Notes on Alcohol for the Beginning Herbalist

There’s this little herbal misunderstanding that has become a pet peeve of mine. Some people seem to think that grain alcohol (also known under the brand-name of Everclear) is somehow evil or unsuitable for medicine because of how strong (evidently this is equivalent to harsh). But really, it’s only as strong as you make/need it.

So, that cheap vodka you buy. It’s usually either 40% or 50% alcohol and the rest (60% or 50%) is water. That makes it Everclear with with a bunch of water added. Expensive water, eh? You can sometimes buy high quality vodka from potatoes or some source besides grain but it’s a pretty penny in most places.

So, you could buy yourself some Everclear (if it’s legal in your state) or you could buy organic grain or grape alcohol from Alchemical Solutions and have it shipped to you. It’s 95% alcohol.

Now, to make a fresh plant tincture I prefer a high alcohol percentage. I’ve used every kind of percentage from 40% on up, and I have to say that in most cases, I far prefer a higher percentage (from 75%-95%) because it tastes more like the plant and takes a very low dosage for effective medicine, and seems to preserve better. Now let’s be clear, your fresh plant tincture WON’T be 95% alcohol because the fresh plant itself contains water (how much depends on the plant of course), so it’s not quite like taking a dropperful of Everclear or something. Some plants have tons of water in them (think of juicy plants like Plantain or Wild Mint). And hey, if you want to only use 50% alcohol for your tincture, well then hell, just use half water and half grain alcohol.

For dry plant tinctures, you’ll rarely use 95% alcohol but it makes it really easy to calculate the exact percentage that you do need. So if you need 45% alcohol for your dried Ashwagandha, why then just add enough water to the alcohol to make that (again, appr. half and half, I personally usually just eyeball it). If you want to know some good recommendations for the various percentages of different dry plant tinctures, head over to Michael Moore’s site and download his free Materia Medica. I won’t get into the math of tinctures here, I just want to dispel the evil Everclear myth and show useful it really is. Otherwise you’re forever stuck with 40% tinctures, which is ok for many herbs, but when you have lots of aromatics or resins, it’s really less than ideal and is fairly evident upon tasting or using the medicine.

You don’t have to get all uptight and scientific about measurement, just approximate and you’ll usually do fine. Practice and experience will make it much easier. And yes, the people at the liquor store or bar will think you’re an alcoholic. And if you tell them you’re making medicine with it, they’ll just nod knowingly and roll their eyes at each other over your head. Eventually though, you’ll be in there selling THEM little bottles of tincture because they can’t get rid of last winter’s lung grunge. Poetic justice, I say.

10 Comments

  1. hanwisi (moonfoot)
    Apr 3, 2008

    I have recently been turned on to your blog by a sister herbwife. I am also a midwife and would love to meet you someday. Although I have studied herbs and use them daily as well as in my practice I have longed to study with someone as a traditional apprintace in a traditional way by listening to the plants. If your ever up to having a student keep me in mind. I live in Las Cruces and wanted to tell you how very much I love your posts. Blessings to you and yours.
    Hanwisi

  2. hanwisi (moonfoot)
    Apr 3, 2008

    I just reviewed your courses. I am very interested in them and would like to talk further about them and how I can facilitate learning with my midwifery. Thank you and Blessings.
    Hanwisi

  3. Angie Goodloe
    Apr 3, 2008

    Thank you for this! I find myself answering questions about this a lot, now I can just send the link to your post:)

  4. Ms Thistle
    Apr 4, 2008

    Great post — I also feel like I’m always trying to explain why I feel its better to use 95%. It’s just more efficient!

    Blessings,
    kimberely

  5. Cheryl
    Aug 14, 2008

    Thank you for your wonderful input! I went to three different liquor stores seeking Everclear today, as needed a 65% alcohol base/solution. In two of them was treated very poorly and referred to a store in a “less affluent” section of Denver. From now on, I will make my alcohol purchases at the third store, as they did not act like I had three heads. I did explain that I had no clue where to look, and that I needed the Everclear for mixing with herbs. Not only was I shown where it is located (so now I know what the bottle looks like), I was asked to let them know how it worked.

    Many Blessings!

  6. dano
    Oct 29, 2008

    Hi there, Lovely website.
    I am a British herbalist starting out and researching- how to get my alcohol license. In England only certain people can get access to 96% alcohol.
    I want to make my own tinctures from this “everclear” but we can only get it in 25 litres (50 pints) ………..thats quite a barrel of alcohol.

    Just so you know, we are going through a big change here. We (herbalists) vote on saturday 1/11/08 whether or not to be regulated by the authorities. It sounds terrible but it actually means we will be accepted just like a doctor or dentist.

    Lots of love to the herbalists of the world, big respect to the American people’s who helped found the Western tradition of Herbal Medicine.

    Dano X

  7. wildsyrinx
    Aug 2, 2010

    We would like to purchase organic grain alcohol; however, the company you recommend,
    Alchemical Solutions, sells a minimum of 1 gallon. would you know of another source which can supply a quart at a time. Thank you.

    • Kiva Rose
      Aug 2, 2010

      Nope, sorry, everywhere I know sells a minimum of a gallon at a time, I think taxes make it rather prohibitive otherwise. If Everclear is legal in your state, you can always buy that in smaller amounts though.

  8. Brotherhug Barlow
    Oct 21, 2010

    You write, “and yes, the people at the liquor store or bar will think you’re an alcoholic. And if you tell them you’re making medicine with it, they’ll just nod knowingly and roll their eyes at each other over your head.”

    Last time I went to the ABC store here to buy Everclear, the clerk asked me if I was making tinctures. She said they sell a lot of it for that purpose. I suppose Asheville might just be a little different from most of the rest of the country in that regard.

    • Kiva Rose
      Oct 21, 2010

      Yes indeed, I imagine Asheville is something of an exception that way ;)

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