Let’s Talk About: Tinctures, Elixirs, and Cordials

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To Find Them Any Fresher You Would Have To Grow

mortar, pestle, tincture bottles
Tincture corner of my herb shelf, A. Shehan

I love herbs, and I also enjoy alcohol. You dedicated readers know for sure that I adore honey…so I generally do my best to combine those three ingredients in as many forms as possible.

My cabinets are full of jars, and those jars are full of strange floating bits in colored liquid. It makes me feel my most witchy to open that cabinet and bring out strange brews to share with friends.  I have many jars that are medicine, and jars that are for fun, and jars that are a bit of both.

Tinctures are medicinal extracts of herbs in alcohol. Some folks use moonshine and other high-test likkers for their tinctures, but I tend to use a medium-brand, triple-distilled vodka so I don’t have to dilute the tincture until it’s ingested.  If you aren’t into vodka, a nice brandy is a good alternative.

The process for making a tincture is simple:

Get an herb, fresh or dried.
Put said herb into a jar.
Pour alcohol to cover the herb.
Put a lid on it, and give it a good shake every now and again
Strain after 3-6 weeks and label clearly.

Now, tinctures are potent!  When you take tinctures, please do a lot of research if you are dosing yourself, or find a practiced herbalist to give you guidance.  Some tinctures, such as poke root or teasel, only need a couple of drops per day to be effective and more than that can cause you harm.

Elixirs are the sweetened version of those alcohol-expressed medicines.  I tend to make “sipping” elixirs out of the more tasty herb tinctures.  These can almost cross the line into cordials, which while they may have medicinal benefits, are mostly just for pleasure.  The sharp tang of elderberry cordial is lovely, but I try to save it for when I’m feeling sick.  To use an elixir, just pour a bit into your hot tea, or into a brandy snifter to sip on for a while.

Then there are the less-than-tasty herbal medicines…adding sweetener to the more bitter or astringent herb tinctures can make ingesting them a more palatable experience, especially with kids.  Valerian and Horehound are good examples of herbs that can use a splash of honey to cut their bitter strength!

Elixirs are easy to make:

You can start out with a tincture and add a simple syrup (recipe below).  Add the cooled syrup to tincture in small bits, then shake the mix to blend it, and then taste.  If it isn’t right, add more and taste again!  Be careful, these are meant to be sipped as they are still potent medicine, and this sweetening and tasting process can get you loopy.

Simple Syrup:
Boil one cup of water.
Add two cups of sugar (or 1.5 cup of honey, or agave, or whatever you prefer!)
Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and remove from heat.
Allow to cool.

Otherwise, you can use the lazy method. Pour a dollop of honey into a strained tincture and give it a shake.  It works, but it ends up being super sticky and thick compared to the simple syrup process described above.

jars of cordials and tinctures
Cordials and Tinctures, 2011, Amber Shehan

I hope that helps to demystify some of the process and allow you to play around with your Junior Alchemist kit in your kitchen, and have another way to use your herb harvest before the final frost takes it from you!

Here are some cordials and tinctures that I have in the works.  All of these are in 40% vodka.

In the back, we have Cranberry cordial.  I buy cranberries when they go on sale every holiday season, and freeze them if I don’t use them immediately.  This jar has been full for close to a year, and will remain there until the berries have lost a bit more color to the alcohol.  Then there will be a sugar syrup added (perhaps brown sugar this year) and it will sit and settle until Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Clockwise, we next have goldenrod tincture.  Goldenrod will have his own post soon, so I’ll move on to the next little jar.

Yarrow was a strong sister plant for me this year.  She sprang up tall and magnificent from the patch I prepared and transplanted her the first year I lived here.  The fronds on this plant were humongous, and her flowers plentiful! Yarrow tincture is good for keeping insects at bay when applied externally, and is an amazing wound cleaner as well.  She’ll be handy to keep around for next spring.

Lemon Balm, Sweet Melissa, fills out the next jar with her flat, wide leaves.  I crushed them with my fingers as I put them in the jar, to release her lemony, sharp oils.  This plant is excellent for anxiety, depression, any emotional rollercoasters and overwhelming dizziness can be slowed down by a couple drops in water and a couple of deep breaths.

Lastly, we have valerian and mint.  Some folks can’t stand the smell of Valerian, but I’m quite fond of it.  The mint is there to make it palatable, sure, but it also has it’s own benefits in the realm of gas relief and relaxation.  In a couple of weeks, I’ll strain that jar and add some honey to the tincture and shake it together for a tonic cordial.  My delicate-tummied love sometimes ends up unable to sleep at night with gut pains keeping him awake…but after one good slug of valerian and mint cordial, there’s a couple of burps and then a symphony of snores!

This is my last fresh-harvest hurrah for the season.  This week, I’ll be making tasty treats using the elixir method with rum instead of vodka, and leftover apple peels that would otherwise be discarded.  Winter is nigh, and I’m set on having plenty of tasty, warming medicines to get me and my loved ones through!

Tinctures, Elixirs, and Cordials on Punk Domestics
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11 Responses

  1. Great post and gorgeous pictures! I have my good share of strange bottles filled with herbs as well! For your delicate-tummied love, I would suggest fennel. I suffer from bad nights too if my dinner has been too much, and a cup of fennel tea (or tincture) does wonders! If you don’t have it near, I can send you seeds from our own plant.

  2. I just found this blog, and wow, is it ever full of great information. I have started growing all kinds of medicinal plants, but really am not sure which parts to harvest and when. Is there a resource you would suggest?

  3. Ooh, yes. He used to just chew a couple of fennel seeds, but now that bothers his teeth. I’ll have to try him on a tea of that, it isn’t his favorite flavor. :) Mint is much more his style, and I have a non-Valerian mint elixir that he enjoys swigging that doesn’t put him to sleep!

    I would be interested in doing an herb or seed exchange with you, though! We have such different climates, I bet we have much to offer each other. :D

  4. Sharon: Thank you so much for your kind words! I can suggest a couple of books, and will totally get back to you all with a post of suggestions. Feel free to follow me, using the google follower button on the right side of the page! <3

  5. I have a lovely garden but just recently started making my own teas and tinctures and also use herbs in spiritual practice.

    This awesome blog has a wealth of information. Thank you so much!

  6. Hey there! Sharon and Lori-Ann, I just made a new post about suggested books for your herbal reference shelf. It includes both health books and spiritual books for using herbs. Thanks for reading, and please do come back! <3

    Amber

    Herbal Bookshelf: http://pixiespocket.com/2011/10/pixies-pocket-herbal-bookshelf.html

  7. Great post! Thanks for the herbal info. I like the info on elixir too…never made one of those but love tinctures. Thanks again! I’m a new follower too, blessings!

    Nancy@livininthegreen.blogspot.com

  8. […] add things, and make it your own!  If you have never made a tincture, cordial, or elixir before, this post might be helpful to you.  It is easy, I […]

  9. […] herbal extracts in liquid form.  My friend over at Pixie’s Pocket has a great guide on how to make your own, and it’s not as hard as you would […]

  10. […] I haven’t tried it yet, but I assume this procedure would work with any other kinds of tea bags, from herbal to green tea to beyond.  If you want to review different ways of cordial making, check out this post! […]

  11. […] I’ve covered before, tinctures, elixirs, and cordials are easy to make!  They are a wonderful method of bringing summertime to the cold winter […]

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