1. STANDARD TINCTURES
Although in pharmacy definitions exist that encompass a broad range of manufacturing procedures and materials, for our purposes a tincture is the liquid preparation produced by macerating prepared plant material in a mixture of alcohol and water at room temperature over a prescribed period of time, which is then pressed and filtered to yield a fluid into which active constituents of the herb have dissolved.
In the UK, tinctures have for a long time been the most used form of medicine by herbal practitioners and are growing in popularity with the public. They are widely available, economical to produce and use, compact enough to stock in considerable variety and have a good shelf life. They can be mixed with each other in almost any combination, and are convenient to take. Within reason they can be mixed with other liquid preparations such as fluid extracts, syrups and juices. They can also be incorporated into many forms of preparation for external use.
Effectively any herb can be converted into a tincture, but tinctures are not appropriate to all therapeutic strategies. A main consideration here is that they contain a significant amount of alcohol, which is in itself warming and stimulating. Tinctures are thus the preparation of choice for tonics, carminatives and circulatory stimulants and generally any situation where warming and energising are appropriate.
It is noteworthy that tinctures have probably met their maximum popularity in the UK where the cold damp climate will tend towards a variety of ills for which warming and stimulating will be common remedial objectives. Nevertheless situations will arise where a cooling effect is demanded. A little alcohol is unlikely to defeat the powerful cooling properties of the intense bitters such as Gentian, Gentiana lutea or Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium. Where more gently cooling herbs are concerned, while these may still be therapeutically useful in tincture form, the cooling potential is reduced or lost. Mucilage, the cooling and soothing constituent par excellence, is certainly damaged by the presence of alcohol. Enough survives in a high quality tincture of Comfrey leaf, Symphytum officinalis to play its part amongst the other healing constituents of this remedy; in the case of Marshmallow root, Althaea officinalis which bears little else but mucilage, a cold decoction or syrup may be preferable.
Tinctures are likewise a poor medium for diaphoretics, where a hot infusion is called for to promote a therapeutic sweat. Alteratives may “flush out the system” more efficiently in infusion form.
A tincture formula will state the herb and the part used, the ratio of herb (by weight) to solvent (by volume), and the % alcohol (ethanol) in water, e.g.
- Verbena officinalis, herba, 1:5, 25%
Standard formulae appear in the British Pharmacopoeia and British Pharmaceutical Codex, (particularly pre-war editions), in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and other derivative texts and foreign equivalents. Commercial manufacturers also list the formulae they use, which may serve as a better guide, the modern trend being to deviate from official formulae, wherever practical and sensible, to achieve a product of greater therapeutic potency. Within prudent limits, a small scale production can take advantage of an even more flexible approach to formulation than commercial practice.
At this stage a preliminary glossary of terms should be introduced:-
- Comminution: The reduction of herbal material to an optimum particle size for e.g. tincture making, by chopping, grinding or shredding.
- Maceration: The process of submerging and steeping herbal material in a solvent liquid (e.g. diluted alcohol) at room temperature over a prescribed period of time.
- Menstruum & Marc: Once combined, the solid matter (herbal material) is referred to as the marc and the solvent (diluted alcohol) as the menstruum. After separation (by pressing & filtering) the menstruum is now a tincture (or extract) the spent marc usually being discarded.
Dried herbs must be comminuted to a suitable particle size for tincture making; whilst generally speaking herbs supplied for “herb teas” by commerce are suitable, the following should be born in mind:-
- Flowers, leafy herbs, and other very light material must be finely cut, otherwise an excessive amount of menstruum will be required to “cover” them, resulting in a weak product.
- Very dense materials such as roots & barks must again be reduced to sufficiently small particles to enable efficient maceration and pressing.
- Powders may be employed,(but note that they are seldom of optimum quality). They tend to settle and compact, thus inhibiting extraction, unless stirred daily. They may also prove very difficult to press.
To establish an optimum ratio of marc to menstruum, one is looking for a minimum viable proportion of liquid in order to derive a concentrated product, the absolute limitation being the volume that will just cover the herb material, conventionally so that the herbs lie about an inch below the surface of the liquid. Herbs not adequately submerged will be subject to undue oxidation. Bear in mind that many dried herbs, particularly “soft” roots such as Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, and Angelica, Angelica archangelica, will absorb significant quantities of menstruum, so an increase in volume must be allowed if the herb is to remain covered throughout the maceration. (Note that if one has been caught out by this phenomenon, additional menstruum can be added a day of two later).
There are very few herbs that will not be “covered” by a 1:5 ratio as a upper limit, but 1:8, 1:10 and even 1:20 are sometimes encountered where the herb is extremely potent, or to eke out a rare and expensive subject such as Golden Seal, Hydrastis canadensis.
However, aside of these exceptions a small scale production lends itself to a policy of maximum strength and quality, employing finely comminuted material and minimising the volume of menstruum. 1:4 or 1:3 is common for light, leafy materials and 1:3, 1:2 or even 1:1 for denser roots, barks and seeds.
Experience of social beverages demonstrates that beers, wines, etc. with less than 12% alcohol content will “go off” very soon after being exposed to air, whilst a fortified wine such as sherry (17.5%) will survive a year or more after being unstoppered, and spirits, (34%+) may suffer from evaporation but not infection. For the majority of tinctures, an alcohol content of 25% is the accepted standard. This compensates for the fact that plant constituents dissolved into the menstruum will effectively reduce the proportion of alcohol in the finished product to around 20%, at which level the tincture can be expected to have an acceptable shelf-life.
Before continuing, one curiosity regarding alcohol content arises from the fact that 100% alcohol is possible but unstable, so the duty-free alcohol purchased by practitioners from distillers is usually 96%. As some difficult arithmetic would be required to dilute this down to, for instance, exactly 25%, in this case 96% alcohol is simply dilute one part to three of water, which strictly speaking arrives at only 24%, but by universal convention will be called 25%! The following brief table gives the most common range of strengths with the nominal strength first and the actual alcohol content in brackets:-
- 1 part water to 2 parts alcohol:- 60% (64%)
1 part water to 1 part alcohol:- 45% (48%)
2 parts water to 1 part alcohol:- 30% (32%)
3 parts water to 1 part alcohol:- 25% (24%)
The presence of alcohol is not merely required as a preservative. It helps to break down plant cells thus releasing their contents, and is destructive to enzymes, (these points are critical when using fresh herbs – see below). More important, there are many herbal constituents, e.g. volatile and fixed oils, resins, and alkaloids that are poorly soluble in water but will, at least to some extent, dissolve in alcohol. Glycosides and many other constituents are also more stable in the presence of alcohol.
As noted, alcohol is required to dissolve oleaginous (oily or waxy) constituents. Remedies containing significant quantities of essential oils such as Thyme, Thymus vulgaris or Sage, Salvia officinalis will require an alcohol content of 45%. Higher levels again such as encountered in Celery seed, Apium graveolens may require 60%, whilst the resins of Pot Marigold, Calendula officinalis or Ginger, Zingiber officinalis, demand the practical maximum of 96%. As the relatively insoluble constituents of some remedies (such as certain alkaloids) may not be apparent to the inexperienced, it is prudent to follow the example of commercial manufacturers or official monographs, until you can judge for yourself.
Finally, if you are confined to using duty-paid spirits such as vodka, seldom available in strengths higher than 40%, don’t assume this excludes you from making tinctures from volatile or resinous subjects. Very satisfactory results will still be possible – some authorities favour low-alcohol tinctures anyway, considering these to give a more “balanced” product. It’s also possible to combine vodka with, for instance, white wine for economy’s sake. As an example, mixing a robust wine (12% alcohol) with vodka (38%) in equal parts will achieve a strength of 25% which, as observed, is adequate for most herbs. It’s occasionally acceptable to use red wine and/or brandy, but generally fortified wines or highly flavoured spirits such as whisky or gin should be avoided.
Maceration should take place in a suitable sealed container excluded from light and at a comfortable household temperature. Glass sweet jars are traditionally used for this but are getting hard to find; buckets made of volatile-proof plastic (e.g., PET) with airtight lids are cheap & readily available. The period of time chosen for maceration is largely a matter of common sense, and will usually be between 10 – 14 days, less for light materials and more for dense. Extremes are Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, the essential oils of which are fully extracted within a few hours, and tannin-rich roots & barks such as Bistort root, Polygonum bistorta which may still not be fully extracted after eight weeks or more. In most cases no further action is required until pressing. Some leafy herbs will float on the menstruum, and must be shaken or stirred daily until they settle to avoid undue oxidation at the surface. As previously noted many dried roots & seeds are very absorbent, and if macerated in the narrow confines of a glass jar or similar, may jam as they swell; this will impair extraction and cause difficulties in removing the mass from the jar; avoid by stirring or shaking daily for the first 2-3 days.
For clarity,the method for producing 1 litre of:-
- Alchemilla vulgaris, herba, 1:5, 25%
will be given.
200g of cut and dried Lady’s Mantle herb is placed in a clean glass sweet jar or similar. 250ml of 96% organic grain alcohol is mixed with 750ml of water to produce 1 litre of menstruum, “25%” which is poured over the herb. Seal the jar and shake gently to remove trapped air bubbles. Place in a dark cupboard and leave for 10 – 14 days. Remove and pour into a press fitted with suitable filter bags. Press to full tension, running the tincture off into a jug; leave for a minute or two, after which it will be found that further pressure can be applied. Repeat until no further significant amount of tincture can be expressed. If the result is murky you may wish to stand the tincture for a few hours to let the sediment settle before decanting into an amber glass stock bottle. Note that the yield will be somewhat less than a litre, depending on the efficiency of the press, due to fluid remaining in the spent herb.
N.B. Perfectly satisfactory tinctures can be produced using basic kitchen hand tools and wine/vodka combinations to achieve the required alcohol content. The most basic method of “pressing” is to initially strain the macerate through a tea-towel or similar in which the remains are then gathered up and wrung out by hand. This will give as good a quality as any other method but an understandably modest yield.
One “trick of the trade” arises from the recognition that many powerful remedies, especially roots and barks, will saturate the menstruum so that active constituents in the marc will not be completely extracted. This is quickly evidenced in subjects such as Ginger root, Zingiber officinalis, or Barberry root, Berberis vulgaris. It is productive to re-macerate the partially spent marc in a further quantity of menstruum and to bottle and reserve the resultant “weak” tincture, to be used at a later date as the menstruum in which to macerate a new batch of the dried herb. The result will obviously be stronger than a straightforward tincture, (which must be allowed for in prescribing) but is worth the extra effort to avoid wastage, especially of expensive subjects.
You may also find from time to time that roots, for instance, arrive in a partially comminuted state and are too tough to reduce further with non-industrial equipment. Using the serial maceration approach is a “lazy” way to fully extract even from quite chunky material and achieve a full-strength result.
2. SPECIFIC TINCTURES
Specific tinctures are made from freshly gathered herbs immediately after collection. The approach is the same as for standard tinctures, except one would be encouraged to study the formulae used by manufacturers specialising in making specific tinctures, where you will find higher wt:vol ratios (1:3, 1:2 & even 1:1) are the norm. Specific tinctures are commonly referred to as “fresh” tinctures, which is generally understood if a little misleading.
For small-scale production, efforts are likely to be concentrated on producing specific tinctures. This mode of preparation has all the same benefits of standard tinctures, but optimises the intention to “capture the imponderables of life”: experience dictates that fresh tinctures are almost invariably superior. Although on the face of it they will be weaker than an equivalent standard tincture due to their own water content, in reality the result is more “energetic” and therapeutically both more gentle and more positive. This is particularly so in the case of remedies containing high proportions of volatile constituents such as Elecampane root, Inula helenium or Thyme, Thymus vulgaris. There are often subtle differences in therapeutic effect, and a broader range of uses, which one must be prepared to learn.
Meanwhile, small-scale drying of herbs from the garden, or from the wild, is time-consuming, fraught with problems and may prove disappointing in terms of both yield and quality. It is respectfully suggested that making specific tinctures from home gathering will be infinitely more satisfactory. Indeed, it is surprising how small an area of cultivation (and/or collecting from the wild) is needed to supply a busy herbalist’s practice with most of its requirements for indigenous herbs, in specific tincture form.
It is best to avoid Schedule III herbs (those restricted by law to practitioner use on the grounds of potential toxicity at relatively low doses) unless very experienced – and remember to avoid herbs that are said to be toxic or too potent in the fresh state (e.g. Pasque flower, Anemone pulsatilla, or Frangula bark, Alnus frangula).
Start with the same formulae recommended for standard tinctures, or better still follow the formulae used by specific tincture manufacturers, until appropriate variations suggest themselves. Many fresh herbs will reduce to a fine mulch in a food processor or garden shredder, making it possible to increase the wt:vol ratio; for instance, Borage, Borago officinalis or Hawthorn berry, Crataegus oxycanthoides, will be comfortably covered in 1:2 proportion or less, and there are few subjects where more menstruum than 1:3 will prove necessary. Note however that fresh herbs must always be fully covered by the menstruum or they will rapidly decompose at the surface.
In theory, because one is increasing the proportion of herb, and that this in turn will have a high water content, one must consider increasing the alcohol content. In practice, this seldom proves necessary, but it may be advisable for very watery subjects such as Comfrey or Borage, or in general where the formula is 1:2 or stronger, to choose a minimum alcohol content of 30% to be on the safe side.
Of recent years a strange aberration has crept into at least one commercial manufacturer’s approach to formulation, likewise many new practitioners making their own medicines, that the quoted alcohol strength is that of the finished product, as opposed to the starting point. This appears to apply primarily to specific tinctures and is assumed to reflect an anxiety that it must be necessary to estimate (or with the right equipment, to measure) the amount of water present in fresh plants. This is both unnecessary and simply leads to an expensive waste of alcohol. With pressing equipment appropriate to in-house manufacturing (e.g. a maximum of 10 tons pressure) most of the water content will be left in the spent marc. Excepting the provisos given in the previous paragraph, experience dictates that the water content of fresh plants can safely be ignored.
Gather aerial (“above-ground”) herbs around the middle of a dry, sunny day (or in the case of roots, 3 – 4 days after rain when the soil is neither sodden nor concreted). Aerial herbs must not have surface moisture on them. Likewise they should not be washed – but decayed, infested, blemished or soil-splashed parts should be left behind or picked off. Prepare aerial herbs as immediately as possible, ideally to have them macerating within half an hour.
Roots and rhizomes are best collected a few days after rain when the soil will be neither sticky nor concreted, so that after separating gentle rinsing in cold water (or hosing down in the garden) will suffice. If you really do need to wash anything, do a little at a time to avoid wetting any longer than necessary and shake off any surplus immediately. Don’t be frightened of traces of soil in the marc – it will do no harm and will be filtered out during pressing.
Some aerial herbs can be prepared for tincture-making entirely by hand simply by picking (e.g. Pot Marigold flowers, Calendula officinalis, Hawthorn Berries, Crataegus oxycanthoides), stripping small leaves & soft tips from the stems (Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis), or by bunching soft aerial herbs (or stripped leaves) together and twisting off small plugs. Many others can be reduced partially or completely by snipping with secateurs. A great labour-saving device is a garden shredder, the output from which is both chopped and crushed, so ready for maceration. A “quiet” shredder (i.e. cog drive) is the most expensive but the most reliable and long lasting, doesn’t clog and, as it can be safely hosed through after use, can be employed both to shred herbs and garden prunings, etc. for the compost heap. The attraction of all these methods is that they are conducted in the garden rather than indoors.
It’s equally satisfactory, though often hard work, to chop herbs with a sharp chef’s knife or a double-handled mezzaluna on a kitchen chopping board. It’s common to merely coarse-chop the herbs to a size that a food processor can handle. This is largely a matter of trial and error. Where aerial herbs have very woody stems, these should usually be stripped and discarded completely. Fibrous roots may need to be reduced to diagonally cut slivers first, and even then the processor blades must be very sharp. When ready, blitz to a fine mulch. (Use the chopping blade, not grating discs). It usually works best to feed in a little at a time, but do not overload. Some materials, particularly roots, adhere to the sides of the processor before they are fully chopped, in which case the introduction of a small measured volume of premixed menstruum will restore a satisfactory flow.
When comminution is completed by whatever means, transfer to a sweet-jar or similar, add the menstruum, stirring to ensure even distribution & to removed trapped air, and seal. If the marc tries to float to the surface, stir or shake daily until the herb subsides. In all other respects proceed as for standard tinctures. Note that the yield may be slightly higher than the equivalent standard tincture, or even higher than the volume of menstruum employed, due to recovery of some of the water content of the fresh herb.
3. FLUID EXTRACTS
Fluid extracts are alcoholic extracts with a weight:volume ratio of 1:1. The alcohol content is usually the same as for tinctures although, curiously, sometimes lower in commercial production. They are really nothing more than concentrated tinctures. One confusing modern feature is the appearance of extracts (e.g., of Ginkgo leaf, Ginkgo biloba) in which a much higher wt:vol ratio such as 10:1 or more is achieved by industrial process. These are still referred to as fluid extracts, although unimaginable to those who first devised the term. Originally tinctures were produced by maceration and fluid extracts by cold percolation – the appeal of a 1:1 product, easily achieved by the percolation process, is that in theory 1ml of tincture should be equivalent therapeutically to taking 1g of the dried herb.
Logically a 1:1 fluid extract should be five times stronger therapeutically than a 1:5 tincture; in practice this is seldom the case – and may be more than five times as expensive. Nevertheless, fluid extracts have their uses because they are more compact.
There are a small number of herbal remedies that must be employed in high doses to achieve a drug-like action from a relatively mild herb, and in this role would often require an unmanageably large volume if dosed in tincture form. As fluid extracts are so much more condensed, a more convenient dose range is possible.
A common problem is the need to use several remedies in a mixture, with the attendant conundrum as to whether one should in consequence accept relatively weak actions from the standard 100ml per week dosage, or whether to increase the dose and therefore the cost and inconvenience. Canny practitioners will often opt to carry a small range of fluid extracts that they are accustomed to dosing generously and are therapeutically viable as extracts, and perhaps not overly expensive; in this more condensed form one has effectively “made more room in the bottle” for other remedies. Popular choices may include Dandelion root, Taraxacum officinalis, Liquorice Root, Glycyrrhiza glabra, White Willow bark, Salix alba, and Valerian root, Valeriana officinalis.
One may still find in antique shops the hand-blown glass percolation funnels once used to make fluid extracts by allowing menstruum to trickle slowly through a column of the powdered herb. This required patience and very considerable expertise, which must really be abandoned, however wistfully, as a technology of a bygone age. At least one commercial manufacturer has adapted the process by percolating ordinary “cut & dried” herbs in huge stainless steel percolating vessels, with acceptable results; confusingly, they also produce most of their “tinctures” by the same process.
An excellent method, popular commercially and, of greater significance, viable in small-scale production, is repeat maceration. To explain, if one macerates 250g of herb in 1 litre of menstruum, the result will be approx. 1 litre of 1:4 tincture. Use this tincture to macerate a further 250g of herb, to yield a 1:2 result. Repeat twice more, and you have arrived at a 1:1 extract. Bear in mind that if using dried herbs there will be a loss of fluid at each pressing. One must allow for this by reducing the quantity of herb at each successive maceration so that the menstruum will still “cover”. The final yield may be as little as 60% of the original volume depending on the efficiency of the press employed.
A useful compromise may be to repeat the maceration less often to yield, say, a 1:2 result. Of course a 1:1 extract can be derived from re-macerating only once or twice respectively if the starting point is a 1:2 or 1:3 tincture, as should be the case with dense dried herbs and most fresh herbs of all sorts. Note that in the case of extracts made from fresh herbs it may well be necessary to increase the alcohol content slightly to compensate for accumulated water content.
It is also common practice to “recycle” any surplus tincture remaining from a previous year’s production by incorporating it in the menstruum of a fresh batch (particularly when using fresh herbs). There is no good reason why not provided it is understood that a more concentrated product will result, allowed for in subsequent prescribing.
A sort of fluid extract of Liquorice root, Glycyrrhiza glabra can be produced by dissolving the Liquorice juice sticks or blocks (solid extracts) available from some herb suppliers, to saturation point in 25% alcohol.
Another variation on the theme worthy of mention in this section is the mixed extract. One becomes accustomed to dispensing two herbs with very similar actions because of their symbiotic affinity – it soon occurs that if a tincture of one is used as the menstruum for the other, one will once again have “saved room in the bottle” when prescribing. Suitable combinations might include Saw Palmetto berries, Serenoa serrulata with Nettle root, Urtica dioica, and Sea Holly, Eryngium maritinum with Gravel root, Eupatorium purpureum. One may also take the opportunity to combine different parts of the same plant harvested at different seasons, thus to combine the autumn berries and spring flowering tops of Hawthorn, Crataegus oxycanthoides, or the summer leaf & autumn root of Parsley, Petroselinum crispum.
For an in-house production of extracts it will occur sooner or later that as one proceeds through a repeat maceration process, an increasing amount of the active constituents remains in the “spent” marc, which seems a waste. There is no reason why this partially spent marc should not be re-macerated and the resulting weak tincture used as the starting point for the next-up-in-strength, and so on. This is a variant of serial maceration. As the results would be very difficult to calculate one relies on tasting work in progress until a product of recognisable strength has been achieved. It would mean, of course, having one or two batches of a given herb on the go indefinitely.
One last approach learnt from Chinese herbal pharmacy is the decanted extract. This lends itself to extracts (strictly speaking strong tinctures) of soft berries such as Bilberries, Vaccinium myrtillus, and Wolf berries, Lycium chinensis, and also to roots that arrive in uncomminuted form where full extraction is not achieved in a single pass, e.g. Turmeric, Curcurma longa, and Stone root, Collinsonia canadensis. The herb is macerated with sufficient menstruum to cover, and when required, (not less than 10 – 14 days), the free menstruum is simply decanted (poured off) and bottled for dispensing. The menstruum is then topped up, left to macerate again, and in due course is decanted off once more – this will still produce an extract of good therapeutic strength. The menstruum is then topped up one last time, but this time the resulting weak tincture is pressed and reserved as the starting menstruum in which to macerate a fresh batch of the herb. This is a very good, not to mention lazy way of maximizing yield from suitable (and often expensive) herbs.
4. GLYCERINE TINCTURES
Glycerine tinctures are similar to standard tinctures, the solvent employed being a solution of glycerine (glycerin, glycerol), and water. They are referred to in some texts as Glycerins or Glycerin Extracts. Needless to say, herbalists should use vegetable glycerine.
Glycerine is a weaker solvent than alcohol, and also a poorer preservative, but is nevertheless adequate in both respects for most purposes. Allowing for the higher concentration required, glycerine tinctures cost more than equivalents made with duty-free alcohol, but less than duty-paid alcohol, the latter being a decisive factor for very small-scale production where a duty-free alcohol licence is not viable. You either love them or hate them! There are certainly still practitioners to be found whose dispensary shelves are well stocked with glycerine tinctures although in truth they are less favoured in current practice.
Glycerine is a better solvent of tannins than alcohol; some herbalists will use glycerine tinctures for tannin-rich remedies, or it has been known to add a little glycerine to alcoholic tinctures to inhibit the precipitation of tannins and other constituents that tend towards sedimentation.
A small range of herbs, such as Lavender flowers, Lavandula officinalis, and Rosemary leaf, Rosmarinus officinalis are not subject to the customary duty-free alcohol concessions, and are therefore very expensive as alcoholic tinctures. Some commercial manufacturers and many practitioners make these as a cheaper alternative in glycerine form. There is also a case for carrying a small range of glycerine tinctures to extend the dispensing repertoire for recovering alcoholics or patients sensitive to alcohol. Some authorities hold that glycerine tinctures are also preferable for treating diabetics.
Glycerine often proves disappointing as a solvent in the case of many fresh herbs – if attempted it may be necessary to extend the maceration time to a month or more.
The solvent/preservative characteristics of glycerine suggest a dilution of 50%, (i.e a 1:1 ratio) which appears to have been adopted universally for all herbs to which the medium is applicable. The wt:vol ratio, and all other aspects of procedure, are thereafter the same as for standard tinctures.
As glycerine is reasonably stable to heat and does not share alcohol’s flammability, it is possible to make a “quick” glycerine tincture, using the same formulation as normal, but by placing the macerate over very gentle heat (ideally a water bath) for 2 – 4 hours, and then cooling and pressing. Although the loss of quality compared to the usual cold maceration will be immediately apparent, this method can prove a valuable emergency stopgap.
5. JUICED-AND-MACERATED EXTRACTS
“James” are produced only from fresh herbs, from which the juice is expressed and reserved, whilst the partially spent herb is macerated in diluted alcohol in gentle heat; this is then pressed again and the extract combined with the juice once cooled.
Although somewhat labour-intensive, this method combines the advantages of an extremely high-quality product that is also ready for use within a few hours.
No formula can be given as the volume of juice yielded will be highly variable, and the solvent strength and volume used for maceration must allow for this when the two fluids are combined. The volume of menstruum used to macerate the (by now very dry) herb should equal the volume of juice expressed (so that it effectively replaces it). The alcohol content will be at least 40% so as to preserve both fluids when recombined. An example should elucidate the approach :-
I kg of fresh Feverfew, Tanacetum parthenium, was reduced in a food processor to an extremely fine mulch. This was pressed to yield 425 ml juice, which was reserved in a refrigerator. The partially exhausted herb (575 g) was rubbed to reconstitute and placed in a glass jar, to which 425 ml of 45% alcohol was added. The jar was sealed, shaken and placed on a garden propagator (approx 30ºc) for 6 hours. The herb was then pressed again to yield 480 ml. The two fluids were then combined – total volume 905 ml, alcohol approx. 20%.
Good results can also be achieved using an electric juicer; in the absence of a press, a juicer can also be used to extract the macerate as well. However it has to be said that the very best domestic juicers will still produce a lower yield than the most basic of presses.
6. COMBINED MACERATED & DECOCTED EXTRACTS
In this unusual process, a tincture is made in the normal fashion and the spent marc decocted, pressed and evaporated to a low volume. The two liquids are then combined. The tincture must have a sufficient alcohol content to preserve the combined result.
Some herbal remedies contain not only volatiles & the like that extract best in an alcoholic tincture but also complex polysaccharides or other relatively stable substances that only yield to vigourous boiling. Echinacea root, Echinacea spp., Elecampane root, Inula helenium and fungi in general are particularly suited to this approach – rewarding if time-consuming. In all cases they are best prepared from fresh material.
For illustration, the finely mulched root of Elecampane,Inula helenium, is prepared as a 1:2 or 1:3, 45% tincture, macerated for 14 days and then pressed. The tincture is reserved and the spent marc is crumbled and placed in a pan with sufficient water to just cover. This is boiled vigourously, stirring occasionally and adding further water as necessary to maintain a good rolling boil for 2 – 4 hours. The decoction is then pressed and filtered and the liquor returned to the pan and simmered very gently for several hours, stirring occasionally, until a thick, opaque colloidal result is achieved which no longer separates significantly on brief standing. This will usually be achieved at around 30% of the volume of the original tincture, with which it is combined after cooling. Note that in using this method one should be aware that the alcohol % of the final result must not drop below 25% in order for it to remain preserved. In storage, the result must be shaken vigourously every week or so and again on dispensing. The patient must be advised of the particular importance of shaking before each dose any prescription incorporating such a preparation.