Friday, September 19, 2008

Elderberry tincture time

Yesterday I picked the last of the elderberries off the bush in the back yard. They are so beautiful that it is difficult to take them from the umbel. Currently, they are spread out on the counter of the island... deep dark pearls, perfect and round, heavy with juice and medicine.
I have often written about how important we feel it is to have plenty of elderberry in the house for the winter. At this point, it would be just about unthinkable not to. Just yesterday we stopped at an Amish roadside stand for something, and although I'm well stocked, I checked their supply of elderberry jelly. Now that is one instance where a spoon full of sugar really does help the medicine go down.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine who is very experienced with herbs (although not so much medicinally) asked me to explain how to make a tincture (aka extract) and it made me realize that lots of people might want to know. This method works for just about any herb you'd want to tincture. For home use, I don't worry too much about percentages and such. Some herbs require a higher amount of alcohol or more water to better extract the properties. We just plunk the herb in the alcohol and so far, we've been very happy with the results.
One of the benefits of making a tincture with alcohol (others can be made with vinegar or glycerine & water) is that it is preserved for years and a 1/2 teaspoon or so in a swallow of juice is an efficient way to take a dose that is quickly absorbed. If you prefer not to make your own, you can find it here.

So to begin....
Gather ripe elderberries. Around here that means that one must also turn over the umbels and flick off the stinkbugs that live among the berries.

Roll the berries off the tiny stems. This requires a gentle touch. I've tried a wide toothed comb, but that results in a lot of stem attached to the berries. Now it seems that sitting on the deck as the sun goes down is the perfect way to strip the berries. John Gallagher of suggests freezing the umbels prior to stripping to make it easier, but I haven't tried it myself. The berries in the picture below are much darker than they appear here. The flash, I think...
Choose a jar that will hold the berries that you've cleaned, and pour in the berries. We save jars during the year to make our tinctures in the fall and spring. If you like, you can muddle the berries at this point so that the juice will more easily release into the the menstruum (alcohol) when it is added.

Cover the berries with alcohol. What kind of alcohol? This preparation is to be taken internally, so that means the alcohol must be something that can also be for internal use. Most herbies use vodka, but not all. Brandy is used, whiskey, and sometimes whatever is in the house. I've been known to grab gin or rum if the herb was ready and that was all that was available. It is more about the alcohol, and the ability to preserve. If grain alcohol is used (not available in my state), add some water to the mix because most herbs need some water in order to extract well. Half and half is a good blend. Personally I use the cheap vodka because chances are I will go through a couple of gallons in the fall. This doesn't mean that I'll actually use all of that tinctured vodka over the winter, but I will have lots to share with my family and friends as the cold and flu season goes on. Elderberry - I make at least a quart! Holy Basil - that's another quart or more. And then there is Echinacea, Chamomile, Passion Flower, and Vitex. I could go on and on - but you get my drift. There are varying opinions on how long to allow tinctures to sit. Some people tell you to shake it daily, as well. So, I'll tell you my method, and you can come up with your own.
I put my jars in a out-of-the-way corner of the kitchen during this season to keep an eye on them. It is dimly lit in the corner. As things wind down, I'll be sure they are all well labeled and then as the frost hits, the jars will all go in the cupboard above the corner counter. I don't strain them, nor shake them. They are done until we need them. At that point we will strain them off and use them.
This year, if you haven't tried making a tincture before, just do one. You'll be successful, of that I am certain, and if you'd like to purchase them instead, visit our web shop.

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