An herbal glycerite is a fluid extract of an herb or other medicinal substance made using glycerin as the majority of the fluid extraction medium. You can make these at home. We can all agree that taking chemicals to cure sickness should only be done when absolutely necessary. Herbal remedies can cure many, many minor illnesses, aches and pains. Common sense and knowledge is key. Some guidelines are:

Know the plant. Proper plant identification is crucial — there is no room for carelessness or guessing games. Fennel is a common medicinal herb, and closely related species such as parsley, celery, dill, cilantro and lovage have a long history of medicinal use as well. But two members of this family are deadly poisonous — water hemlock and poison hemlock — and mistakes with these look-alikes can be fatal. This sounds scary, but we need simply to practice the same common sense we use when instructing our children about any hazardous plant in their environment — whether poison ivy, jimsonweed or lily-of-the-valley.

Know the part to be used. It may be that one part of a traditional medicinal plant is safe to use, while others are off limits. For example, elderberry flowers and berries are safe for the beginner to use (to make medicines for flu and fever), but the bark can have toxic effects.

Know the application. Some plants that can be seriously toxic if taken internally can be safely used externally. An excellent example is foxglove (digitalis), which can be fatal if ingested, but can be used to make a fomentation to promote wound healing.

Know the dosage. It should never be assumed that “if a little is good, a little more is even better.” Indeed, James Green observes that small doses of German chamomile can provide positive effects for the nervous system that larger doses cannot duplicate. In some cases, the possibility of side effects or toxicity goes up with increasing dosage. Remember that dosage is keyed to body weight as well, so special care must be taken when administering herbal medicines to children.

Know potential side effects. Though unwelcome side effects are much less common in herbal medicine than in pharmaceuticals, it is wise to “read and heed” herbal literature to minimize possible side effects. For example, herbals high in tannins — such as yellow dock (a liver stimulant and laxative) — can be a problem for individuals with a history of kidney stones.

Remember individual sensitivities. An individual might have an allergic reaction to a medicinal plant safely used by others. When beginning use of a medicinal herb (just as when trying a new food) start with a reduced amount and work up to a normal dose.

Be aware of restrictions on use. Some herbs safe to use by the general patient may not be appropriate for children or the elderly. Most importantly, pregnant women should always be considered a special case. With regard to any plant medicine, the responsible herbalist will consider the issue of safe use during pregnancy and will err on the side of caution. Some herbs such as black cohosh, comfrey, goldenseal, mugwort and yarrow should be avoided entirely by pregnant women. Others such as cayenne and ginger might be used, but very sparingly.

Recognize the limits of your own expertise. There are many herbs that are easy and safe for the beginner to use. A good place to start is with herbs commonly used as food and in teas. Others require far greater experience, knowledge and skill. In the case of elderberry bark, mentioned above, it actually is used medicinally, even for internal applications. However, it is strong medicine indeed and should be used only by those who know what they are doing. The rest of us should stick with the more user-friendly plants and applications and seek out a reliable teacher if we want to advance.

And the most obvious common sense advice: Be careful using herbal medicine on children or pets and don’t use herbs for something that truly needs medical attention. If your child has a high fever, uncontrolled coughing or any other serious symptom, take him to the doctor. We all remember the sad recent case of the vegan baby who developed pneumonia and was treated with folk medicine instead of being taken to the hospital. She died. People have been using herbal remedies for centuries but don’t forget how often people still died of things we can cure very easily now. It’s about finding a balance.

Alcohol Extracts

An alcohol extract is thought to be the most effective type of tincture because alcohol pulls out the properties of the herb better than any other solvent and because it acts as a preservative, but in all honesty, each method of extraction has it’s own benefits.

Many people tell pregnant mamas to boil water, pour it in a cup, and drop their tincture drops in there to evaporate the water off, but did you know that this is a misconception? Yeah, it is! Only a small amount of the alcohol will evaporate this way. Alcohol disperses in water, and it’s very difficult to separate them. Plus, when you add tinctures to hot waters you can lose some of the essential oils and other constitutes in the tincture.

A tincture made using alcohol can last up to 2 years if stored properly. 

Glycerite Extracts

A glycerite is a good alternative to an alcohol extract. Glycerin is actually a form of alcohol, but it tastes nothing like it! It has a very sweet flavor, but doesn’t affect your blood glucose levels. This is usually the type of tincture to make if you want your children to like taking them! A glycerite will typically last about 1 year when stored properly. Same with a honey or vinegar tincture.

How To Make A Tincture

  1. Place your herbs in a clean glass jar – 2/3 full for fresh herbs, 1/2 full for dry herbs
  2. Cover with solvent {alcohol, vinegar, glycerin, honey} – fill jar with liquid leaving 1 inch head room at top of jar
  3. Cover with lid
  4. Place in a cool, dark spot and shake 2-3 times a day for 2-6 weeks
  5. Strain and dispose of the herbs
  6. Store liquid in a glass jar, label, and keep in a cool, dark place

How To Make A Glycerite

  1. Place your herbs in a clean glass jar – 2/3 full for fresh herbs, 1/2 full for dry herbs
  2. Cover with glycerin or honey – fill jar with liquid leaving 1 inch head room at top of jar
  3. Cover with lid
  4. Place a folded washcloth in the bottom of a saucepan or crockpot
  5. Place your jar on top of the cloth
  6. Fill your saucepan or crockpot full of water – cover as much of your jar as possible
  7. Cook on low heat for 3 days refilling water as it evaporates
  8. Shake 2-3 times a day
  9. Strain herbs through a cheesecloth and dispose of them
  10. Store liquid in a glass jar, label, and keep in a cool, dark place

Butterfly Expressions has a FABULOUS .pdf with specific recipes for every ailment and herb you can possibly think of. We highly recommend you check it out!