What are Herbal Extracts?
Herbal Extracts come in all shapes and sizes. They can take to form of tea, where the dried plant (or part there of) is used to make a tea - Like Chamomile tea for example.
Below is a general introduction to making an extract. This information is not intended to make you a herbalist, but to give you an idea of what it means when you read about 'herbal extracts' being contained in products you may wish to buy.
Before we get started, a word of warning: Many if not most herbs are relatively safe to eat or make into teas or other extracts. BUT, SOME ARE NOT. If you are not a qualified herbalist, I would very strongly suggest YOU DO NOT EXPERIMENT with making your own tinctures or extracts. Many herbs can be deadly!!! Remember that and just because it looks pretty and smells nice does not mean it will make a great tea for you to drink. Please ask a qualified herbalist before you make an experimental journey into making your own medicines.
That said, lets look at a few forms of herbal extracts:
Tea: (also known as infusion)
A tea made by pouring boiling water over an herb and allowing it to steep, covered, with no additional heat source. Infusions generally have a short shelf life. Prepare as needed.
A thick herbal tea or soup made by boiling the herb in water for as long as desired.
Make a strong decoction of the herb. That is, boil it in water, then simmer it, covered, until you have a thick brew with very little water. Cool, and strain the boiled herb into the brew. Add an equal amount of vegetable glycerine to the thick decoction and mix well. Pour into a sterile dark glass bottle, stopper tightly and store in a cool place. Treated with care this fluid extract will last a year or more.
Vegetable glycerine, an edible humectant that moisturizes the skin, is an essential fatty acid generally derived from coconut or palm. It is used as a preservative and stabilizing agent.
Never add glycerine to hot liquids as it is temperature sensitive and will coagulate. Always mix with cold or warm liquids.
Fluid extracts are used both to concentrate and preserve the active ingredients of an herb. Fluid extracts are considered by many herbalists to be the preferred way to preserve water soluble active ingredients. When properly made one fluid ounce of fluid extract equals one ounce of fresh herb.
Alcoholic Extract (Tincture)
Here's how to make those potent turn-of-the-century concoctions:
Water is a good medium to extract gums, mucilage, saponins and tannins, but not so good for oils and resins. Alcohol is ideal for extracting fats, resins, waxes and most alkaloids, like Absinthe's thujone. It is an excellent preservative and is quickly assimilated.
The substance used to extract the herbs is known as the menstrum. The herbs you are tincturing are known as the mark. Tincturing will extract and preserve both the water-soluble and alcohol-soluble properties of an herb.
Prepare the herbs by chopping or grinding them. Tincture several herbs together if you are creating a formula. Put them in a sterile jar with a tight lid, and cover them with brandy or vodka. Alcohol must be at least 50 proof to have good preservative qualities. Vodka is the purest grain alcohol.
Shake daily. Strain after a month, first with a strainer and then through a clean undyed cloth, squeezing tightly. Pressing the herbs through a potato ricer while still in the cloth can be helpful. Bottle in sterile amber glass bottles. Label and date. Store away from heat and light. Take tinctures by putting 1 dropper full in a hot drink.
Tinctures may also be made using vegetable glycerine rather than alcohol. This is best when making tinctures for those that are alcohol intolerant as well as for children, pregnant and nursing mothers. Glycerine is both a solvent and preservative that has an effectiveness somewhere between water and alcohol. It is naturally sweet, pleasant tasting and helps to extract mucilage, vitamins, minerals and tannins from plant material. It is good for herbs high in tannins but doesn't extract resins well. It is slightly antiseptic, demulcent and healing when diluted. Glycerites are usually prepared using 1 part water to 2 parts glycerine. Glycerites have a shorter shelf life than tinctures prepared with alcohol, about 1 to 3 years. Tinctures made in alcohol will last for many years.
Apple cider vinegar, preferably organic, can also be used as a menstrum. Look for vinegar with 5.7% acetic acid or thereabouts for a long shelf life. It is also a digestive tonic and can be used to season food. Warm the vinegar first before pouring over the herbs. Avoid using a metal lid or it will rust. This type of tincture will have a shelf life from 6 months up to 4 years.
Below are some commonly used herbs which are used in Natural skin care creams, lotions, cleansers, toners and mosturisers. You can click on the name to see more information on each of the herbs.
Tee Tree Powder