Here are some troubleshooting tips for that perennial problem: the herbs in your carefully calculated weight-to-volume tincture won’t stay under the alcohol. This is so frustrating and easily one of the most common questions students ask, because it really seems like you’ve hit a wall the first few times this happens.
WHY OH WHY DOES THIS AWFUL THING HAPPEN?!? I FOLLOWED THE RECIPE!
It’s cool. It happens to everyone. It’s either because the herbs are really fluffy and just puffed up as soon as you added the liquid (looking at you, calendula!) or because the herbs weigh less than a newborn fairy so the ratio comes out with almost no liquid (…hops), or because you, dear friend, were overly optimistic in calculating your ratio (ahem, 1:1 tincture makers).
WHAT DO I DO? THROW IT OUT? THOUGHTS & PRAYERS? GIVE UP HERBALISM?
Learning to troubleshoot tincture-making on the fly is what is going to make you an amazing medicine-maker. Try this:
- Double check your math. Is it definitely 1:2/1:3/1:whatever? Did you add both the alcohol and the water? This seems obvious but just make sure. (Help! What does that mean?)
- Push herbs down with a small ladle (Image 1)
- Smoosh it like you mean it with a cocktail muddler (Image 2)
- Add a glass tincture weight (Images 3&4). I think this works the best, personally, and I really encourage picking up a box of these. People sell beautiful ones on Etsy, or you can pick up plain glass ones at a fermentation website or a hardware store with a canning section.
- Switch to a narrower diameter jar. The skinnier in the jar is, the better the liquid will cover the herbs. They make quart jars that are the diameter of half pint jars, those are the best! I always grab those at yard sales when I see them.
- Add another “dose” of the liquid. If your tincture was 1:2 with 4 oz of herbs, go up to 1:3 by adding another 4 oz of liquid. (If that was confusing, step-by-step here)
- Put the whole tincture in the blender. This is the last resort, but it really makes a big difference for your softest fluffiest herbs that won’t submerge under an appropriate amount of liquid for any reason including bribery, threats, and the second coming. Hops, milky oats, calendula, arnica, and other herbs that are just like a memory of a breath of wind…pulverize them into tincture smoosh.
- Alternatively, you can break the herbs down before you tincture them in a mortar and pestle, or even an herb-only spice grinder (but if you use your regular coffee grinder you’ll regret it–ask me how I know). I like the mortar and pestle for more substantial things that are hard to chop, like seeds and roots. Careful with seeds in a grinder: you may accidentally make evening primrose seed butter, or milk thistle seed butter, or some other thoroughly disgusting oily mess that you weren’t expecting.
I hope that’s helpful! Is there something else you’ve found that works well? Let us know in the comments!