I have a couple of wonderful friends, a couple themselves, who have long been discerning home mixologists. They even have an enviably beautiful liquor cabinet, made by the furniture maker among them, as an altar to their hobby. It wasn’t long after learning of their engagement that I arrived at the perfect wedding gift idea for the pair, which doubled as an excuse to submerge myself in a tincture-making project.
The approach: Soak herbs in a strong alcohol solution (also called a maceration), strain out the plant material after 2-4 weeks, taste each of the resultant tinctures, and allow the flavors of each herbal extraction to dictate their relative volumes in the bitters combinations.
• Plant Material: Dried herbs make the whole process simpler because you can use essentially the same alcohol solution for each extraction. Conveniently, a bottle of vodka serves this purpose perfectly acceptably.
• Herb choice for safety: I stayed away from herbs that are categorized as “low dose” herbs. Instead I favored culinary herbs—which have a long history of being eaten—and herbs classified as nutritive and adaptogenic—which are safe to take daily.
• Herb choice for flavor: I aimed to use at least one herb in each combo that I knew to be predominantly bitter in flavor. If you’re unsure if an herb is bitter, chew on a small amount of it for a minute or so, and that will give you some sense of what it might taste like in tincture form.
• Dose: Medicinal herbs are generally pretty safe, and serving herbs in the manner that bitters are (recipes call for drops or splashes) reduces the dose, and thus the risk of overdose, drastically. In this serving situation, one expects the alcohol content of the drink to be the greatest safety concern.
• Sourcing: Here in Portland we have several herb shops to peruse. I also like to source through Mountain Rose Herbs. There is currently no oversight to ensure that bulk herbs are of high quality, so vetting your herb purveyor is up to you.
Of course, the bitters were a hit. I can imagine them now, three regal packages of flavor and magic perched there in the glass-fronted hand-hewn liquor cabinet. For this project I used the scallop shape (size 33) in the Vintage Burlap style in seaglass and tuxedo, and the Vintage Chalkboard style in green.
- A bottle of vodka
- Dried medicinal or culinary herbs
- Nine 8 ounce jars with tight fitting lids
- Tiny funnel
- A scale that measures down to the gram (very helpful but not absolutely necessary)
- Amber glass dropper bottles (I used 2oz)
- Other ubiquitous kitchen tools
- For each herb:
- Weigh out 6 grams of plant material and place in a jar. Add 60 grams of vodka, cap the jar and shake it daily—or as often as you think to shake it—for 2-4 weeks (or longer). If you don’t have a scale, use about 2 tablespoons of plant material (more for leafy plants and less for roots), and about ⅓ cup of vodka. After 2-4 weeks, strain out the plant material into a bowl using cheesecloth, compressing the cheesecloth as much as possible to squeeze out every drop of the tincture (the magic is at the end).
- Place each tincture into a separate container and taste each one with a separate dropper. Use your impressions of each of the tinctures to guide your combinations and the relative volumes of each tincture. Funnel the tinctures into dropper bottles, and adorn with delightful labels.
The great fun of this project is in exploring tincture flavors and creating unique combinations, and I hope the same for you. As an aid to spur your creativity, the herb combinations I used were:
Chrysanthemum • Hibiscus • Orange Peel
Ashwagandha • Mugwort • Nutmeg
Star Anise • Damiana • Rosemary
Used In This Project:
- Petal Labels • I chose the “Vintage Burlap” style in burlap seaglass.
- Petal Labels • I chose the “Vintage Burlap” style in burlap tuxedo.
- Petal Labels • I chose the “Vintage Chalkboard” style in chalkboard green.
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