Back to Basics page
Back to File Menu


DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

Extract from Fresh PlantExtract from Dried Plant

Extracts from Fresh Plant Material

The majority of herbs are used in their dried form. There are those, however, which must be used in their fresh form to be useful as medicinals, since they lose their healing properties when dried. One herb of common usage (if we are to judge by retail sales of the extract) is Echinacea. Since this is easy to grow in the home garden and simple to make in the kitchen, this one will serve as the best example.

Echinacea purpurea is the one most commonly employed for medicinal purposes, but Native Americans had a number of different usages for the several varieties which were found in abundance. Both E. angustifolia and E. pallida can be used in place of E. purpurea for the purpose of boosting the immune system.

In fact, E. angustifolia was once the variety of choice for a wide range of ailments thought to require 'blood cleansing' and formed the basis for many of the 'snake-oil' nostrums of another era.

The difficulty in using fresh plant material is knowing what the ratio should be for each particular herb. It requires access to some very expensive tomes of scholarly work on the subject.

On the other hand, simply browsing the extract shelves of your local health food or herb store will give you valuable information. The ratio should be written clearly on the label. Be sure it is a standard extract and not one of those which purport to be 'super' strength or made by some process other than the familiar water/alcohol extraction method.

On the whole it is far safer to avoid experimenting with fresh extracts, other than the echinacea, unless you pursue some very serious study on the matter.

As wholesome as herbs seem, please remember that allergies to some herbs are common. Echinacea belongs to the same family as ragweed (Compositae - daisy family) and some people can be allergic to other members of this same family.

Although I am using specific amounts as a guide to make a reasonable amount of extract, it is not necessary to think in these amounts when doing this for yourself. This particular extract will be made in a 1 to 3 ratio (1 part herb to 3 parts liquid).

Sounds pretty straight forward until we remember that part of our liquid is already locked up in the plant material.

Uh oh - now what?

How do I separate the liquid weight from the dry weight?

(If you feel your anxiety level rising - screaming is permitted)

If you have a microwave or an oven - you can stop screaming. The process isn't that bad, but you might want to get out a calculator to help you with those mummified math skills you thought you'd never need after high school graduation.

We want 2 oz. of freshly dug, washed and patted dry Echinaea root (allow as much moisture as possible to dry from the root before weighing and processing). We also want another 1 or 2 oz. of root to test for water content.

Echinacea root should be harvested in its second year after one or two hard frosts.

Weigh your sample piece for testing.

Let us use 2 oz. as an example.

Coarsely chop the plant material and place on paper towels in the microwave and begin to slowly dry out the root at 50% power until it is quite dry. Or you can do the test several days in advance, get your results and go back and harvest more root for the extract.

Other methods of drying (but requiring more time) are to slowly dry the coarsely chopped material in a low-heat oven or on a dehydrator tray.

When the plant material is dry, weigh it again.

What is the weight now?

Deduct it from the original fresh weight and figure the percentage.

For the sake of argument, let us say that we began with 2 oz. of fresh root and now have 1 oz. of dry root - that would mean the plant contained 50% water or 1 oz. of liquid. This is the information we need to proceed. We will be making 6 oz. of extract with 2 oz. being equal to 1 'part' of the 3 parts of liquid.


Step 1:
Coarsely chop the root and place in a blender. We have 2 oz. of root which we know to be 50% water after drying our sample.

Since we are using a 50/50 water-alcohol medium to extract the plant properties and we know that we already have 1 oz. of water in the plant material, it merely remains to add enough pure alcohol (and *water if necessary) to make up the first 'part' of our formula. The closest we can get to pure alcohol is 190 proof (Please! no open flames or heated surfaces around this stuff! Extremely flammable).

(*If our plant material had been 40% water, we would add 1 oz. of alcohol plus a small amount of distilled water to make up the 10% difference.)

There are two products which can be purchased at this strenth - Everclear and Clear Spring.

Step 2:
The water portion of the plant material is now accounted for in Step 1 and all that remains is to add the remaining 2 parts of liquid which is 50% water and 50% alcohol. Pour 4 oz. of 100 proof vodka (remember that this is 50% alcohol and 50% water) into the blender.

You now have root, pure alcohol, and the vodka in the blender. Of the liquid portion - 3 oz. is alcohol and 3 oz is water. There is 6 oz. of liquid to 2 oz of fresh root (part of which is water and accounted for). This makes a 1 to 3 ratio.

Step 3:
Run the blender until the plant material is as fine as it is going to get and everything is well mixed. Pour the contents from the blender into a wide-mouth jar. Cap, label, and date the jar.

Allow this to steep in a warm spot out of direct light for a period of 2 weeks, remembering to shake the jar each day.

Step 4:
After 2 weeks, strain the liquid from the solids through muslin or fine cheesecloth and extract as much of the liquid as you can. Strain the liquid again through a paper coffee filter.

Store the liquid extract in an amber dropper bottle and clearly label the bottle in this way:

1:3 ratio
dosage = 5 to 15 drops daily when needed"

Okay - I used nice round numbers and your mental gears are still working around that little conundrum of "how much water is 10% of the whole needed?" that I managed to sneak past you in Step 1. I don't do 'brain-strain' well, but I can come pretty close to the exact amount by using the following chart and so will you.

1 oz = 2 Tbsp = 600 drops
1/2 oz = 1 Tbsp = 300 drops
1/4 oz = 1/2 Tbsp = 150 drops
1 tsp = 100 drops
1/2 tsp = 50 drops
1/4 tsp = 25 drops

So what is 10% of 1 oz?

It's the same as 10% of 600 drops - which is?

Bingo! You got it! 60 drops of distilled water.

Amazingly simple stuff and you can pat yourself on the back now. Always remember that 600 drops equals 1 oz. and that 100 drops equals 1 tsp. The rest will be easy to figure from there.

Now that your breathing easier, we can get into heart attack territory.

What if your plant material is 60% or even 70% water? After all - plants are rarely so obliging as to be 50% water. I should really end my discussion at this point ...... I'm thinking about it ........ nah - I'd be bombarded with email!!!

The total liquid is supposed to be 6 oz.

If your plant material is 75% water, then you already have 1½ oz of water locked up inside it.

Since a 50/50 liquid solution totaling 6 oz. is 3 oz. of water and 3 oz. of alcohol, it merely remains to add the other 1½ oz. of water to make up the complete total required.

Then you add the 3 oz. of pure alcohol and your liquid measurements are complete. These are placed in the blender and completed as above.

**Sterile (boiled) water is ALWAYS used in preparing products for home use**

HAVING SAID ALL OF THE ABOVE, I have offered it in the interest of serious herbal pursuit. For most home use, simply combining 2 oz. of fresh root with 6 oz. of 100 proof vodka, blending and following the above procedure for 2 weeks of steeping is all that is need to produce a working product. Simply allow an extra drop or two in the dosage to account for a slightly watered down version.

If the use of alcohol is not appealing to you, it is also possible to use 1 part herb to 5 parts vinegar in the same manner to extract the plant properties. It will not be as potent a blend though, since alcohol is required to extract certain plant compounds.

Extracts from Dried Plant Material

Extracts made from dried plant material comprise most of the herbal extract types. The standard ratio used when making a dry herb extract, also known as a tincture, is:

1 part dried herb to 8 parts liquid.

This is written as 1:8

Locating this ratio number on a purchased extract will tell you its strength.

Essentially, making a dried herbal extract involves the same procedure. You powder the herbs in a blender or coffee mill and then combine them with 8 times (in weight) as much liquid. For home purposes 100-proof vodka provides the ideal extracting medium since it is 50% water and 50% alcohol.

Extracts enable you to move the healing properties of an herb into a long-lasting medium of liquid. Shelf life of extracts is several years as compared to the dry herb in whole leaf or large chunk root form which are only viable for about one year. Dosage is also easier to judge with the liquid in a dropper bottle.

Amber tincture bottles are available from herbalware suppliers (see Where to Buy It).

Let's work through one example to guide you along...

Weigh out 1/2 oz. of Dandelion leaf or root

If you are seriously interested in herbal preparations made at home, you will need a reliable kitchen scale!

Grind the herb to a powder in a coffee mill and place in a suitably large sealable jar. Cover the herb with 4 oz (this is 8 times as much liquid as herb) of 100-proof vodka. Cap and shake well to get the herb saturated throughout the liquid.

Place your jar in a warm spot out of direct light for a period of two weeks.

You will need to shake the jar each day.

At the end of two weeks you will strain the liquid through a coffee filter and bottle in sterile amber dropper bottles.

Label the bottle this way:

Dandelion extract - 1:8 ratio
and add the date.

By the way - any cheap 100-proof vodka will do the job. It's not necessary to spend a great deal of money on a known brand.

Any herb which is used in its dry form can be made into an extract in this manner.

There are a few herbs which CANNOT be used dry since they lose their healing properties upon drying. For this reason they are used fresh. (See Fresh Extracts).

©1997 Ernestina Parziale CH