I have already shared a little bit of my tincturing process with you. In a nutshell, you take something medicinal or fragrant, soak it in alcohol for a few weeks to a month, then strain it out until you’re left with a potent brew. But what if you, like me, are short on that most virtuous of virtues, PATIENCE? Day after day, you wander by those tantalizing bottles with sinister floating bits of whatever material you’re just itching to work with. You shake them. You open the lid, take a smell. Hmph, day after day all you smell is booze. When will this torture END???? Well luckily for us, there is another way: percolation!
If you’re thinking that word sounds a bit like the way coffee is made, you’re right. It’s the same principle, only with alcohol instead of water being used to dissolve the active components and wash them through into the solution. Percolation was originally a pharmacist’s trick. I won’t lie to you, it isn’t exactly a beginner’s method and takes a bit of dexterity, and not all herbs will percolate well. It also won’t work well with small amounts of herb, say less than 2 ounces, since the percolation cone won’t be full enough to provide a uniform column. But I swear, when it works it’s like MAGIC. Which is why we all started working with herbs in the first place, so that we could play green witch/magician/alchemist what have you, right? No? I digress…
My first batch was a damiana love potion, which is a story in and of itself. You can find it for sale here through Poppyswap, a fun website with an emphasis on herbs. Valentines day was coming up, and I wanted something really special to share with my sweetie, who as I have said is the one who first taught me how to make tinctures. It would need to be tasty, fun, effective, and safe (which it is, and I am hearing reports back from others who agree!) I spent days poring over my herbal books, looking up articles, and knitting my brow until finally I came up with the recipe. And I was running out of time! Somewhere in my travels I came across this very helpful (but rather long, be forewarned) video and worksheet from Wintergreen Botanicals and the pieces started falling into place. If you’re short on time, I’ll summarize:
Dry, powdered herb, at least 2 oz for a small percolation cone, at least 4 oz for a large cone
Percolation cone, which can be made if you have steady hands (thanks hubby!) by cutting the base off of a Perrier bottle, large or small. You will also want to grind the sharp edges off with a dremel or glass appropriate sandpaper. Save the cap, you’ll need it.
Regular mouth canning jar
2 coffee filters
So to begin, since I suck at math (it’s the only thing Barbie and I see eye to eye on), I will refer you to the above worksheet to work out all you genius calculations so you know how much menstruum (alcohol) you will need and such. Moisten your herbs with a small amount of alcohol until it is the texture of damp sand, and let it sit overnight. The next day, you take your damp herb and pack it into the cone, which you have lined with a small cone of coffee filter paper to keep it from rushing out the bottom. Divide the herb into three additions, packing gently at first, then more firmly, and the final packing fairly firmly with a tamper of some kind, a tincture bottle works nicely. You want to be sure that the level of the herb is even and flat. Once it’s all packed you top it off with another piece of filter paper, and top it off with a clean flat stone or something to keep the alcohol from pushing aside your carefully packed herb. Take the cap off the cone, carefully pour some alcohol over the top, and place the perc cone in the mouth of the canning jar. If you’ve done it right, eventually the alcohol will come out the bottom, now you put the cap back on. It might take a minute or two to start dripping. You should be able to see the fluid descending in an even, uniform band through the herb. Adjust the tightness of the cap until your drip rate matches the tempo of “Stars and Stripes Forever” (according to the brilliant Michael Moore, one of my favorite herbalists and the man many credit with reviving the lost art of percolation) Now you wait for a matter of hours, NOT weeks or months! Unless it doesn’t work, in which case you just dump the whole mess into a jar and do your tincture the old fashioned way, maceration 🙂
Keep checking back on my Poppyswap page, where I will be adding new tinctures in the upcoming weeks!