I have now been crafting herbal extracts, mainly; Tinctures, Glycerites, Vinegars & Skincare Oil infusions, for 4 years now. Even though I am no expert and consider myself a novice, I have learned a new lesson every year. As I learn and read and discover new ways of determining how to best create a plant extract that is both effective & well-rounded, I also have to consider its flavor, consistency and taste. I have experimented with different combinations of solvents over the years and continue to, again, change how some of my extracts are crafted as well as my process of how to make them. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way!
**Craft Separate Extracts**
Last year I decided it would be interesting to craft with multiple different solvents at once, such as vinegar/alcohol/glycerin to get more well-rounded extracts. I have a great book called, the Modern Herbal Dipensatory by Thomas Easley & Steven Horne, and it has a wonderful chart that explains different categories of herbs (ex. Bitter, Astringent, Mucilaginous, etc.) and lists which solvent is best, okay and worst for extracting that particular type of constituent(s) which is directly linked to what type of actions the herb has, like being antibacterial or anti-inflammatory. This is key to having the proper, well-rounded extract, so that it is as beneficial as possible. This seemed so important to me and so I thought, “I’ll make sure to start offering combination extracts!”
This is actually something I would recommend to anyone purchasing extracts: That it is, first, well made and from someone who is passionate about the whole process and is crafting small bathes! It is easier to not spray chemicals, harvest fresh & be pickier when choosing what to use and what to discard. A lot of herbalists are stay-at-home moms or women trying to follow our dreams and passions! It’s that new way of thinking where the world is highly suggesting to all of us to live life to the fullest and pursue a career in something we love and are passionate about! I am manifesting my destiny by doing what I love💚🌿.
Second, make sure that the extract is well-rounded! The one thing to think about when crafting, as an herbalist, is that there is a very important rule of thumb. Don’t mix them until later! Do the batches separately and then offer for them to be combined at purchase. It’s just not worth having something combined that you don’t know if your customers are actually going to want that way. This saves money, shelf-life for tinctures, and saves more inventory for later in the season; without going bad. My least favorite thing to do is to flush glycerites and vinegars down the drain.
I also, in the situation of crafting vinegars or anything with honey/sweetener added, only add a little to the extract initially. I would not make oxymels unless you know you will sell them soon and without much leftover. Customers, once they get their extract, can always add more later once the purchase is made. Oxymels only have about a 3 month shelf life, where a vinegar, with just a bit of honey added to it, adds health benefits and curbs the sourness too. It will also last a year!
***Craft Tinctures with Everclear***
Make sure you add some Everclear to all you tinctures. I am not suggesting that it be fully covered in Everclear, but even a little is vital to a potent, concentrated tincture. My current process uses 1/4 jar of Everclear & the rest Organic, 40% Vodka. This is the first of the tincture make process which, once the herb is cut up and covered by the solvent, is then labeled, covered with a lid and parchment paper, DATED, and put on a shelf to sit and be shaken daily for a month. Then they are strained and put in new bottles.
The Everclear is very strong though and can burn under the tongue, if not diluted properly. This is why, while also considering more well-rounded extracts, I have decided to brew tea infusions and decoctions. This is done by taking the Marc (leftover plant material from the tincturing process & some fresh herb if available) & covering it with as much spring water as there is tincture (usually about 2 cups/16 ounces), bringing it to a boil, then reducing the heat, simmering it for an hour, and then letting it sit; covered, for 2-3 hours. Then I add this to the strained tincture. If fresh herb is available, or I have just recently dried some of this herb for tea, this will also be added to the brewing process and this is then simmered, left to sit with a lid on and cools before I then add it to the tincture. This helps to dilute it to a more balanced taste and adds more vitamins and minerals to the extract.
There is definitely a bit of flavor change due to the ability of the Everclear to pull every little bit of color and plant material from the herb while extracting. Definitely a stronger plant taste. Yet, when the tea is added it smooths it out more and tames the strong, stinging alcohol taste.
***Label, label & label…***
I have always labeled my extracts pretty well which is a super, super critical step in the process! One thing I learned after making and selling extracts a few years in a row is; ALWAYS FULLY DATE IT!! I would always put the month and day but leave out the year. Well, this had me questioning how old some of my extracts were this last year. Especially glycerites and vinegars. They have about a year shelf life and should be disposed of after that time if not used or sold. This has been a much needed change this year.