Editor’s note: The below story is not meant to replace the advice of a qualified health professional, so be sure to talk with your doctor before self-prescribing herbal supplements. 

“It’s not that much alcohol,” the first-aid herbalist said. “About as much as you’ll find in a ripe banana.”

I was a few days into my first spiritual gathering — and about nine months into sobriety — and I was pretty darn sure that the dropperful of herbal medicine extracted into everclear was plenty of alcohol to remind my body of the taste and smell and experience of drinking that I was still learning to live without.

But my cramps were crazy, and there was nary a pharmaceutical in sight at the off-grid event, so I did what I had to do: I took the tincture.

Did I immediately relapse, throwing away my new life and newfound self-respect to drown in vats of high-proof tincture alcohol?

No. Not that day.

But I did the next year. And a few months after that. Alcohol-based herbal remedies blurred the line between healing and using to slowly chip away at my recovery, leaving me determined to find a better way.

Western Herbal Medicine Loves Alcohol

Herbal medicine can be a remarkable tool to support overall wellbeing, but the majority of commercial herbal remedies are made using alcohol. Distilled alcohol is a strong preservative, and does a great job of extracting the medicinal constituents of plants, so what’s the problem here?

The problem is that alcohol-based tinctures exclude a variety of people from safely consuming herbal medicine: People who experience addiction, people who avoid alcohol for religious reasons, and even people who just don’t like the taste.

Western herbalism has traded compassion for convenience, and those looking for alcohol-free alternatives will frequently be met with a passive shrug. 

When I started learning about plant medicine, professional herbalists would repeat the story that there wasn’t that much alcohol in a tincture, or that adding it to hot water would evaporate off the alcohol (in fact, that process only removes about 15% of the alcohol). My concerns were brushed off and, when I decided to learn how to make medicine for myself, I was met with the same dismissive attitude. Herb schools perpetuate myths that alcohol-free extracts are ineffective or are not shelf-stable, and in doing so prevent budding herbalists from experimenting with alternatives and being able to fully serve their communities.

Western herbalism has traded compassion for convenience, and those looking for alcohol-free alternatives will frequently be met with a passive shrug. 

Alcohol-free herbalism is deeply personal for me. When I decided to cut alcohol out of my life and transform my relationship with myself and my body, I was immediately drawn to alternative medicine to support myself during that massive transition. Herbal remedies seemed like such a natural fit since they help to address the root causes of many ailments, and over time was able to shift the anxiety and panic that created my challenging relationship with alcohol in the first place. 

So when I was repeatedly belittled and brushed off, I was afraid that I had found yet another place where my new life could not thrive.

The good news is that those herbalists are wrong: It is possible to make potent, stable alcohol-free tinctures. I’ve built a practice and remedy business based on my personal research into this topic, and the increasing reach of both suggest that the remedies are both effective and needed.

Make Your Own Alcohol-Free Herbal Remedies

The most common alcohol-free menstruums are water, glycerin, and vinegar. They each extract different constituents from plants and can be used alone or together to create full-spectrum plant medicine. Tea is the alcohol-free classic, but both vinegar and glycerin can be used (together or separate) to make potent, stable remedies. 

Extracts are made using ratios of plant material (weight) to menstruum (volume). The classic alcohol tincture ratios of 1:5 dry and 1:2 fresh work for vinegar and glycerin, as well! For example, one ounce (by weight) of dried skullcap would be put into 5 ounces (by volume) of vinegar.

One of the easiest and tastiest alcohol-free remedies you can make is an oxymel. An oxymel is an extract using vinegar and honey, creating a sweet and tangy taste that even the most stubborn remedy taker will enjoy. For the winter season, a simple oxymel using rosehips is a delicious way to boost your mineral and Vitamin C intake when so many fruits and veggies are out of season. Rosehips are the fruit of the rose plant and are well-known for their high Vitamin C content, which our bodies need for healthy hormone and neurotransmitter synthesis.

Rosehip Oxymel

  • 2oz dried rosehips
  • 6oz organic Apple Cider Vinegar with the mother
  • 2oz honey
  1. Combine all ingredients in a clean jar and cap. If using a jar with a metal lid, place a piece  of wax paper over the top of the jar before capping it to prevent the vinegar from corroding the metal lid.
  2. Shake a couple of times a day for 3-4 weeks.
  3. Strain through a piece of cheesecloth, a mesh strainer, or an old, clean t-shirt.
  4. Enjoy! Keep your oxymel out of the sun and it will remain good for up to a year.

The below is my signature — and most popular! — remedy. The initial recipe came to me in a dream (thanks, universe!), and I’ve been so delighted to see how effective it is at supporting anxious nervous systems and help folks to soothe themselves without alcohol or benzodiazepine drugs. The base of this remedy is Skullcap, a remarkable mint-family herb that is renowned for its both tonic and acute effect on the nervous system. I particularly like it in this formula because it is energetically cooling, which helps to counteract the heated vibes of anxiety. I’m sharing this remedy with dried plants, but it is truly lovely with fresh if you can source or grow them. Just remember to change the ratio from the 1:5 dried as written here to 1:2 fresh. Additionally, these plants when dried tend to be extra thirsty, so I usually round up the liquid a bit! It makes approximately 12oz.

Calm The Fuck Down

  • 1 oz dried skullcap
  • 1 oz dried lemon balm (try to get as freshly dried as possible; should still have a potent scent)
  • .5 oz dried passionflower
  • 7 oz organic Apple Cider Vinegar with the mother
  • 7 oz glycerin
  • Honey to taste
  1. Finely chop or grind plant material.
  2. Combine glycerin and vinegar in a jar, stirring gently until thoroughly mixed. 
  3. Combine plant material and menstruum in a clean glass jar.
  4. If using a metal lid, place wax paper under the lid to prevent vinegar from touching the metal and corroding it.
  5. Place the sealed jar in a warm water bath for 3-4 days. The “warm” setting on a crock pot is perfect.
  6. After 3-4 days in the crock pot, strain. Add honey to taste if desired. Keep in a cool, dark place. This extract should last for a couple of years at least.

Now that you have a couple of recipes to start off with, and a basic primer in alcohol-free herbalism,  you have a place to get started. And now, go forth and make alcohol-free medicine for yourself!