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Herbal Extracts

Herbal Extracts

The majority of herbs are used in their dried form. There are those, however, which must be used in their fresh form to be useful as medicinals, since they lose their healing properties when dried.

Herbal Extracts from Fresh Plant Material

One herb of common usage is Echinacea. Since this is easy to grow in the home garden and simple to make in the kitchen, this one will serve as the best example.

The difficulty in using fresh plant material is knowing what the ratio should be for each particular herb. It requires access to some very expensive tomes of scholarly work on the subject.

On the other hand, simply browsing the extract shelves of your local health food or herb store will give you valuable information. The ratio should be written clearly on the label. Be sure it is a standard extract and not one of those which purport to be 'super' strength or made by some process other than the familiar water/alcohol extraction method.

On the whole it is far safer to avoid experimenting with fresh extracts, other than the echinacea, unless you pursue some very serious study on the matter.

As wholesome as herbs seem, please remember that allergies to some herbs are common. Echinacea belongs to the same family as ragweed (Compositae - daisy family) and some people can be allergic to other members of this same family.

Although we are using specific amounts as a guide to make a reasonable amount of extract, it is not necessary to think in these amounts when doing this for yourself. This particular extract will be made in a 1 to 3 ratio (1 part herb to 3 parts liquid). Sounds pretty straight forward until we remember that part of our liquid is already locked up in the plant material.

Uh oh - now what? How do I separate the liquid weight from the dry weight?

If you have a microwave or an oven the process isn't that bad, but you might want to get out a calculator to help you with those math skills you thought you'd never need after high school.

We want 2 ounces of freshly dug, washed and patted dry Echinaea root (allow as much moisture as possible to dry from the root before weighing and processing). We also want another 1 or 2 ounce of root to test for water content.

Enchinaea Root

Echinacea root should be harvested in its second year after one or two hard frosts. Weigh your sample piece for testing.

Let us use 2 ounces as an example.

Coarsely chop the plant material and place on paper towels in the microwave and begin to slowly dry out the root at 50 percent power until it is quite dry. Or you can do the test several days in advance, get your results and go back and harvest more root for the extract.

Other methods of drying (but requiring more time) are to slowly dry the coarsely chopped material in a low-heat oven or on a dehydrator tray.

When the plant material is dry, weigh it again. What is the weight now? Deduct it from the original fresh weight and figure the percentage.

For the sake of argument, let us say that we began with 2 oz. of fresh root and now have 1 oz. of dry root - that would mean the plant contained 50% water or 1 oz. of liquid. This is the information we need to proceed. We will be making 6 oz. of extract with 2 oz. being equal to 1 'part' of the 3 parts of liquid.


100 Proof Vodka Step 1: Coarsely chop the root and place in a blender. We have 2 oz. of root which we know to be 50% water after drying our sample.

Since we are using a 50/50 water-alcohol medium to extract the plant properties and we know that we already have 1 ounce of water in the plant material, it merely remains to add enough pure alcohol (and *water if necessary) to make up the first 'part' of our formula. The closest we can get to pure alcohol is 190 proof (Please! no open flames or heated surfaces around this stuff! Extremely flammable).

(*If our plant material had been 40 percent water, we would add 1 ounce of alcohol plus a small amount of distilled water to make up the 10 percent difference.)

Step 2: The water portion of the plant material is now accounted for in Step 1 and all that remains is to add the remaining 2 parts of liquid which is 50 percent water and 50 percent alcohol. Pour 4 ounces of 100 proof vodka (remember that this is 50 percent alcohol and 50 percent water) into the blender.

You now have root, pure alcohol, and the vodka in the blender. Of the liquid portion - 3 ounces is alcohol and 3 ounces is water. There is 6 ounces of liquid to 2 ounces of fresh root (part of which is water and accounted for). This makes a 1 to 3 ratio. Step 3: Allow this to steep in a warm spot out of direct light for a period of 2 weeks, remembering to shake the jar each day.

Step 4: After 2 weeks, strain the liquid from the solids through muslin or fine cheesecloth and extract as much of the liquid as you can. Strain the liquid again through a paper coffee filter.

Store the liquid extract in an amber dropper bottle and clearly label the bottle in this way:

"Echinacea 1:3 ratio dosage = 5 to 15 drops daily when needed."

You can come pretty close to the exact amount by using the following chart:

  • 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons = 600 drops
  • 1/2 ounce = 1 tablespoons = 300 drops
  • 1/4 ounce = 1/2 tablespoons = 150 drops
  • 1 teaspoon = 100 drops
  • 1/2 teaspoon = 50 drops
  • 1/4 teaspoon = 25 drops

So what is 10 percent of 1 ounce? It's the same as 10 percent of 600 drops - which is? Bingo! 60 drops of distilled water.

Always remember that 600 drops equals 1 ounce and that 100 drops equals 1 teaspoon. The rest will be easy to figure from there.

The total liquid is supposed to be 6 ounces.

If your plant material is 75 percent water, then you already have 1-1/2 ounce of water locked up inside it.

Since a 50/50 liquid solution totaling 6 ounces is 3 ounces of water and 3 ounces of alcohol, it merely remains to add the other 1-1/2 ounce of water to make up the complete total required.

Then you add the 3 ounces of pure alcohol and your liquid measurements are complete. These are placed in the blender and completed as above.

**Sterile (boiled) water is ALWAYS used in preparing products for home use**

For most home use, simply combining 2 ounces of fresh root with 6 ounces of 100 proof vodka, blending and following the above procedure for 2 weeks of steeping is all that is need to produce a working product. Simply allow an extra drop or two in the dosage to account for a slightly watered down version.

If the use of alcohol is not appealing to you, it is also possible to use 1 part herb to 5 parts vinegar in the same manner to extract the plant properties. It will not be as potent a blend though, since alcohol is required to extract certain plant compounds.

Extracts from Dried Plant Material

Extracts made from dried plant material comprise most of the herbal extract types. The standard ratio used when making a dry herb extract, also known as a tincture, is:

1 part dried herb to 8 parts liquid. This is written as 1:8.

Locating this ratio number on a purchased extract will tell you its strength.

Powdered herb Essentially, making a dried herbal extract involves the same procedure. You powder the herbs in a blender or coffee mill and then combine them with 8 times (in weight) as much liquid. For home purposes 100-proof vodka provides the ideal extracting medium since it is 50 percent water and 50 percent alcohol.

Extracts enable you to move the healing properties of an herb into a long-lasting medium of liquid. Shelf life of extracts is several years as compared to the dry herb in whole leaf or large chunk root form which are only viable for about one year. Dosage is also easier to judge with the liquid in a dropper bottle.

Amber tincture bottles are available from herbalware suppliers.


Weigh out 1/2 ounce of Dandelion leaf or root.

If you are seriously interested in herbal preparations made at home, you will need a professional kitchen scale.

Grind the herb to a powder in a coffee grinder and place in a suitably large sealable jar. Cover the herb with 4 ounces (this is 8 times as much liquid as herb) of 100-proof vodka. Cap and shake well to get the herb saturated throughout the liquid.

Place your jar in a warm spot out of direct light for a period of two weeks. You will need to shake the jar each day.

At the end of two weeks you will strain the liquid through a coffee filter and bottle in sterile amber dropper bottles.

Label the bottle this way: "Dandelion extract - 1:8 ratio and add the date.

Any cheap 100-proof vodka will do the job. It's not necessary to spend a great deal of money on a known brand.

Any herb which is used in its dry form can be made into an extract in this manner.

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