Is my concentrated tincture shelf stable?
Forest writes in asking: "Hello, I have recently made a tincture using everclear, adding water to get to the recommended 1:5 menstruum. My question is this: I would like to reduce (evaporate off) the tincture to increase its potency. if I take the lid off of the jar and put a fan on low over it, will I be evaporating the alcohol off, and not the water? thereby making my tincture less stable for long-term storage? Thank you for you input."
First of all, bravo for making your own tinctures! It's wonderful to be empowered with the knowledge and skills to make your own medicine.
You ask some excellent questions. For those readers who do not know how to make an herbal tincture, I highly recommend this instructional article and video by Mountain Rose Herbs.
Now, back to Forest's question...Yes, the alcohol is going to evaporate off before the water, thus reducing the shelf life of your tincture. However, simply removing the lid and letting it sit with a fan over it is likely going to result in a very slow evaporation process. Another option is to carefully apply gentle heat, but, again you'll end up with a less stable product. I don't recommend this method unless you have the tools (i.e. a hydrometer) test the alcohol content of the final product, to be sure it is at least 25% to ensure a shelf stable product.
Since your goal is to create a stronger product, what I recommend is macerating (aka infusing) more freshly dried herb into the tincture. So, essentially re-tincturing using new herb and the tincture you've made as a the menstruum (for readers who aren't familiar with this term, the menstruum is the liquid portion of the tincture when it is infusing) for a minimum of 2 weeks and then pressing it again. This method will result in a very saturated menstruum and concentrated tincture.
In the future, when you make a tincture, see if you can reduce the weight to volume ratio to less than a 1:5 to produce the strongest extract possible. Some herbs absorb a lot more liquid than others and require a 1:5 ratio, whereas others can be made as a 1:3 or even a 1:2 on occassion. Here are a few additional tips for making the most potent extracts:
Your finished product is only as good as your starting material so be sure to begin with high quality herbs. In general, freshly dried plants produce the strongest medicine since they are fresh & vital and contain very little water.
Use the lowest weight (grams) to volume (ml) ratio possible while still making sure the plant material is covered with the menstruum.
Increase the surface area of the herb interacting with the menstruum by grinding the herb and shaking your jar daily.
Use the correct alcohol strength to ensure you are extracting the medicinal constituents from the plants.
Allow the tincture to sit for several weeks, or longer, since it takes time to extract the constituents.
If you're inspired to make your own herbal preparations, check out two of my favorite medicine - making books: The Medicine Makers Handbook by James Green and The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley.
I hope this helps. Thank you for reaching out to us at Ask The Herbalists.
Have a question of your own? Ask-the-herbalists! It's free to subscribe!