Herbal Tinctures - Part 2

Theoretic introduction is done, so it's time for some practical advice on the matter of herbal tinctures. After all, theory is easy to access these days, but some things You only learn with time.

Since tinctures are alcohol-based brews, they are highly resistant to bacterial contamination. This means they will keep long and, usually, they can be stored in second-hand bottles or jars that only need thorough washing by means of preparation. (Oil macerates or ointments, on the contrary, need a container that has been at least sterilized by boiling, and even then You're being casual about it.) However, there's still a few things that should be taken care of with alcoholic tinctures.
  • Choosing ingredients
Not every herb lends itself well to alcoholic extraction, so You're safest when following trusted recipes, as it's near-impossible to list all cases and exceptions. Not every case will benefit from an alcohol-based remedy, either, so you may want to choose the ingredients with a specific situation in mind. In magic, this of course means a right herb for a right spell ; in herbalism, the ingredient must be right for the patient. Common mistletoe plant (visci herba) is, for example, often used in remedies for chronic headaches, but given to someone with low arterial pressure it might prove quite disastrous.
  • Mixing ingredients
When making a tincture from more than one ingredient, remember they can, and will, interact with each other. By no means can You presume that similar herbs (or those with similar properties) can be safely mixed and prepared together. If You have Your heart set on a multi-component tincture, always make sure that whatever You're mixing can be put together safely. (And I'm not even touching here on interaction of herbs on other medicines - that's a topic all of it's own). Again, it's best to follow recipes that's been checked and proved fine, not combine all that you can find in your cabinet.
  • Choosing the alcoholic base
This has proven to be quite a problem for apprentice herbalists, as I know from experience. Most good recipes will give the exact alcoholic strength needed, so that the maker can achieve the desired effect by careful mixing of spirit and water. However, this requires some careful calculations. When in doubt, use a medium-strength alcoholic base (~40%) as higher concentration could damage some active substances, or make the tincture unsuitable for some patients.
More importantly, the kind of alcohol depends on the intended use for the tincture : medical rubbing alcohol can be used for external purposes, but absolutely not if the resulting potion is to be consumed. Rectified spirit (sometimes uncut, sometimes mixed in right proportion with water) is the best bet here, since it can be used for both purposes without problems. If a lower alcoholic percentage is sufficient, clear vodka can be substituted.
  • Doing it right
Generally, if You have a dependable recipe and are following it, You'll be good. Some ingredients need to be stored in the dark while infusing, some shouldn't be exposed to alcohol too long, some need shaking or stirring and some absolutely do not. If You have a recipe that doesn't specify these details, it might be best to look for one that does, so You know what You're doing.
A lot of this knowledge will only accumulate over time as You practise the skills required, so remember to keep notes. Still, even with those uncertainties, alcoholic tinctures are by far the easiest herbal preparations to make.

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