Sunday, June 26, 2016

Low-Cost Tincture Press Options and Homemade Tincture Press Instructions

After you've made your amazing tinctures and they are ready to use, the question always becomes--what do do next?  To get every last bit of goodness out of your tincture, a lot of people choose to use a tincture press. But tincture presses can be extremely expensive--costs of several hundred dollars is common for commercially available ones. And so, this post will look at three options that can be extremely low cost and can serve you well for your tincture pressing needs!  We'll also include information on how to build your own tincture press for less than $20.

What kinds of tinctures to press

One of the things that's important to realize is that not all tinctures can, and should, be pressed.  Spongy material that absorbs the water in alcohol, or that had water in it to begin with, should be pressed.  This includes some mushrooms (reishi), all flowers and berries, and much other plant matter.  This is because most of the alcohol is being held in the plant matter.

On the other hand, there is no point is pressing hard or woody material: most roots and barks, for example.  You won't get much more out of it by pressing, and I've found it's easier to just put a bark tincture in a small strainer and let it drip for a bit.

You can also press infused oils of spongy material.  This is better for pressing oils made from dried ingredients. Otherwise, you'll press the water right into your oil, and then you've got another problem on your hands!  If you do decide to press your oil with fresh ingredients, you can let the oil settle in a mason jar and then pour off the oil from the water (the water will make it go rancid).

What not to use as a press

The two things that I found that are not appropriate to use are a french press (the glass can easily break with too much pressure) or anything made out of aluminum, as the high proof alcohol can easily erode it and make a funky aluminum tincture.

Option 1: Stainless Steel Potato Ricer

The simplest option for a tincture press is to purchase a stainless steel potato ricer. I like this option, and I use it fairly often when I need to press just a little bit of something and sheer arm strength will be enough. You can usually find these second hand, or you can purchase one new for about $25.

Pros: Extremely easy to acquire, easy to use, easy to clean up.
Cons: You don't get as much "press" with this as you will the other options I present here.

A simple stainless steel potato ricer with three "disk" options for pressing.

Option 2: Small Fruit Press

A second good option, if you can find one used, is a small fruit press.  I was lucky enough to find one at a local thrift store in really good condition for $47.  If you can get one of these, I would highly recommend it for "big pressing" jobs or jobs that are not easily done by hand.  This thing is a workhorse, and not only can I press large volumes of tincture easily, and with minimal muscle effort.

Pros: Presses a very large volume of plant material easily and completely
Cons: Can be more expensive upfront, can be hard to find at a reasonable cost, requires more work to clean
Here's my badass fruit press--the inside of the press itself is about 8" in diameter

The fruit press disassembled. 

Option 3: Build Your Own Tincture Press for $30

Both of the above options have some problems, so I have come up with a third option that is actually my favorite of the three, but that does require some initial work.  This combines the cost-effectivenss of option 1 with the pressing power of option 2, and can do smaller amounts of pressing.

Pros: Very reasonably priced, can be customized to your needs, very good pressing action, works for small batches (depending on the size you build)
Cons: You have to build it (although I think the process is fun). 

Now, I'll walk you through how to create it, step by step!


  • One very large C-clamp (probably the largest you can find); I found mine at a home improvement store
  • One stainless steel cylinder (you can get this at a restaurant supply store; I bought mine online).
  • Cheese cloth for pressing (can be reused if washed carefully)


  • Coping saw or other way to cut two wooden circles
  • Pencil for drawing lines
  • Sand paper
  • Drill and large-ish bit
  • Epoxy or some other glue (ONLY for outside of the press, see instructions below)

Steps to Make Your Press

You will be creating a press from two wooden disks, a c-clamp, and a stainless steel cylinder.

1.  You will need one wooden disk to support the bottom of your metal cylinder, and you’ll need a second to function as the “press” inside.  And so, start out by figuring out what size of wooden disks you will need to fit on the outside.  I found that a canning jar lid worked well for the size I was looking for.

 2) Cut out your circles.  I learned through this process that my coping saw skills leave much to be desired–but in the end, I had two circle-ish wooden disks.

3) Drill some holes in one of your disks; the one designed to go into the press itself.
4) Sand your disks, making sure your pencil marks are sanded off and the edges are smooth.

5) Glue your second disk onto the bottom of the metal cylinder–this will hold it in place and make pressing much easier.

Now you are ready to press!

Using your Tincture Press

1) Start by straining off your herbs into a clean jar (I use a simple plastic strainer, and I let them drip out for a bit). These are hawthorn “haws” that I made into tincture last November.
 2) Place the cheese cloth inside your metal cylinder, making sure it will be sufficient to cover your herbs (I’m using a lot here because there are a lot of haws). Take your herbs out of the strainer and add them into the cheese cloth.  I'll note that for larger stuff, you might not need the cheesecloth, but it is a really good idea for small bits of herbs.

3) Get your press ready–make sure your wooden disk is supporting the bottom (I took this photo before I glued it!) and put your disk with the holes in top of the press. Get your c-clamp into place for the pressing action.

4) Begin pressing, spinning your handle of the C-clamp in a clockwise fashion.  You’ll feel the tension as the herbs are pressed down.

5) After pressing for a bit, tilt your c-clamp and pour your tincture off.  You can continue to press and pour off your tincture till its too hard to press further.  You’ll notice I’m sending it through a strainer to get out any plant material–but I didn’t see any coming out of the press.

A few other notes about using this homemade tincture press:

1) Some of the alcohol will absorb into the wood. I sealed my wood with melted beeswax and that helped quite a bit!

2) You can use this press to press other things, like an herbal oil, if you desire. I’d seal the wood for sure if you are pressing oil (and I'd suggest that you cut yourself a third disk for oils and use that exclusively with the oils).

*Please note: this post was updated and expanded from my original post on the Druid's Garden Blog!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ghost Pipe - Monotropa uniflora

Monotropa uniflora - AKA Ghost Pipe, Indian Pipe, Fairy Smoke, Corpse Plant, Ghost Flower, Ice Plant, Convulsion Root, Pipe Plant, Ova-ova, Dutchman's Pipe and Fit Root.

Through forest floor leaves
      at the base of the Oak
epi-parasitic root mass nestled tight 
   brings fourth
Fairy Smoke. 
Lengthening in friendly clusters.
    a deep bow in gratitude.
Pollen bright, yellow hidden treasure 
  inside delicate white wax
         an alabaster beauty
      black ghosts for flowers so white. 
                       -poem written by Briel Driscoll  

Many artists have been inspired by this plant and you can find poetry by Emily Dickinson, William Crow, Marge Piercy, Robert Hayden and more!

Botanical Information:  
Monotropa uniflora is in the Ericaceae, (Blueberry) family.
It is a perennial and herbaceous plant. The root structure is a bulbous root mass that flowers in mid summer. Often you will find them in clusters coming from one root bulb. One flower sits on top of a single stalk. The stalk has simple alternate leaves which can look scale-like at a glance. The flowers are a ghostly white and their heads are downward facing. Flowers are regular/symmetrical. Sometimes you will see a variation of slight pink or yellow. Once the seeds have been pollinated the flower heads rise up and will begin to blacken. Will also blacken as soon as its picked so ideally is tinctured/dried the same day it is collected.

This plant has no chlorophyll and so it taps into the connection between certain mushrooms and trees and gets its nutrients that way. This plant is epi-parasitic aka it is a parasite to the fungus! 

Monotropa as Medicine:
Ways to use: Tea, Tincture, Smoke
Parts Used:  Flowers, Roots or a combination. 
For tinctures: I have encountered herbalists that use one, the other or both. Originally I had only made the beautiful purple flower tincture but this past summer I made a combination tincture with the roots and flowers. Tincture is a deep purple color - just like blueberries! And it is in that plant family.

After trying both of those and another herbalists root tincture I think that the combination tincture seems to be the strongest. The downside of this is that you have to kill the plant to make tincture, which is not the case if you are only making flower tincture. This plant is VERY watery I would tincture in high proof alcohol 1:2 95%. You could maybe go down to 75-80% but I have not tried that yet. I do not think this would make a good glycerine medicine. 

As far as smoking this plant goes I have only encountered the flowers being smoked. Not the roots. And as for tea I have always used the flowers.

Medicinal Properties: Overall this plant seems to have an effect on the nervous system.
-Pain relief: creates distance from pain (either emotional and physical). I have seen this plant aid in first aid situations in combination with other pain relieving plants.
-antinoceptive (increases pain threshold)
-anticonvulsive/anti-spasmotic (no personal experience with this one but I have encountered information in text on this topic so could be something to experiment with, sedative, pulls you back from the edge
-Fresh juice has traditionally been used for eye inflammation
-A good herb to consider to help ease bad experiences with other substances like LSD, Cannabis, etc. AKA someone having a "bad trip".

Dosage: Seems to vary a lot depending on individuals and practitioners. Some herbalists are suggesting this in drop dosages and others in ml dosages. Experimenting with the dosage of this plant for yourself would be a good way to go. Start small and add on until you notice its effects. Also, consider the situation a more acute first aid type situation may require a larger dosage than treating something like a mild chronic pain. 

My mother had to undergo some very painful Physical Therapy after having a proceedure. She began to take the Monotropa uniflora before her appointments and found that she was able to relax much easier and get through these sessions. When I asked her about dosages she said she had been taking dosages between 15-30 drops each time.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Delightful Dandelion - Medicine and Recipes!

A dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a hardy perennial wildflower that commonly grows across temperate regions in the Americas, Asia, and Europe. The dandelion is naturalized to North America. Most sources suggest dandelion was brought here by European settlers, like many other beneficial plants found abundantly scattered in lawns across the United States. These settlers found dandelions to be so useful that they carried the seeds with them on ships to the Americas and planted dandelions wherever they went. These settlers’ legacy lives on today, through the beautiful yellow flowers who bring back the springtime sun. It has only been in the last 50 or so years that dandelions went from being a treasured plant ally, worthy of carefully bringing across continents, to an enemy of many who don’t like to see them in their lawns. But this short article will show you why our ancestors spent so much time cultivating dandelions and saving their seeds!  We’ll briefly explore dandelion’s medicinal and edible qualities and I’ll share two recipes that will be delightful to try this spring. 
Spring tonic: Folk medicine in many parts of the world suggests that dandelion is a great “spring tonic” and “blood purifier.” Most of the time, these old sources are referring to what we now know as “alterative” action, that is, the dandelion supports the liver, digestive system, and metabolism. Citing several other herbalists, Matthew Wood, in his Earthwise Herbal, suggests that this is because of dandelion’s high nutritional content, its work on the digestive system, and because of its benefits to the kidneys and liver it is a primer spring tonic plant. The practice of ingesting dandelion greens as a spring cleanser when they first pop up was widespread throughout Europe. It is still done in parts of Europe and the Americas to this day. I, too, brew up a big pot of dandelion root tea and drink it for about a week straight in the early spring!

Addressing stagnant states: Another powerful way that dandelion can be used as a medicine is to address stagnation in many forms—stagnation of the mind (lethargy, dullness, listlessness) as well as stagnation in the liver, kidney, or gallbladder functions. Dandelion gets things moving again, and it is taken internally for this purpose as a tea, food, or tincture. I recently made a dandelion leaf tea for the purpose of clearing mental congestion—I dried the dandelion leaves and brewed them up daily as a tea. Dried leaves generally make a better tea than fresh leaves because the drying process breaks down the cell walls of the plant. When you add hot water, the water has an easier time penetrating the cell walls and extracting the nutrients and medicine from the plant (freezing the leaves does the same thing—again, the cell walls are burst by the freezing effect). 

Digestive bitters: One of the primary medicinal qualities of a dandelion is that it is bitter. Bitters are quite common in the wild, and as humans evolved, we most certainly ate a lot of bitter foods (just go sample any number of wild greens and you’ll see exactly what I mean). But as we cultivated plants more and more, and with the rise of industrialized agriculture, we cut bitters out of our diet. The lack of bitters is one of many factors contributing to many digestive issues today. Michigan herbalist Jim McDonald describes bitters as stimulating all digestive functions, including stomach acids, saliva, stomach enzymes, hormones produced in the stomach, bile, and so on. Each of these digestive functions, in turn, helps break down food and add to digestion and overall gastrointestinal well being. Bitters, therefore, are incredibly important to our overall digestive health, and good food digestion rests at the cornerstone of healthy living. In order for the bitters to be effective, you have to taste them on your tongue. Dandelion bitters are tonic; that is, they are something we don't take only when we are sick, but rather something we can take every day to help keep us in optimal health. I take my dandelion bitters about 10 minutes before each meal. A few drops of my dandelion root bitters on my tongue helps my digestion each day (recipe later in this chapter).

Harvesting Dandelion: For any wild food harvesting, dandelions included, you can use the following general guideline: roots in the early spring or late fall, greens in the early spring to early summer, and fruit or nuts (which dandelion doesn’t have, obviously) in the summer and fall. This guideline is based on where the energy of the plant is located—in the early spring, the energy will be in the plant’s root or in its greens (depending on timing). When the energy of the plant is in the roots, the nutrient content is higher and the medicine of the plant stronger in the roots. Once the root sends up its greenery, some of the energy is lost to leaf, flower, fruit, and seed production, and the medicinal and nutritive benefits are found in those parts of the plant rather than the root. Once dandelion flowers, that’s where the energy of the plant is; once it goes to seed, the seeds contain its energy. I discuss harvesting times specific to the different parts of the dandelion plant in the next paragraph, but this general guideline is good to keep in mind. 

To clean the roots, what I have found works best is to fill up a bucket with water and soak the roots for 30 minutes in it. Dump the water outside (or the dirt will clog your drain), and then spray the roots off with a hose. If there is still a lot of dirt left, give the roots another soaking and then spray them again. At this stage, I bring them into the house and put them in my food processor, chopping them up to the desired size. Then I give them a final wash before using them for whatever purpose I have (drying, roasting, tincturing, making dye). This approach to washing the roots works to get the dirt out with minimal work!

The dandelion greens (that is, their new, lighter green leaves) are best harvested in the spring as the plants are shooting up their new growth. You can also harvest new greens anytime a new dandelion plant is coming up—the younger leaves are more tender and tasty. In harvesting greens, the rule of thumb is that the younger the greens, the less bitter they are. You want some of the bitter nature of the plant (more on that in Chapter 5) but too much bitterness may not be so palatable. Again, you can
harvest from any safe place and then wash them lightly before using in whatever way you like.

Roasted Dandelion Root Coffee

The dried and roasted roots make a wonderful coffee substitute (and coffee, like dandelion, is a bitter drink promoting digestion and the healthful regulating of bowel movements). Here’s the process for making your own dandelion root coffee:

1.  After digging, cleaning, and finely chopping your roots, lay them out on a baking sheet.

2.  Set your oven to 250 degrees and place the roots inside. Over the next two hours, check on them fairly often, stirring them to ensure an even roast. Your house will be filled with the wonderful aroma of roasted dandelions!

3.  When they have the desired roasted quality, you can pull them out of the oven and let them cool.

4.  Store the grounds in an airtight container (like a mason jar).  I don’t grind them up to just before I brew the coffee.

5.  Before serving, give your roots a final grind in a coffee grinder or food processor to get a nice consistency. You can use 1 tablespoon (level) for 1 cup of coffee. You'll want to boil it for 10 to 15 minutes (don’t just brew it like regular coffee). Add cream and honey! Delicious!

Spring Sautéed Dandelion Greens

Pick the dandelion greens early in the season for this delightful treat. The younger they are, the more tender and flavorful (and less bitter) they are.  The oil, heat, and pepper compliment the dandelions’ bitterness.

·       2 cups dandelion greens (washed and chopped, with center stems removed if stems are thick)

·       1 clove garlic

·       hot pepper flakes or cayenne pepper powder to taste

·       1 tbsp olive oil

·       ½ teaspoon lemon juice

·       Salt and pepper to taste

·       Two slices of bacon (optional)

Boil the dandelion greens in a pot of water for 8 to 10 minutes or until the stems are soft. In the meantime, heat up an iron skillet with the olive oil (or bacon grease) and sauté the garlic until crispy. Drain the greens and add to the garlic and oil; add other seasonings to taste. Sautee 3 to 4 minutes, then serve.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Gunk on Glycerine and Its uses for Medicine Making

        Vegetable Glycerine is sometimes also called VG (Vegetable Glycerin) or Glycerol. For any science nerds out there chemically Glycerine is C3H8O3. Glycerine is derived from triglycerides. You can see in the drawing below - the carbon backbone of the triglycerides is detached from the long carbon chains.

This carbon backbone is the sweet component of glycerine and because of that when Carl Wilhelm Sheele discovered the compound in 1779 he called it the "sweet principal of fat"
        Because of Glycerine's origins it has very unique properties ​here are some of them:
  • Sweet – but it is not metabolized like sugar, so is safe for use with diabetics
  • Humectant - means that it retains moisture
  • Viscous
  • Solvent
  • Emollient
  • Lubricant
  • Low Freezing Point (-51.7)
  • Stable under normal conditions
  • Preservative
  • Prevents sugar crystallization
  • Odorless
Here are some of the common uses for Glycerine:
  • Antifreeze
  • Chewing Gum
  • Toothpaste
  • Cigarettes
  • Food wrappers
  • Ink Cartridges
  • Low Carbohydrate foods
  • Baked goods
  • Hand Lotion
  • Name a use for anything on the right without at least one match!
Brain challenge: Based on the properties list and uses list above can you figure out why it is commonly used in the above products? It might be more than one for each!

Medicine making with Vegetable Glycerin (VG): (ethanol is indicated by OH below)
-Does not affect blood sugar and is suitable for those who do not want OH
-Solvent - overall ½ the power of OH *below indicates higher extraction than ethanol
-Extracts - salts, acids, alkaloids, *tannins (witch hazel) and *mucilage (marshmallow)
-50% VG will act as a preservative (if using fresh plants higher is needed)
-Glycerine/water extracts have a 1-3 year shelf life
-Compatible with other compounds used in medicine making
-Has been used to treat constipation, decrease pupil size (ophthalmic agent), and as an emollient

Ways to use in medicine making:
-Add in small amounts to OH based tinctures to reduce precipitate of tannins and mucilage
-Make a glycerite (glycerin tincture) from fresh or dried plant material. If using dried plant material also add water to your tincture. If using fresh keep the VG percent higher, 75%-100%, depending on moisture of the plant you are using.
-Unlike OH VG holds up well to heat so you can make tinctures quickly. Do this using the quick crock pot method (tincture in jar inside crock pot, crock pot on warm – not too hot!)
-When formulating – try adding in a portion of a glycerite in to alter taste of medicine  
-In lotions/salves/balms/toothpastes to keep them fresh longer and act as a preservative
-Since VG boiling point is higher than OH – a final product without OH can be made with glycerin using the benefits of OH as a solvent (Process sometimes called Replacement.)
1. Start with a tincture that contains some alcohol and at least half glycerin.  2. Let macerate.
3. Remove lid and heat until your original volume of glycerin is reached – this will remove any alcohol and water. You can then add back in water and/or more glycerin to reach original volume.
-Check your source – if for internal use should be labeled USP - United States Pharmacopeia. Organic options are also available.
-Can act as a skin irritant (burning, itchy, red or stinging) – especially when full strength
-Allergies to Glycerin are rare. Symptoms include rash on body, dizziness or trouble breathing.
-FDA in 2012 – declared glycerin derived from Jatropa genus (common name: nettle spurge family Euphorbiaceae ) which is often used to make bio-diesel, may contain toxins

1. “Effect of acute glycerol administration with or without a mixed meal in humans.” Pub Med. Web. 23rd July 2015.2. Green, James. “The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook”. Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2000. Book.1. Inner Path. “Extraction of Active Principals”. Web, 19th July 2015.
2. Making Soap - Saponification - Hydrolysis - Industrial Chemistry - HSC Chemistry iitutor”. YouTube. IITutor. Web, 19th July 2015.
3. “Nitroglycerin”. Wikipedia. Web, 19th July 2015.
4. “Glycerol”. Pub Chem. Web, 23rd July 2015.
5. “Glycerine Topical. Web MD. Web, 23rd July 2015.
6. SDA. “Glycerine: An Overview”. 1990. Web, 19th July 2015.