The Mad Scientist: Making An Echinacea Tincture From Fresh Root

Outwardly, I am a mild-mannered farm wife [of sorts] who spends her days feeding chickens, sweeping up goat poo, and teaching the children readin’, writin’, ‘rithmatic, and how to find all of the secret levels in Super Mario World.

Inwardly however, I suspect I resemble something more like this:

Yes, I am a mad scientist at heart! So much so, my husband bought me a chemistry set for middle school kids one year, as a Christmas gift, and I completely geeked out over it. I was thirty-two years old. (I knew you’d wonder.) (And, no, I have no shame in admitting it.) I’ve channeled that nerd-love for chemistry into crafting many useful herbal concoctions for my family over the years, including: soaps, salves, creams, lip balms, teas and medicinal tinctures.

One thing I’ve wanted to do all winter is dig up my three-year-old echinacea plant while it’s dormant and use the fresh roots to make a tincture.  I’ve tinctured the flowers, seeds and leaves many times before, but never the roots, in spite of the fact that they are supposedly chock full of more of the good stuff that makes echinacea such… well, good stuff. My only hold-up was the fact that the plant is large and I am wimpy, therefore I need my husband’s assistance in digging. He works, a lot, so the opportunity of him being off on a non-rainy day to do so had not arisen for months.

Yesterday was beautiful. I was wandering about my garden, mentally planning what I wanted to plant where this spring, when my husband happened to chance by. Yes! Quickly grabbing the opportunity, I shoved a shovel in his hand and he went to work. (I’m not as bossy as I sound, by the way.)

Echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, is one of my favorite garden plants. In the summertime it looks all pretty and pinky-purple like this:

This is what it looks like dormant, dug up, and after he hacked it into thirds;

Though I’m not exactly sure it will regenerate, I replanted one-third, back in the original location, and planted another third in a new garden area.  I pulled the roots apart on the final piece, not an easy task, and replanted the smaller pieces with lots of small feeder roots (see piece on left, below), reserving the longer pieces for processing.

Once done, I brought the roots inside, scrubbed them clean, then chopped them into tiny pieces. Next I placed them into a clean, sterilized jelly jar and covered them with 80 proof vodka. A higher proof is more ideal, but is not available where we live. (The amount of tincture shown is smaller than I normally would make, since I discovered after all of that effort, that I was almost out of vodka.)

Some people may wish not to use alcohol to preserve their herbs, especially if they will be dosing very young children; in that case glycerine is used to make a glycerite. A post I did on making one of those can be found HERE.

Make sure you label your jar with the date, ingredients and type of alcohol used.  Put it in a coolish, dark cupboard, periodically opening the door every few days to shake the jar a bit whilst admiring your really cool collection of other mad scientist potions. After six weeks, strain out the herb and you are left with a very powerful herbal medication. I usually only dose tinctures one to two drops at a time, in a spoonful of honey or small glass of ginger ale. They are that effective and at that low a level, I have no issue with giving them to my children.

If you are unable to grow your own, two excellent places to order high quality dried herbs in bulk are Mountain Rose Herbs or Bulk Herb Store. It is deeply satisfying and empowering to be able to use a natural medicine, made by your own hands, to alleviate the occasional sore throat or tummy ache that comes along with being human.

*Disclaimer: Please be aware that this is merely a demonstration of my hobby. Herbal products can be strong medicines, so consult a qualified health care provider’s advice before using homemade remedies of this type, especially if you are on prescription medication, are pregnant or nursing, or have serious health issues.


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22 Responses to The Mad Scientist: Making An Echinacea Tincture From Fresh Root

  1. MarianneG says:

    I am just getting started with herbs and things. Thank you for sharing !

    • Jan says:

      Thanks for your comments! :) Making things with herbs is so fun and satisfying – hope you get to experiment a lot!

    • Marie says:

      My two sisters and I have made this potion for some time. It is a sure thing to stop a sore throat and colds.. We dig up the plants that grow wild in our area. We use the entire plant root, stems and blooms.

  2. LOVE IT! I’m going to put this on my list! (I guess I need to grow some flowers first though).

  3. Malia says:

    My echinacea is a bunch of transplants from my grandmothers garden. They are about 13 inches tall right now. Would you assume that this year is too early to try to harvest any?

    • Jan says:

      I would probably give them another year or so to get more size, but you can definitely tincture the leaves and flowers this year! :)

  4. INGRID says:

    hi so what exactly does it do for u i have got seeds and yet to plant them what things can it cure or assist do u have a section on the flowrs and leaves also and another question lol why do u need to let plant grow a few years is it just so u get more ?
    cheers love yr site

  5. Lloyd S. says:

    I have done a lot of reading on herbs, etc. I keep finding conflicting info on making tinctures. Some say set it in a nice warn sunny location, while others say to keep it in a dark location until finally straining off the finished product.
    Why the difference in info??

    • Jan says:

      Hi Lloyd S.,

      I’ve seen that as well. My favorite standby for reference when I’m unsure about something is “Making Plant Medicine” by Richo Cech, and he suggests a dark place, so that’s what I go with. (Plus, I’ve seen first hand how much the sun washes out my vinegar tinctures and I like them more vibrantly colored.)

      I’ve noticed that many people that like to let the tincture macerate in the sun – tend to view it (and/or the moon) as giving additional “energy” to their tincture so that could be why some do that. (That’s just a guess; I view herbs from a more scientific than mystical point of view so someone may very well correct my supposition somewhere down the line in these comments!) :)

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  7. Le Kellum says:

    Is the yellow echinacea flower the same as the purple one? Are there any differences in potency or effects? May be a silly question but I am new at this.

    • Jan says:

      Not a silly question at all! In fact, I’m not sure of the answer either. :) I know there are different colors & species of coneflower (echinacea) and that there are different potencies among them, but I’m not sure of the exact differences. According to my making plant medicine book, Richo Cech says that the five species of echinacea he listed (E. angustifolia, E. pallida, E. paradoxa, E. purpurea & E. tennesseensis) all have proven immune-enhancing activity, some weaker than others. A good way to tell the potency is to taste the extract or a piece of the root and see if it makes your mouth tingle or buzz. That indicates that its high in alkylamide constituents. One thing you could do for more information is to search for the type of echinacea you have by image search, then look the name up to see what other sources say about it. One of the first places I always check something is PubMed for published scientific studies (though traditional information about it is also valuable.) Here’s a link, you can narrow down the search when you find out the species of your echinacea.

  8. Ingrid Beach says:

    Hi Jan. I`ve just started to read your articles and I love it!! Thank you so much for your talents and willing to share. I`m a soap, lotion, etc maker. I started making chemical free items since my daughter was diagnosed w/kidney cancer. I want to start making my own ess. oils. I`ve been reading items on line. Do you have info. regarding this? I’m also a nurse & strongly agree w/ natural organic meds. Thank you God Bless advance

  9. Allison Rust says:

    Hi Jan! Searched ‘dormant coneflower’ and stumbled into your blog. I love it! Did your echinacea come back? Did they get fuller? I started mine from seed last spring and am anxious to see them again. Trying to get an idea of how many more to plant.

    • Jan says:

      Hi Allison! The largest echinacea plant that I dug up didn’t come back, but it reseeded like crazy and now I have echinacea everywhere in that corner of the garden. (That’s a good thing though!) In general, I don’t dig them up any more since I want them to keep coming back year after year. I just use the flower heads and leaves and find that works great. (Plus it’s much easier than trying to hack at roots!) :) No matter how many plants I have, it never seems to be enough. The bees, birds, and butterflies love them, plus they’re useful to us. My goal is to plant more each year!

      • Allison Rust says:

        Thank you Jan! I believe the very day that I commented, I began to see the start of the echinacea coming back. Hooray! I started some more seeds last night to fill in the holes a bit. I love them because they actually thrive so well at our place, and that’s saying a lot!

  10. wayde says:

    Can I make the tincture without using the root

    • Jan says:

      Hi Wayde, You sure can. I actually now make echinacea tincture with just the flowers and leaves. It’s a lot easier than digging up the root, but is still effective for us!

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