Making dandelion tincture
Dandelions grow almost everywhere, in any kind of soil, in most climates. They’re tremendously adaptable and effective at surviving even in bad conditions. And they’re even good for you! Dandelions are really bitter and full of vitamins and other compounds that allegedly support healthy digestion. I’ve been taking dandelion tincture as part of my treatment for Lyme disease for a while now; here’s how you make it!
A quick disclaimer: do your own research about whether to use this stuff. I researched it and, on the advice of my medical providers, have been taking it. I’m not going to write much about what dandelions are supposed to do, or why, or what their risks are. This is a ‘how’ article, not a ‘why’. Similarly, make sure you know how to identify dandelions, for sure, before you harvest them. Never eat a wild food without knowing for sure what it is.
Ingredients and supplies:
- Dandelions, including the roots
- 100 proof vodka (50% alcohol by volume)
- Mason jar(s)
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife
- Waxed paper
- Muslin fabric (used later)
- Labeling materials
We’re going to make a whole-herb tincture here, meaning that it involves all the parts of the plant. This recipe is based on folk process herbalism, which you can look up if you’re curious. By ‘tincture‘, we mean that we’re making an ethanol-water extraction of soluble compounds in the herb. There are other terms you can use if you’re interested in the history of herbalism.
Gather a bunch of dandelions, being sure to dig up the roots. Many gardeners will thank you for this task and encourage you to return, soon, to
clean up their lawns make more medicine for yourself. Remove any slugs, worms, or other animal inhabitants from your dandelions. It’s better if you do this when the dandelions are flowering, so you get some of the petals, but I’m making this batch in September so it’s leaves and roots only.
It’s best to gather dandelions that aren’t right next to roads, driveways, or other places with car exhaust. Also, don’t harvest dandelions from a lawn that gets treated with pesticides. You want plain, natural, healthy dandelions.
There’s a tradition in herbalism that suggests it’s important to approach these tasks with gratitude in your heart and an awareness that you are asking these plants to die in order to give you greater health. The same tradition says that it’s important to really focus on good health while you’re working on making the tincture. You are, of course, welcome to omit these things if you choose, but I find that they bring some additional meaning into the process and, perhaps, turn the act of making tincture into a meditation on health.
Washing and Drying
I gathered enough dandelions to fill a plastic shopping bag. They were covered with dirt, so my next step was to wash them in several changes of water. It amazed me how many stones and weeds and grains of sand were stuck to my dandelions.
Fill up the bowl and swish the dandelions around for a while. You’ll find the water getting muddy; repeat this process until it’s clear. As you do, pick through the dandelions to remove anything that’s not a dandelion: weeds, slugs, dead leaves, etc.
Once the dandelions are clean, it’s important to dry them. I used a salad spinner, processing the dandelions in several batches. Keep spinning until no more water comes off. Here’s why I think it’s so important to dry them fully.
Garbling and Chopping
Have you ever heard of a message being ‘garbled’, meaning that it was hard to understand because it had gotten all separated and mixed and chopped up? It turns out that garbling is an herbalism word, too, meaning to separate out the different parts of an herb (dandelion, in this case) and strip away anything that’s not needed.
We’re going to keep the leaves and roots of the dandelion (and the flowers and stems, if they were in season), but I like to discard the part that’s sometimes called the nodule. It’s the intersection between the leaves and the root. If you look at my cutting board here, you’ll see that I’ve cut out the nodule; we’ll compost it.
From this point, we want to chop the herb into small enough bits that the vodka can do its work extracting the good stuff. There’s no great magic to the approach other than that smaller is better. I’ve read that you shouldn’t use a food processor, though, because the blade tends to heat up the mixture and drive off volatile compounds. I like to batch process the dandelions to save time: I’ll remove the nodules from about 10 dandelions, then chop their leaves, then chop the roots. I’ve found that if you roll up a bunch of leaves like a cigar, you can easily cut them up using scissors.
Once you’ve chopped your dandelions, put them into a glass jar, packing the mixture down with a clean metal spoon. Leave an inch or two of space at the top of the jar.
Filling and Shaking
Now it’s time for the vodka. It’s important to use 100 proof (50%) vodka because we want the alcohol concentration to stay high enough to prevent fermentation and rot. Various things I’ve read say the critical number is 37.5% alcohol by volume, and standard vodka (80 proof/40%) is too close for comfort. So spend a little extra and buy the 100 proof.
Once your dandelions are packed into the jar, start filling with vodka. Fill it up until you have at least an inch of vodka above the dandelions. Why an inch? Read this.
Once you’ve done that, cut a square of waxed paper to fit over the top of the jar, cover with the lid, and screw down the band. Tighten it as much as you can. Then shake the dickens out of it, turning the jar all different ways. Once you’ve done that for a while, open it up and see whether you need to add more vodka to maintain that inch of coverage.
Labeling and Waiting
Always label your tinctures. Always. If you remember nothing else, remember this. A good label is worth its weight in gold. (Unfortunately labels don’t weigh much, so it wouldn’t actually be worth that much… anyway.) Label the jar, not the lid.
The label should clearly state what’s in the jar, when it was made, and what else needs to happen with it. At this stage, I’m just using masking tape since the tincture isn’t finished yet; later on, I’ll probably make nicer labels.
These jars are labeled “Dandelion whole-herb tincture in 50% alc.” and “9/23/13 strain after 10/23/13“. We want these to sit for at least two weeks, and preferably more like four to six weeks, before we strain them.
I like to put them on a sunny windowsill, partly because it reminds me to shake them every day and partly because they’re just pretty. Open them periodically and make sure you still have an inch of vodka covering them. (You may need to replace the waxed paper after a few rounds of opening them, because the vodka seems to soak through the paper after a while. No harm done; just replace it.)
It’s probably better not to leave the tincture jars in direct sunlight long-term, but I find that I forget to shake them unless I’m looking at them every day. Your mileage may vary! Once the tincture is finished extracting, I encourage you to store the bottles in a dark place.
Click to see how to finish the tincture once it’s done steeping.