This is an excerpt of a longer article originally published in Country Grind Quarterly about spring tonics and tincture-making. Much more info here about making weight-to-volume tinctures, and some gems here on troubleshooting tinctures. If you’re in Vermont, come to the tincture-making class in June! Info here.
Spring is the time to start making your own herbal medicine, or get way better at it, because you have the whole growing season ahead of you to screw up and try again. Almost over night, medicine is popping up out of the ground all over the yard and the woods and the roadsides—and at the same time, we’re antsy to get outside without the coveralls, snow boots, and wool we’ve been sweating in for the last 4-6 months.
Weedy spring medicines called spring tonics get a lot of attention this time of year. Their medicine is gentle and cleansing, helping us shed the sluggishness of fireside hibernation, too much sleep and too much booze and not enough fresh vegetables. These herbs stimulate and rejuvenate the liver, kidneys, digestion, blood and lymph system, energizing us for the growing season. Tonics should be taken every day for best effect. Common examples include dandelion, burdock, yellow dock, cleavers, chickweed, nettles, and many other early weeds, depending on where you live. We’ll cover nettles and burdock as examples and talk about how to preserve them in alcohol (tincture), because digging up a bunch of burdock doesn’t do you any good if you can’t use it.
One thing to note is that many spring tonics have high mineral & soluble fiber content, neither of which dissolves in alcohol. If you want the fiber or minerals, make tea, food, or tincture them in vinegar.
Like always, look up any herb you’re thinking of using to make sure it’s safe for you if you have health concerns, and make sure you’re harvesting the right plants.
Burdock is a cool, moist, calming anti-inflammatory rejuvenator. Use the tinctured root to stimulate sluggish digestion; cleanse the liver, gall bladder, kidneys, and blood; and relieve hot, congested skin conditions like acne and boils. It’s soothing to PMS symptoms with liver involvement, like acne and constipation, combined with a woman’s herb like black haw. Use it to cleanse the liver during recovery from substance abuse. Root tea (decoction) is used to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, or as a gentle every day medicine against chronic urinary tract infections and kidney stones. The root is high in minerals and soluble fiber, so the tea is useful against anemia, to help recover from antibiotic use with probiotic foods, and to help neutralize high cholesterol and reproductive hormone imbalances with a woman’s herb. The root is good in soups and you get the effects of the tea. Seeds can be collected for a strong diuretic medicine, but in the fall so we’ll skip it.
Harvesting burdock Look for the 2nd year’s growth: the leaves will be larger, usually in an area that went weedy last year. Dig roots in the early morning during the new moon, within a day or 2 of rain for the best medicine.
Nettle is a cooling anti-inflammatory strength-builder that stimulates kidney function and cleanses the blood (alterative). It’s used in tincture, tea, or food for a wide range of conditions of deficiency. Use it for any deficient depression or exhaustion, when you feel dragged down, frazzled, and overwhelmed, with herbs for the nervous system (nervines). Nettle is a tonic against seasonal allergies and allergies that manifest in skin and mucous membranes (like sinuses). Use it for skin conditions related to stress, fatigue, or dryness. Nettles stimulate milk production in nursing mamas and protect against postpartum depression and exhaustion.
Because of its effect on kidney function, the tea is protective against chronic urinary tract infections and helps relieve symptoms of arthritis and gout with anti-inflammatory herbs like willow, and high blood pressure with a heart tonic like hawthorn. Tea and food are high in minerals, so nettle helps protect against iron-deficiency anemia, osteoporosis, and electrolyte deficiencies. It combines beautifully with other spring tonics like burdock for diuretic and mineral benefits. Cook the leaves like kale for springtime joy. Fresh seeds & roots are also collected for very strong medicine (not a tonic), as a diuretic and adrenal rejuvenator.
Harvesting nettle Harvest on a sunny day during the full moon. Wear gloves to cut young nettles off at an angle ½ inch above a leaf node (so you can cut again this season). Never harvest nettles after they bloom with tiny hanging green flowers from their armpits, they can have major effects on hormones. Hold the end of the stem in one hand and strip the leaves off away from you. Only harvest nettles from good clean soil, they uptake heavy metals.
Making Fresh Herb Tinctures
So in the original Country Grind article, this is where I talk about all the nitty gritty tincture-making details of ratios, concentrations, fresh vs. dried plant matter, solubility, and the rest. If you want those details, please read this much more detailed article on how to make tinctures. Otherwise, read on for the specific recipes.
To illustrate how to follow a recipe to make genuinely good tinctures, and in honor of spring: the nettle leaf tincture represents higher alcohol tinctures of delicate plant parts, and burdock root tincture represents lower alcohol tinctures of dense plant parts. This recipe can be applied to any herb you would tincture. I’m using fluid and solid ounces, but if you’re a metric user it works just as well in ml and gm.
You will need Grain alcohol; scale; measuring cup; knife and cutting board; clean canning jars; waxed paper or clean muslin; labels or scrap paper; packing tape. Eventually, a potato ricer or press.
1. Pick the ratio, 1:2 to 1:6.
2. Pick the liquid concentration, 40% to 95%.
3. Chop and weigh the herbs using ounces. This number is the 1st number in the ratio (the 1); let’s say the herbs weigh 4 oz.
4. Multiply the weight of herbs by the second number in the ratio. This number is the total volume of liquid.
Nettles: 4 oz nettles, 1:3 ratio, 4×3=12 oz liquid
Burdock: 4 oz burdock, 1:4 ratio, 4×4=16 oz liquid
5. Multiply liquid volume (the number you got in step 4) by the alcohol concentration you want. This is the volume of alcohol. We’re pretending grain alcohol is 100% instead of 95% for our sanity.
Nettles: 12 oz liquid x75%=9 oz alcohol
Burdock: 16 oz liquid x60%=9.6, let’s say 10 oz alcohol
6. Subtract the alcohol volume from the total volume of liquid. This is how much water you need.
Nettles: 12 oz liquid–9 oz alcohol=3 oz water
Burdock: 16 oz liquid–10 oz alcohol=6 oz water
7. Put herbs in jar, then pour alcohol and water over herbs. Mash the herbs down to keep them under the liquid.
Nettles: 4 oz herbs, 9 oz grain alcohol, 3 oz water
Burdock: 4 oz herbs, 10 oz grain alcohol, 6 oz water
8. Line the lid with waxed paper or muslin so alcohol doesn’t eat away the lining of the lid and put metal and BPA’s in your tincture. Label with plant, date, moon phase, harvest location, etc. Cover label with packing tape so it doesn’t disappear.
9. Let sit 6 weeks or more in a cool, dark place, shaking occasionally.
10. Strain, then squeeze the herbs in a potato ricer to extract the last, strongest part of the tincture. If you don’t have a potato ricer you can use 2 plates but the potato ricer works better. Feed the herbs to your chickens or the compost.
11. Store in a glass jar or bottle in a cool, dark place. Dosage is different for different herbs, but for these 2 recipes try 1-3 droppers (1-3 ml) daily. Tinctures last for years.
18 thoughts on “Nettles, Burdock, & How to Make Tinctures That Actually Work and Don’t Taste Like Death”
Thanks for sharing, beautiful witch! I like to experiment in the kitchen with tinctures and elixirs, anything between witchcraft and alchemy and whatever else my intuition shows me I need.
Would you happen to have any thoughts on using ONLY the leaves of nettles vs. the entire stem? For culinary purposes of course the reasons are obvious, but any energetic or other reasons for leaving out the stem? I plan on making an elixir (soaking in alcohol, later burning / calcifying the plant remains) so…. I think I’ll just throw the whole thing in!
Thanks again for the tips on harvesting!
Blessed be xoxo
So glad this article was relevant for you! Let’s see, the stems…for medicine, they’re not particularly bioactive once they’re dried, although fresh they have a very nice latex inside that soothes the sting of their bite. Most people don’t tincture the stems because they’re so thick and fibrous, they take up a lot of room and throw off your weight to volume ratio for a weaker medicine. The latex isn’t alcohol soluble–see the tincturing article for an explanation if that’s unfamiliar–so it’s kind of a lot of extra weight without extra medicinal compounds. The stems are very nice in fresh tea. They don’t dry very well–prone to mold since they’re so lovely and fibrous–and the latex dries out with the water, so most people don’t save the dried stems for winter tea. That said, it certainly won’t hurt anything. Dried stems are more commonly saved for things like fiber arts and paper making.
In terms of your magical practice, I really can’t think of any negative connotations to using the whole plant; in fact, I think the whole plant synergy will probably strengthen it, especially thinking about how the plants bones provide a secret balm for its armor, layers of a hidden self carefully shrouded in a tough exterior–may help you get to the heart of what you’re working on.
Thanks for the kind words. Would love to hear how it goes!
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Hello! Thank you for this great information. For the nettle tincture, are you referring only to stinging nettle? I ask because I only have common hemp nettle in my area and the information I have found online regarding hemp nettle is very conflicting.
Would it be OK to give the nettle tincture to a dog with seasonal allergies ? I am slightly anxious regarding the alcohol content
Thank you again. You are a treasure trove of information.
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Where can I learn more about this statement “Never harvest nettles after they bloom with tiny hanging green flowers from their armpits, they can have major effects on hormones.” I find this distressing since all of the stinging nettles I harvest have these. I would like to know your source so I can do more research.
It’s just a common medicine making caution related to hormone effects. Harvest the seeds later in the season. If you always find nettles in bloom try harvesting earlier when they’re young and fresh. Google around for more info.
What would be the ration for DRY burdock? 1:8?
Hello, I only have 40% alcohol readily available. What ratio is recommended for dried nettle and 40% alc?
Hi there, I have been foraging nettles for a long time and using them for food and organic fertilizer for my garden. I am now making tinctures, glycerites, and infused oils. One part of your article stood out to me, and quite frankly worried me. You state that you shouldn’t harvest when the plant has flowered, because it can mess with hormones. I’ve been looking for information online about it, but have come up dry. Other than, it being good for balancing hormones. I am wondering if you could elaborate on this for me, since you where somewhat vague with any details. I’d greatly appreciate any more information or articles/studies pertaining to this. Thanks so much in advance!
Generally speaking, whenever you use an herbal medicine you want to harvest it at the right time for that plant part. Leaves are usually harvested first followed by flowers followed by seeds followed by roots, based on where the energy of a plant is.
You harvest the seeds in late summer when they mature, long after you’re done harvesting the leaves, and they used totally differently, as a strong kidney medicine for people with kidney disease. Kidney function affects hormones through vitamin D and adrenal function. As the flowers bloom and seeds mature, the leaves get high in oxalate crystals and are not recommended for medicine making because they can actually cause leaching of calcium from the bones as a protective buffer, increase likelihood of kidney stones, and hormonal responses like hirsutism—probably related to cortisol or HPA axis. Past blooming, nettle leaves are no longer the center of the plant’s growing energy, and are in fact possibly harmful due to the oxalate crystal content. Juliet blankespoor might have more info on this. I hope that’s helpful!
If I plan on making my tincture out of dry herb,what would be the ratio root vs leaves?I was unlucky enough to get eczema, for the 1st time in my life, 6 months ago and it seems like it’s not going away.It is really uncomfortable as it’s all over the body,and no diet,detox,supplements seems to get rid of it.Trying homeopathic remedies now and wanted to add nettles to the bunch of other extracts I’m taking.I have been drinking the tea in the past when I had my homebirths,and helped me tremendously.
Any ideas would be helpful.
Back in the days when I was harvesting nettles with my grandma,we always picked the nettles before they were blooming. I remember her calling them alive,while the bloomed once she called them dead nettles.We were never using “dead” nettles,as she thought they are not healthy. Never asked her why she thought that.She used to make the best nettle soup in a clay pot,cooking it in an outside firepit.Delicious!
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Hi! If I want to make nettle and burdock tinctures and I am using 80% proof alcohol ( there is no grain alcohol where I live) then would the calculation be the same? Say I am starting with 1.50 grams of burdock and doing what you recommended above (1:4, 60%). Would love clarity if you can help (:
Wow! At last I got a website from where I can in fact obtain valuable facts regarding my study and knowledge.
That is a really good tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere. Short but very accurate info… Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read article!