So, you’ve started your journey into herbalism and are ready to begin making medicine at home; you’ve read up on how herbs work and the basics of formulation, but you’re not sure what exactly you need to get started. Welcome to the wonderful world of the home apothecary! Knowing what is necessary and what is just extra can be a hassle, especially when you want to do everything as well as you can. This guide is designed for anyone wanting to make the best medicine without spending a massive chunk of cash; in many cases, I’ve listed some alternatives tools you can use if you already have them on hand! Use what you have and evaluate the necessity of every item you come across! You can create wonderful tinctures, glycerites, tea blends, and more without spending a fortune.
Before I get started, I wanted to let you know that I have affiliate links in this post. I would never recommend something I didn’t think would be useful or good for making the best medicine. If you make a purchase using one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I don’t charge for any of my content, which is why I use affiliate links! I appreciate all the support I may receive from these links!
I will be posting multiple parts in this series. Each post offers what you’d need to make a given formulation. I suggest finding specific recipes and remedies you want to try before buying up everything from each of these lists! You can slowly gather up your supplies over time and eventually end up with a kitchen full of gear. Don’t forget to double check your cupboards for alternatives you may already have on hand!
Tinctures and Infusions
Tinctures are alcohol-based extractions. Infusions, in this case made with oil (oil infusions), glycerin + water (glycerites), or vinegar (acetum), are mixtures that extract medicine from plants using different solvents. Tinctures and infusions are among the most common and potent formulations in herbalism.
To create a tincture or infusion, I recommend having these tools on hand:
- For grinding herbs: while mortar and pestles look beautiful on a shelf and in photos, they can be a hassle to use. Instead, many herbalists prefer to make use of coffee grinders.
- For measuring: I prefer to measure my herbs and alcohol for tincturing and infusing. I use a simple digital kitchen scale for this. I’ve had this one for two years, and it’s done great for me. If you plan on creating skincare formulas like emulsions, or want to use very small amounts of herbs in your formulas, I recommend getting a scale that measures smaller amounts. Jewelry scales are awesome for this.
- For tincturing and infusing: I usually make my tinctures and infusions in jars or bottles with wide rims, then strain and move them to the amber bottles. The opening is so small on the amber bottles and it can be tedious to clean herbs from them after extraction, so I reserve them for storage and dispensing. I recommend using small jars such as these for brewing, depending on how much you are making: 3.4 oz option here, 8 oz option here, and a 16 oz option here. Keep in mind that you will lose volume after removing the exhausted marc from the infused menstruum.
- For heated infusions: if you’d like to use a double boiler to infuse herbs into oil, you can purchase one like this, or make use of jars or other glass bowls. If you’re looking for a heating element to use somewhere other than your kitchen, this may be a good option for you.
- For straining: I always double strain, sometimes triple if the herb being used is particularly powdery. You can use cheese cloth for large bits accompanied with a mesh strainer like this one, or opt for coffee filters, either reusable or disposable. I prefer a combination of coffee filters and a mesh strainer for most herbs.
- For labeling: I have tried using chalk labels in the past, and they always manage to rub off very quickly. Instead, I use sugar cane stickers from Pure Labels that can be composted after use. Another option is to write directly on the jar or jar lid, but there is a chance it will rub off over time. On Amazon, you can buy this roll of labels to use on your bottles, too.
- For storage: small glass amber bottles with droppers – 2oz. option here, 4 oz. option here, and 8 oz option here (no dropper due to bottle size). I tend to use 2 oz. and 4 oz. bottles the most, but if you plan on making large batches, having 8 oz. bottles may be handy. If you don’t have a cool, dark place to keep your solutions during or after extraction I recommend creating a zeer pot or keeping them in a stoneware container.
Alternatives for Tinctures and Infusions:
- For tincturing and storage: you can use small glass jars of any shape, colour, and size as long as they are stored properly and you do not have a jar full of air. Keep tinctures in cool, dark, dry areas such as inside of cupboards or closet, especially if they are clear or very translucent. Light and heat are the top degraders of the compounds in herbal extractions. Do not use jars that are painted on the inside. When making your medicine, ensure there is very little headspace left in the jar. Add more herbs and alcohol/oil/etc. per the recipe ratio to avoid oxidation, another major issue when making herbal remedies. Always label your formulations with the contents, date created, and estimated expiry date.
- For heated infusions: when it comes to making oil infusions, glycerites, and sometimes aceta, the glass container you use does not need to be dark. Use very low heat over several hours (some say up to 24), strain, and store in dark bottles. I often upcycle jars I get from the store for these kinds of infusions. I have never made use of a true double boiler for my infusions, as I haven’t had access to one large enough for my recipes; that said, I have had great results. Instead, I use jars, Pyrex measuring cups, and glass bowls in a pot of water. I also use my stove instead of a heating plate.
- For straining: you can make use of most natural fiber cloths for straining. I have used bread bags to strain oil infusions, and cotton cloths for tinctures. Just be sure they are detergent and soap free, and are not dirty before using. For mesh strainers, I have used a drip coffee pot strainer like this one. Take a look around your home and kitchen for other sustainable options you already have on hand.
- For labeling: if you already have it on hand, try using a piece of scotch tape on your jars instead of stickers. Or, if you have some packing tape that’s gone unused, make your own DIY labels by taping a piece of paper to the jar. If you have a label maker like a P-Touch, you can make use of it here, too. Mostly blank stickers from children’s coloring books or scrapbooking remnants can also be useful.
A menstruum is the solvent used to extract medicine from herbs. The herbal material is called the marc. Here are some options for the menstruum of each tincture/infusion process.
- Everclear is a grain alcohol with an extremely high alcohol content, up to 190 proof (95%). It can be diluted with distilled water to the preferred proof for a given herb, making it an economical and storage-savvy option.
- Rum, whiskey, and other alcohols with a proof of about 80 or higher are typically preferred when making tinctures. Keep in mind that tinctures made with fresh herbs will be diluted by the water content of the herbs themselves, and this should be accounted for when deciding what proof of alcohol to use. Every herb has recommended tincturing alcohol proofs to research as well.
- Any food grade glycerin can be used to make glycerites. To make a glycerite, you combine glycerin with water (the ratio is dependent on the herbs being used and personal preference) and pour it over your herbs to infuse over time or over heat. Here is an option I have used, a smaller one I picked up, and and a palm-free option available as well.
- A variety of vinegars can be used to create an acetum. Red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and distilled white vinegar are just a few options. Evaluate the vinegars that are most accessible to you, and make a few test batches using different options. Plain vinegars with no added flavoring are the best when making herbal aceta. Use what you have on hand. Many herbalists prefer to use apple cider vinegar, particularly “with the mother” mixed in.
- There are dozens of oils to use when making oil infusions. Depending on how you plan to use them, different oils will benefit you when making infusions. For consumption, olive oil is an excellent choice. For topical application, dry oils like hempseed oil are great. So is sweet almond oil, which is lightweight and moisturizing. I recommend checking out lists like this one to find the perfect oil for your needs.
I hope this post is useful to you on your journey toward making your own medicine. Let me know if you have any questions or have recommendations for other herbalists looking to start their journey! See you next time!