I’ve learned this one from hard experience, over and over again. I’ve more than once picked up a jar of neutral green tincture and discovered it had no label. So I open it and sniff, also neutral green (thank goodness so many plants have distinctive tastes and smells). Uh oh. The next step is tasting, which is great unless you’re not sure whether you have the jar of Plantain or the jar of Datura leaves. Dammit.
Sometimes this has happened because I failed to put a label on the jar, especially in the very beginning when I only had a half a dozen tinctures and could recognize each by the jar they were in. Sometimes the label fell off or got wet or had incomplete information, like the one that said “Skullcap, Fl. Tops, 75% alcohol, 6-30.” Great, June thirtieth of what YEAR, though? Oils have a different kind of problem in that if their labels get oily, say goodbye to all that detailed info you wrote down, and you’re left with a one pint jar of dark green oil that smells like olive oil and some random green plant. Sigh.
Over the years, I’ve slowly corrected the label issue and have come to the conclusion that the more information the better in most cases. I also think more tape is better when fastening the label to the jar, so I always put clear packing tape over every label so that they’re less likely to disappear on me. I also prefer to write down these particular facts on the actual label of the tincture (or oil etc):
Latin Name (in cases where I can’t completely key it out, I’ll put Scutellaria spp. or Artemisia spp.)
Date Made – I prefer the exact date, and often the time, but even just the season and year will be helpful later. If it’s a dried plant preparation then also the date of harvest or purchase
Where harvested (if you bought it, just put down what you know, but if you harvested it, be specific, as you might want more someday, or if it doesn’t work out well, you might want to avoid that particular spot).
Weather and Conditions Harvested in – really important for picky, changeable plants like St John’s Wort or certain kinds of Sage. You’ll want to mention if there’s a drought or if it’s an unusually wet year etc. You can avoid writing this over and over if you make up a Master Inventory List (see below).
Percentage of alcohol: No, not the end percentage in the tincture, but percentage you USED. It’s too insane mathematically to bother with the former method. So, if you used Everclear, just put 100% (or 95% if you have a deep need for exactness). If you used brandy, write 40% (probably). And if you made a custom water/alcohol blend, then write down the percentage.
Proportion of plant to menstruum – You know, 1:2 for fresh plants, 1:5 for dried plants (usually). Plant matter by weight, menstruum by volume.
Fresh plant or Dried plant – Usually evident from the proportion, but ~assume nothing~, write it down.
If you’re a plant fanatic (like me), you probably harvest and process lots of plants every year and are slowly filling every available space in your house (and garage and shed and doghouse) with herbs and herbal preparations. No matter how big you think your brain is, you’ll never be able to hold onto all that information (I tried, and failed). So, that’s what you need a Master Inventory List for. Every year or season, depending on the volume of herbs you work with, start a sheet dedicated to the plants you harvest and process. You will want to include:
The weather conditions of that year.
Primary places you harvested from and notes about any unusual happenings in that area.
Plants harvested (which species and what parts)
Any notable changes about the health or amount of each particular stand of plants. It’s especially important to monitor the health of the plants you gather if you’re wildcrafting. If you primarily wildcraft I recommend using a field journal as described in From Earth to Herbalist by Greg Tilford or something similar. I have my own method for that, and I’ll post a sample at a later time.
Appr. how much harvested of each plant.
Then you make a tincture list and oil list and and dried plant list and so on, make sure you write the date and year on every piece of paper in case the records get separated. You write down the amount (2 gallons of Beebalm tincture, 1 quart Elderflower tincture etc), and the location of storage (bedroom closet, 3rd shelf up, on the left). And every time you use some or move it, write it down. This will save you from tearing the entire house apart looking for the last two ounces of Passionflower tincture that you really NEED RIGHT NOW (that you’ve somehow forgotten that you gave to a client three months ago). You also write down any notes on the life span of that preparation or plant so that you can keep an eye on what needs to be used up or checked on.
This kind of written organization will also force you to organize your plants better, and encourage you to move them from the plastic bags they were purchased in, into nice glass jars or similar. Things are much less likely to go bad this way, or get lost. And you’re less likely to lose your mind over that Passionflower tincture. Happiness all around.