Brentwood Darlington Apothecary

Maceration vs Percolation Tinctures

I’ve been thinking about tincturing a bit lately.  I made my first tincture, which was a percolation tincture, during the Herbal Medics Basic class I took last summer.  We made a lymph formula, so I got practice tincturing several dried herbs that were provided to us. The school also provided a percolation funnel made from a small glass San Pellegrino bottle.  After a couple of tries, I got a feel out of how much liquid to add to the herb to moisten it before packing it into the funnel and hard to pack it into the funner.  Each simple I made came out very strong and I was happy to have this experience.

For those who don’t know the difference:

You make a maceration tincture by adding fresh or dried herb to a jar, covering the herb with the alcohol and shaking the jar everyday for at least a month. Between the shaking, store the jar in a cool dark place.  After a month you strain out the herbs and you have your tincture.

Maceration Tincture

Maceration Tincture

One makes a percolation tincture by packing ground dried herb into a funnel and running the alcohol slowly through the herb.  Once the alcohol has completely run through, your tincture is ready.

Percolation Tincture

Percolation Tincture

Of the fresh herbs I received last week as part of my CSH, Lemon Balm is one that I had previously run a percolation tincture on.  I am very curious to see how the fresh herb tincture compares to the percolated tincture.  But I will have to wait a month to find out!  I’ll make sure to blog my findings.  I also had a very interesting experience tincturing St Johns Wort that I will write about at some point.

Which is better?

As you can imagine, simply from a logistics and time analysis, there are pluses and minuses to both.

  • Maceration tinctures are much easier to set up, you don’t need any specialized equipment, and it’s hard to mess them up as long as you remember to shake them every day. But, you have to wait a month before it’s ready and then you have to deal with straining out the marc (the leftover herb.)
  • Percolation tinctures require a percolation funnel (although this is easily made with a bottle cutter) and take a lot more time to set up.  There is also a little skill required in packing he cone and making sure the alcohol is running through evenly and at the correct speed. However, at the end of a few hours, you have your tincture ready to go!

Beyond time and equipment, is one better than the other?  I think there are lots of opinions on this.  Sam Coffman (who teaches the Herbal Medics Basic class) is of the opinion that percolation is better. From my limited experience, I would absolutely have to agree with him.

I’ve mostly had experience with dried herbs and until recently, I had only done percolation tinctures. But my housemate did a bunch of maceration tinctures last year with dried herbs.  I watched her shake them daily, but they never seemed to get any darker than a weak tea.  I used the percolation method on tinctures during this same time.  The percolated tinctures were extremely dark and appeared much more concentrated in general.

However, over the past year, I have heard several herbalists state, that fresh herb tinctures are better.  Fresh herbs cannot be tinctured via percolation, so maceration is required for fresh herbs.

My epiphany

As I mentioned, I received fresh herbs from the CSH last week and I tinctured at lease some of all of the different herbs. As I prepped my fresh herbs, I noticed that I had to add more alcohol to a couple of them a day later.  My brain started to process why: clearly, the herb soaked up some of the alcohol, like a sponge.  Right then I had an epiphany of why I think percolation tinctures are superior:

  • The plant matter is going to soak up solvent (alcohol, in this case).  The solvent will dissolve or associate itself to the constituents that you are trying to get out of the herb.  However to get these constituents, the solvent must be released from the plant matter.
  • Think of this as like a sponge.  If you put a liquid soaked sponge in a bowl of more liquid and shook it around, some of the liquid in the sponge would be replaced by the liquid in the bowl. But it would require a lot of shaking and it might not even get to the center.  If you poured the liquid through it instead, gravity would push the old liquid out and replace it with the new liquid.
  • In a maceration tincture, the solvent soaks into the plant matter, but it has a much harder time releasing.  Therefore at the end, depending on how vigilant you were at shaking, you may be throwing away a lot of your constituents with the marc.
  • In a percolation tincture, the solvent is constantly running through, pushing the old solvent (along with the constituents) out.  At the end, the solvent that is left in the marc is the weakest because gravity has already pushed the constituents out.

Conclusion

I’ll have more insight into this once my fresh tinctures are finished. Right now my feeling is, that with dried herb, you should always do a percolation tincture.  I think once I get my next fresh herbs, I will immediately dry a portion and run a percolation tincture.  I’ll then compare it to the fresh maceration tincture from the same herb.

Those are my thoughts, but what about yours?

2 Comments

  1. Cathy

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article, and I appreciate your observations! I am new to this, and I am planning to do some percolation tinctures with dried herbs. I want to make a skullcap tincture for my daughter, but I do not want to use alcoho because she is a child. Can I make a percolation tincture with glycerin (as one can do with a maceration tincture), and will it be equally effective? Any thoughts or advice on this would be apprciated.

    Reply
    1. Erin McNamara (Post author)

      Hi Cathy, Sorry about the delayed response on this! I don’t know for sure, but my feeling is that glycerin would not work very well for a percolation tincture. I have heard that skullcap is better to use fresh anyway, so I think your best bet would be, if you can, to get your hands on some fresh skullcap (maybe grow some next year) and do a maceration tincture with the glycerin. I know that probably doesn’t help you now, since you probably wouldn’t be able to get any fresh anytime soon. Good luck! Let me know how things go! Erin

      Reply

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