Herbal glycerites are alcohol-free tinctures that are perfect for children and anyone avoiding alcohol for any reason.
Glycerites are a gentle alternative to tinctures, and they preserve the medicinal benefits of herbs for year-round use.
Tinctures are one of the most common ways to take herbs, and they use alcohol to extract the medicinal properties from herbs. Glycerites are similar in many ways, but they don’t contain any alcohol, which makes them ideal for administering herbal remedies to children or for those who abstain from alcohol.
I’ve been using chamomile glycerite for years with my kids, especially around bedtime when the day is winding down. Known for its soothing properties, chamomile is wonderful for relieving mild anxiety and helping my little ones relax at the end of the day.
Herbal glycerites are super easy to make, and if you’ve ever made a homemade herbal tincture you’ll notice that the process is almost identical.
Using only a few basic pieces of equipment and your choice of herbs (fresh or dried), you can make a powerful glycerite in only a few minutes of hands-on time — then the mixture needs to sit for a little over a month to reach maximum potency.
Once you start making glycerites at home, you may find yourself with an entire herbal medicine cabinet packed with glycerite for every use and occasion.
(Always consult your doctor or a clinical herbalist before trying any new herbal remedy, as there’s always the possibility of unintended consequences, allergic reaction, or interactions with other medication. If you’re harvesting wild plant material, make sure you’re 100% confident in your identification and consult multiple sources for your ID. The following is based on my research and experience, but I don’t claim to have any certifications that would qualify me to advise you on your health. Please do your own research and always verify with multiple reputable sources.)
What is an Herbal Glycerite?
An herbal glycerite is a mildly sweet tincture that is made with vegetable glycerine instead of alcohol. Vegetable glycerin is a clear, viscous liquid made from vegetable fats — palm, soybean, or coconut oil are commonly used — that have been heated under pressure with a strong alkali ingredient, such as lye. It’s a completely non-toxic by-product of all-natural soapmaking.
The process causes the glycerin found in the oil to separate, leaving behind a pure, food-safe vegetable glycerin that can be used for a wide range of applications. When used to make a tincture, vegetable glycerin acts as a solvent to extract beneficial compounds from plant matter or fungi.
Glycerites aren’t quite as potent as a tincture made with alcohol, but they still pack a powerful herbal punch. Glycerites are a great option for kids and adults who are sensitive to alcohol; even pets can benefit from herbal remedies when taken as a glycerite.
How To Make an Herbal Glycerite
When making an herbal glycerite, the first thing to consider is the type of plant matter you’d like to use and whether it’s going to be fresh or dried. If using dried material, you’ll need to add a small amount of distilled water to the glycerin to rehydrate the ingredients, which helps with extraction. I recommend 1 part water for every 3 parts of glycerin (in other words, the solution should be 25% water and 75% glycerine), but you can safely go down to about 60% glycerine if needed.
Don’t use less than 60% glycerine or your glycerite can spoil.
On the other hand, if you’re making a glycerite from fresh plant material you can use 100% vegetable glycerin (just give the herbs a good muddle to expose more surface area for efficient extraction).
To get started, fill a clean jar with the plant material. I like using amber glass jars, as it prevents too much light from getting in. If you’re working with dried ingredients, fill the jar halfway full — the plant material will expand as it sits in the liquid. Fresh plant material should be cleaned and chopped before filling the jar 3/4s full.
Pour the vegetable glycerin and water (if using) over the plant material, using a chopstick or similar pointed kitchen tool to break up any air bubbles that may have formed after the liquid was poured. Seal with a lid and store the jar at room temperature away from light.
Let the contents of the glycerite macerate for about 4 to 6 weeks. I typically give glycerites the full 6 weeks to develop so that the finished potency will be at peak levels. Give the jar a shake every couple of days, and top off the glycerin if you see any of the plant material exposed to air.
When the glycerite is ready, pour the contents of the jar through a fine-mesh sieve that has been lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter into a bowl or large measuring cup. Using a funnel, decant the strained glycerite into small amber glass bottles with a dropper. Label the finished herbal glycerite with the contents of the bottle as well as the date it was made — your glycerite is now ready to be used as needed.
How Long Do Herbal Glycerites Keep?
Although they don’t last quite as long as traditional alcohol-based tinctures, herbal glycerites will last anywhere from 1 to 2 years if stored in a cool, dry location away from light (the higher the vegetable glycerin concentration the longer the glycerite will keep).
For more information on shelf life and storage, I’d suggest consulting the Herbal Academy’s Guide to Herbal Preparation Shelf Life.
Common Types of Herbal Glycerites
Like tinctures, glycerites can be made using any number of herbs, fungi, and other plant materials. Because glycerites aren’t made with alcohol, they’re often used as a way to administer herbal remedies to children. Some examples of particularly child-friendly glycerites include chamomile (for sleep), peppermint or fennel (for stomachaches), and elderflower or elderberry (for immune health/fever).
Glycerites can also be made with a combination of herbs, like this Tummy Tamer glycerite recipe that uses lemon balm, catnip, fennel, and peppermint for a soothing effect.
This basic template for herbal glycerites gives you the option of using fresh or dried plant material.
- Fresh or dried plant material, roughly chopped
- Pure vegetable glycerin
- Pint mason jar (or any other jar with a tight-fitting lid)
- Measuring cup or bowl
- Dark amber dropper bottles
- Adhesive label or masking tape (for labelling tincture)
- Fill a clean mason jar 3/4 full of fresh plant material or 1/2 full of dried plant material.
- For dried plant material: cover with vegetable glycerin and water in a 3:1 ratio (or 75% glycerine and 25% water). For fresh plant material: cover with 100% vegetable glycerin.
- Apply lid and gently shake the contents of the jar.
- Let the jar sit in a cool, dry place away from light for 4 to 6 weeks. Shake every day or two, replenishing the jar with glycerin if any plant matter becomes exposed.
- When the glycerite is ready to be decanted, pour it through a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh sieve into a bowl or large measuring cup. Pour the strained glycerite into amber glass bottles with a dropper using a funnel.
- Label the glycerite with its contents and the date it was made. Store in a cool, dry place away from light for up to 2 years.
Disclaimer on Homemade Herbal Remedies
I’ve been foraging wild medicines and treating my family with herbal remedies for the past 20 years, but I’m self-taught. Be aware that I am not a clinical herbalist, and this is based on my own research and personal experience using medicinal plants. I do not claim to have the experience that’d qualify me to advise you on your health, and I’m only providing this as a reference to encourage a broader interest in medicinal plants.
Please use this as a jumping-off point, but always do your own research and verify anything you read with multiple sources.
It’s always possible to have an adverse reaction to any medicinal herb, and plenty of people are allergic to even gentle herbs like chamomile. Always consult your doctor or a certified herbalist before trying any new medicinal plant. Often, they can have unintended reactions in combination with other herbs and supplements, and many herbs have side effects even when they are effective for their intended purpose.
If you are seriously interested in herbal medicine, I’d suggest investing in a course in herbal medicine, and I’d recommend any of the online courses put out by the Herbal Academy of New England. Specifically, the introduction to herbal medicine course and the family herbalist group of courses.
Homemade Herbal Remedies
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