Herbal Apothecary 101: Distillates, Hydrosols and Tinctures

| June/July 2009

  • Health made simple: A few herbs and you in your kitchen, preparing medicines with simple techniques as ancient as time.

Distillates and hydrosols: the aromatic liquids that remain after essential oils have been distilled from plants.

We use distillates in herbal preparations, in spritzers as a skin freshener, and if we are sure of the source (if we make them ourselves or know the maker), in culinary recipes and beverages. If the distillate is made with a non-culinary herb—for instance, clary sage—we do not ingest it.  

Tinctures: plant extracts preserved with diluted alcohol or glycerin.

The folk method for tincturing is to cover a single, powdered dried herb with 80-proof vodka or other spirits in a clean, labeled glass jar. Fresh, crushed plant material should be covered with 90-proof alcohol because the water contained in the fresh plant dilutes the tincture. The tincture is shaken twice daily. The herb macerates for two days to six weeks. The amount of time is determined by the texture of the herb (whether it is root, bark or leaf). Hard, dense plant material like roots and bark generally takes longer than dried leaves.

Susan Belsinger and Tina Marie Wilcox use herbs every day in and around their homes and greenhouses. Some of this article’s information and recipes are from their book The Creative Herbal Home (Herbspirit, 2007).

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