How to Make Herbal Glycerites

Herbal glycerites are alcohol-free herbal extracts made by soaking herbs in a mixture of glycerin and water. Sometimes called glycerates or glycerols, glycerites offer an alternative way to make herbal preparations that are appropriate for people who want to avoid alcohol, including children and those with certain health conditions.

Glycerites have several advantages over alcohol-based tinctures:

How Glycerites Work

The glycerin in glycerites helps extract and preserve the water-soluble components of plants including flavonoids, minerals, phytochemicals, and other active constituents. Glycerin is an excellent solvent for extracting plant juices and the fresh vitality directly from herbs.

Unlike alcohol, glycerin does not extract as many of the plant resins, waxes, or tannins. This results in preparations with a lighter, cleaner flavor profile compared to alcohol-based tinctures.

Glycerin is naturally antimicrobial so it helps prevent spoilage of the herbal glycerite. The addition of some water is needed for extraction, but the high concentration of glycerin preserves the glycerite.

Choosing Herbs for Glycerites

The best herbs to use for glycerites are:

  • Aromatic herbs with essential oils like lemon balm, rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, mints
  • Flowers like calendula, elderflower, rose, violet
  • Leaves and aerial parts like plantain, nettle, oakmoss, gotu kola
  • Juicy or mucilaginous herbs like aloe vera, slippery elm, marshmallow
  • Roots like echinacea, astragalus, licorice, valerian
  • Seeds like fennel, dill, cardamom, anise

Delicate herbs and flowers are particularly well-suited to glycerites since the gentler glycerin extraction preserves their active constituents.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Supplies Needed

  • Herbs – fresh or dried
  • Vegetable glycerin – available at health food stores
  • Glass jars with tight-fitting lids for maceration
  • Fine mesh strainer & cheesecloth
  • Funnel
  • Amber glass bottles for final glycerite

Step 1. Prepare the Herbs

  • Fresh herbs: Chop or crush fresh herbs to expose more surface area.
  • Dried herbs: Crush dried herbs into smaller pieces for better extraction.

Step 2. Make the Menstruum

The menstruum is the liquid used to extract the herbs. For glycerites, this is a mixture of vegetable glycerin and water. A common ratio is 3 parts glycerin to 1 part water. You can adjust the ratio to use more or less glycerin depending on your preferences and the herbs used.

Examples:

  • 3 parts glycerin : 1 part water
  • 2 parts glycerin : 1 part water
  • 100% glycerin (for very moist or mucilaginous herbs)

Step 3. Macerate the Herbs

  • Place the herbs in a glass jar and cover completely with the glycerin menstruum.
  • Make sure the herbs are fully submerged and leave at least 1 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.
  • Stir to remove air bubbles and completely saturate the plant material.

Step 4. Infuse

  • Screw on the lid and place the jar in a cool, dark place to infuse for 4-6 weeks.
  • Shake the jar daily to mix the contents.
  • For fresh plant extracts, the maceration time can be shorter (2-4 weeks).

Step 5. Strain and Press

  • Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and line it with a thin cotton cheesecloth.
  • Carefully pour the glycerite into the lined strainer.
  • Let it drip through slowly, then gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and twist to press out all the liquid.

Step 6. Bottle and Label

  • Use a funnel to decant the finished glycerite into amber glass bottles.
  • Leave a little headspace, then cap and label the bottles with the name, date, and shelf life (2 years from creation).
  • Store the glycerite in a cool, dark place. Refrigeration is not necessary but will help extend the shelf life.

Tips for Making Glycerites

  • Use fresh organic or wildcrafted herbs when possible.
  • Chop/crush herbs to increase the surface area for better extraction.
  • Shake or stir the macerating glycerite daily to maximize extraction.
  • A warm water bath can help speed extraction but isn’t necessary.
  • Sample the glycerite after 3 weeks of maceration to check the flavor and potency.
  • Strain through a very fine cloth or even coffee filters to get a clean product.
  • Add up to 5% vitamin E oil as an antioxidant preservative for a longer shelf life.

How to Use Herbal Glycerites

Herbal glycerites have a variety of internal and external uses. Since they are alcohol-free, glycerites are safe for children and pets when used appropriately.

Some of the most common ways to use glycerites are:

  • Internally: Take glycerites by the dropper-full directly under the tongue or mixed into teas, water, milk, smoothies, etc. The usual adult dosage is 30-60 drops up to 3 times per day.
  • Topically: Apply glycerites undiluted or mixed into creams/salves as a natural plant-infused ingredient for skin care.
  • Home remedies: Use therapeutic glycerites like calendula, plantain, lemon balm, or chamomile topically for minor cuts, burns, bug bites, rashes, etc.
  • Body care: Add glycerites to bath water, facial steams, compress, body sprays, or use as a natural perfume.
  • Cooking: Use culinary glycerites like lemon balm, orange, mint, or vanilla to enhance the flavor of desserts, drinks, and other foods.

Sample Glycerite Recipes

Soothing Throat Glycerite

Makes 1 pint

  • 1⁄4 cup dried elderberries
  • 1⁄4 cup dried echinacea purpurea root
  • 1⁄4 cup dried licorice root
  • 1⁄4 cup dried marshmallow root
  • 1 cup vegetable glycerin
  • 1⁄2 cup distilled water

Sleep Support Glycerite

Makes 1 pint

  • 1⁄4 cup dried chamomile flowers
  • 1⁄4 cup dried lemon balm
  • 1⁄4 cup dried passionflower
  • 1⁄4 cup dried valerian root
  • 1 cup vegetable glycerin
  • 1⁄2 cup distilled water

Anti-inflammatory Glycerite

Makes 1 pint

  • 1⁄4 cup dried turmeric root, finely grated
  • 1⁄4 cup dried ginger root, finely grated
  • 1⁄4 cup dried holy basil leaf
  • 1⁄4 cup dried boswellia resin
  • 1 cup vegetable glycerin
  • 1⁄2 cup distilled water

Choosing a Glycerin Brand

When making herbal glycerites, it’s important to choose a high-quality food-grade vegetable glycerin, preferably organic. Here are some recommended brands:

  • Mountain Rose Herbs – organic vegetable glycerin made from palm oil, non-GMO, kosher
  • NOW Foods – natural vegetable glycerin from palm and coconut oils, non-GMO, kosher
  • Heritage Store – rosewater glycerin with added rose extract, no synthetic fragrances
  • Humco – USP-grade kosher vegetable glycerin made from palm oil
  • Bulk Apothecary – palm-free vegetable glycerin derived from GMO-free soybean oil

Be sure to avoid any glycerin that contains synthetic additives or harsh solvents. Food-grade vegetable glycerin is safe for internal and topical use.

Storing and Shelf Life

Properly stored in airtight amber glass bottles kept in a cool, dark place, herbal glycerites have an expected shelf life of 2+ years. The vegetable glycerin naturally preserves the glycerite thanks to its antimicrobial properties. Refrigeration can help extend the shelf life.

Over time, some sediment may form at the bottom from natural precipitation of plant compounds. This is normal. Shake well before use to redistribute the sediment. Glycerites may also thicken up as some of the water content evaporates – add a little distilled water as needed to thin it out again.

Discard any glycerite that shows signs of mold, changes color, or smells odd, as this indicates spoilage.

Benefits of Glycerites vs. Alcohol Extracts

Glycerites offer some clear advantages over traditional alcohol-based tinctures:

Glycerites

  • Alcohol-free, can be safely used by everyone
  • Naturally sweet taste
  • Gentler extraction method better for delicate herbs
  • Preserves more fresh plant compounds
  • Less bitter, astringent, or harsh qualities
  • Easier to make at home

Alcohol Tinctures

  • Extracts a broader range of plant constituents
  • Very long shelf life 5+ years
  • Less prone to contamination from mold/bacteria
  • Extracts quickly in just weeks or months
  • Very versatile for many different herbs
  • Potent concentrated herbal extract

Common Questions

Can I use glycerin from the pharmacy?

No, pharmacy glycerin contains additives and harsh solvents that make it unsuitable for internal use. Only food-grade vegetable glycerin is safe to ingest.

How long does it take to make a glycerite?

A typical maceration time is 4-6 weeks. For fresh herbs, 2-4 weeks is often sufficient. Some herbs may need a longer infusion time up to 8-12 weeks.

Do I have to shake glycerites daily?

Yes, shaking the jar daily helps everything infuse thoroughly and prevents settling. However, occasional gentle shaking or stirring will still work.

Can I use dried or powdered herbs?

Yes, dried herbs work well for making glycerites, just be sure to crush them up into smaller pieces for better extraction. Powders can also be used.

Why add water instead of just using glycerin?

Water helps the glycerin be able to extract more of the water-soluble plant components. But the antimicrobial glycerin prevents microbial growth.

How long do herbal glycerites keep?

Stored properly in airtight bottles away from light and heat, glycerites have a shelf life around 2 years. Refrigeration can extend their shelf life longer.

What’s the best way to take glycerites?

Glycerites can be taken by the dropper-full straight under the tongue or mixed into water, tea, smoothies, etc. For children, they are easily mixed into food or drinks.

Can I vape glycerites like CBD oil?

No, do not vape or smoke glycerites. These are for oral or topical use only. Inhaling glycerin into the lungs can be harmful.

Final thought

So in summary, herbal glycerites offer an alcohol-free, high quality herbal preparation that is simple and rewarding to make at home. With their versatility and long shelf life, homemade glycerites are a valuable addition to any natural medicine cabinet or herbal apothecary.