If using dried leaves or flowers:
Finely chop and fill the jar ½ - ¾ with plant material and then fill up to the top with alcohol.
If using dried roots, bark or berries:
Finely chop and fill the jar ¼ - ⅓ with plant material and then fill up to the top with alcohol.
Tightly seal your extraction jar and store it in a cool, dark place. Shake it up daily and keep an eye on the alcohol level. If you see it dropping, simply top up your alcohol back to the original level.
After 6 - 8 weeks your tincture will most likely be ready. To filter out the plant matter, have a glass bottle, funnel and cotton filter ready. Place 3 layers of cotton filter gauze on top of one another (if you have used a fine powder you may need an extra layer or two to catch everything) and line the funnel. Then pour the extraction through the filter-funnel setup into your bottle. Seal up, label your tincture and then store in a cool cupboard. All done!
What Type Of Alcohol Should I Use?
If you are going to be ingesting the tincture in any format (medicinally, in baking, etc) please only use food grade alcohol. You can use any neutral alcohol of 40% alcohol by volume or more such as vodka, grain alcohol, or one with more ‘spice’ such as brandy, bourbon, rum etc. You can also use a food grade ethanol. The taste of your tincture may vary depending on what alcohol you use. DO NOT use isopropyl alcohol or ethanol as these are not for internal use.
If your tinctures are for use in formulations, then you can use isopropyl alcohol or ethanol.
Do I Need To Use A Preservative In Tinctures?
No you don’t; alcohol is a self preserving system.
Tinctures take a little longer than other extractions. Your typical tincture will need 6 - 8 weeks, but some may require more time, up to 6 months. The longer you leave to extract the stronger your tincture will be.
Storage & Shelf Life
Tinctures are very stable and can last years when stored correctly. Keep them tightly sealed in a cool cupboard out of direct sunlight.
Can Tinctures Be Diluted?
Once your tincture has been made you can dilute the alcohol with water to make a less potent extraction.
How Can Tinctures Be Used In Cosmetic Formulations?
Tinctures act as astringents, fragrances as well as carrying botanical properties. They can be incorporated at about 2% in skincare formulations, and with the addition of a humectant they should not have a drying effect at all. If you want the astringent property then you can go up to 5-8%.
Tinctures work really well in products for oily or problem skin.
We have now completed our 5-part introduction to making various kinds of botanical extracts! We hope you enjoyed it and learnt a thing or two. Let us know what kinds of extracts you are making in the comments - we would love to hear your experiences.