How To: Make a Glycerin Tincture

If you follow First Ways, you know that I usually make medicinal extracts of wild plants using grain alcohol or brandy, but glycerin is a good alternative solvent that agrees well with kids, animals and anyone else who may be sensitive to alcohol or partial to sweet flavors.

In the photo above, you see I’m pouring glycerin into a hawthorn berry medicine I was making. Hawthorn is in demand in my world: Not only did my dog come down with a heart arrhythmia, but recently so did one of my dearest friends, and, meanwhile, a close relative is having heart trouble. This is why, a few weeks ago, I decided to gather the remaining hawthorn berries from a tree at a park near my house. (Most of them are gone now, but if you wait a little while, you can make medicine with the flowering spring branches.)

Vegetable glycerin is a clear, syrupy, sweet-tasting liquid that is typically derived from coconut or palm oil. It is low on the glycemic index and will not spike your blood sugar. Some books I have say it is safe for diabetics but some online sources say it is not, so if you are diabetic, this would be a question to check in with your doctor about.

Like alcohol and water, glycerin is effective at extracting botanical constituents. Glycerin is considered more powerful than water but not quite as powerful as alcohol, so most herbalists stick with alcohol for dissolving resinous materials and oils. Glycerin will preserve plant matter for one to two years; it is considered bacteriocidal and bacteriostatic.

You can find glycerin in the grocery store or you can order it online. It tends to be comparable or slightly less expensive, price-wise, to alcohol, depending on where you buy it. Make sure you get food grade glycerin.

To make hawthorn medicine with glycerin, I first mashed the berries using a combination of my fist and a mortar and pestle.

Then, I put them in a glass mason jar until it was nearly full. Books say you can mix two parts glycerine with one part water or just use all glycerin. What I did was fill it two-thirds with glycerin and one-third with vodka, which is an option if you want to add some oomph to the extractive power without affecting the taste. I then put the jar in a dark closet. That was four weeks ago, so it should be nearly ready for bottling now. (I like to wait four to six weeks).

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Then explore many more wild plants on the Search Plants! page.

23 thoughts on “How To: Make a Glycerin Tincture

  1. okay, I’m a recovering alcoholic so tinctures with alcohol are out completely. I’m wondering if you have recipes for other tinctures like with lemon balm, oregano, sage, lavender? I’m new to this whole world! -can’t you tell? But hey, I’m trying!

    • You can use glycerin to tincture any soft herbal parts such as flowers and leaves. With roots or bark, you would need to use alcohol to make a tincture, but you *could* make an herbal syrup instead, in which you would boil the roots/bark as a decoction, reduce the liquid, strain, and then preserve using honey and glycerin. There’s a how to post and recipe on my site you can find using the search field at the top of the page. Congrats on your recovery.

      Sent from my Verizon Wireless Droid

  2. Pingback: Winter Wild Edibles: Chickweed « First Ways

  3. While this post is a very helpful tutorial, some thoughts and questions come to mind….

    1) Once the six weeks is up, how do you prepare it for consumption? Do you drain it into little I-dropper bottles like most tincture come in? If not the dropper bottles, then how do you prepare it for dosage? And, what dosages are effective?

    2) You mentioned that you can use all glycerin. Have you prepared tinctures with just glycerin an no alcohol? If so, do you find (if it is possible to measure this at all) to be just as effective for whatever purpose you are using it for?

    3) Sticking with the alcohol theme, do you find that the preparations in which you do use with vodka, over power the mixture? In other words, do you taste more alcohol then glycerin? And, it is safe for people who might be sensitive to alcohol, or who are too young to ingest it?

    4) You mentioned that glycerin has anti-bacterial properties. But, how long can you keep the mixture until it, well, until it is no longer anti-bacterial? In other words, how long can a mixture last? Do you have an expiration date?

    Thanks for any and all information…

    Robert Cary.

    • Hi Robert,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I’ll do my best to answer your queries here:

      1) You don’t have to do anything else. You can strain it and pour it into little tincture bottles if you want to. All you need to do is just make sure to keep it away from light and heat. I like to use a medicine dropper for taking it, personally. Sometimes I just skim it out of the jar, and other times I bottle it. Dosage is going to vary by weight and age and species. (For example, less for my 30 pound dog than for me). It’s also going to vary depending on why you’re taking it. Hawthorn is a heart tonic, meaning it’s a medicine one can take long-term to support cardiovascular function, whether or not there’s any disorder. It’s also a food. So if you were just taking it that way or enjoying the flavor, dosage is not so important. If you’re taking it to lower your blood pressure or steady an erratic heartbeat, then you might follow the advice of Michael Moore, who says 1 to 2 droppers full three times/day for a few weeks and then two times a day after that. Obviously it’s good to check in with a medical professional if you have any known ailments or are taking any drugs to check for interactions.

      2) Yes and yes. If preparing with just glycerin, though, I make sure to mix in some water because otherwise the resulting tincture is much too viscous. Also, water extracts medicinal compounds, too, and so water + glycerin is more effective than just glycerin alone.

      3) Glycerin is good for kids and pets. When mixed with vodka, the resulting flavor is usually more sweetness than alcohol, but you can control this depending on what proportions of each you use. My understanding is that glycerin is a sugar-alcohol, which is neither alcohol nor sugar, oddly, and so it is safe for diabetics and does not act like alcohol in the body, either. Still, if you know someone who is allergic to alcohol or otherwise can’t take it, ask a medical professional just to be sure, because it’s not worth a possible bad reaction.

      4) There is no official expiration date but generally the rule is glycerin tinctures last a year or two, while alcohol tinctures last indefinitely.

      • Thanks Rebecca for your extremely rapid reply. Questions were answered, and hopefully, my first adventure into my own preparation will be “fruitful”.

        I have read about the blood pressure lowering qualities of Hawthorne Berry and hopefully, this mixture will help me with my own BP problems. Most preparations are cut with alcohol.

        Taking to Google to find out if I could prepare this myself without it led me to your site. Thanks again…Robert C.

      • Robert,

        Very welcome. I made a hawthorn tincture like this and mixed it with passionflower tincture for a woman who wanted to take it to lower her blood pressure and the mixture worked very well for her. I made it half hawthorn and half passionflower. Passionflower is an anti-anxiety as well. Best of luck.

  4. I would really like to know more about using Hawthorn flowering branches. I’ve never heard of that, but seeing as my mother has heart trouble I’m very interested.

  5. Great post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m inspired! Very useful information specifically the ultimate part :) I deal with such info a lot. I was looking for this particular info for a very long time. Thank you and good luck.

  6. I’m just getting into tincture-making and would love your recommendations…like, how do you decide when to use glycerin, alcohol, or vinegar for a tincture? And can you mix just about any herbs together for a combined effect or will some herbs override or synergize another? Is there a good book out there that addresses herbal combinations? Thanks!
    Jess

    • Hi Jess, I like to use alcohol most of the time because it’s the strongest of those options. It is pretty much a necessity when you’re tincturing roots or woody parts of plants; for fruits and blossoms and leaves, you can get away with vinegar or glycerin. I have some books listed on the resources page of this blog that talk about herbal medicine combinations, such as the ones by Tilford or Moore.

  7. You never cease to amaze me.

    Do you have any suggestions for allergy relief? My son seems to have wicked seasonal allergies – he complains of headaches, his eyes are red, and he seems logy.

    I’ve used SOS Hista Drops from Native Remedies, and it has helped. But I’d like to hear your suggestions.

    Thanks!
    xo!

    • My understanding is that glycerin can be made from various sources and can be rated different grades. For medicine making, you will want to get vegetable glycerin that is rated food grade.

  8. That is totally cool. I have never even tried this. Of course I also don’t have any idea what hawthorne looks like so that would probably be a good place for me to start. What does hawthorne berries taste like?

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