" The process of pouring water over a substance, or steeping the substance in water, in order to
impregnate the liquid with its properties or virtues. Formerly, also, the dissolving of a salt or
other soluble substance."
1573 TWYNE Æneid XII. Mmjb, The same [Dittany] Dame Venus thyther bringes, And into water vessels bright it
secretly she flinges, And makes therof Infusion [later edd. steeping] large, the vertue forth to take. 1612 WOODALL
Surg. Mate Wks. (1653) 272 Infusion is the preparation of medicaments, cut or bruised in some humidity convenient
for the purpose, a lesser or longer time. 1653 WALTON Angler vi. 139 Oil of Ivy-berries, made by expression or
infusion. 1676 GREW Exp. Solut. Salts i. §28 Not only in the Infusion of several Ingredients together, but of any one
singly, that such a proportion thereof to the Menstruum be not exceeded
b. A dilute liquid extract obtained from a substance by soaking it with, or steeping it in, water;
also any water containing dissolved organic (esp. vegetable) matter, such as that in which
Infusoria are found.
c1550 LLOYD Treas. Health, Aphorisms Hippocrites Cv, The infusion of hyera healeth the melancolike paynes of
the head. 1626 BACON Sylva §18 For the Preparations of Medicines and other Infusions. 1684 BOYLE Porousn.
Anim. Bod. iii. 26 Clothes or spunges wetted in Infusion of Tobacco.
Generally, modern tinctures are made by soaking the botanicals in vodka,brandy or 'grain alcohol'. (Rubbing Alcohol, Denatured Alcohol and Industrial Alcohols are poisonous. Do not use these for internal consumption. Vodka is cheap and has little odor-- it's best to use a potable alcohol for all preparations if you can. For EXTERNAL USE ONLY, some places sell a perfume diliutent that has denatured alcohol and glycerin and is legal for under-21s to use for perfumes, etc. )
Making of an alcoholic tincture is the first step to making a cordial or liqueur.
Ody suggests tincturing in a mixture of 3 parts water to 1 part alcohol and mixing 1 liter of this with 200 g dried or 600 g fresh herb. I generally use enough of fresh herbs to fill the jar loosely to the desired level, or about 1/4 that much of the dried stuff, or of fruit; then pour the alcohol over it.
Let the tincture sit for at least a week. Ody suggests 2 weeks, but some spices take longer and some herbs take less. Note that if you are making a compound tincture mixing herbs and spices, or dried and fresh botanicals, you may want to add the different botanicals over time so that the strongest (such as cloves, cassia, pepper) go in last, and the more delicate go in first and have more time to soak. (Caution: undiluted vodka will eat away corks if left in constant contact with it.)
When it has steeped long enough to be strong, strain it carefully (you
can use coffee filters for this
6. Alch. a. A supposed spiritual principle or immaterial substance whose character or quality
may be infused into material things, which are then said to be tinctured; the quintessence, spirit,
or soul of a thing. universal tincture, the Elixir. Obs.
1599 T. M[OUFET] Silkwormes 68 A Quintessence? nay wel it may be
call'd A deathlesse tincture, sent vs from the
skies Whose colour stands, whose glosse is ne'er appall'd. 1649 J. E[LLISTONE] tr. Behmen's Epist. Pref. 10
This..conduces to the attainment of the Universall Tincture and Signature; whereby the different secret qualities, and
vertues, that are hid in all visible and corporeall things..may be drawne forth and applyed to their right naturall use.
Ibid. iii. §34 Operation of the philosopher's stone or universal tincture from me. 1693 tr. Blancard's Phys. Dict. (ed.
2), Tinctura, a Tincture, or Elixir, the Extraction of the Colour, Quality, and Strength of any thing.
b. An active principle, of a physical nature, emanating
or derivable from any body or
substance; a liquid or volatile principle. Obs.
1602 T. FITZHERBERT Apol. 48 If by chaunce her Maiestie had layed
her hand vpon the poysoned pomel of the
Sadle in the moneth of Iuly when the pores and veynes are open she might haue byn poysoned or receaue maligne
vapors or tinctures. 1671 GREW Anat. Plants ii. §23 The purest part [of the Sap]..recedes, with its due Tinctures,
from the said Cortical Body, to all the parts of the Lignous. Ibid. vi. §4 Precipitation is made by the mixture and
reaction of the Tinctures of the Lignous and Cortical Bodies upon each other. a1677 HALE Prim. Orig. Man. II. xii.
241 The Fertility of their Soil by the Inundation of Nilus, which at its recess leaves so fruitful a Tincture, that
thereby and by the heat of the Sun, Animals have their visible production. Ibid. III. iv. 267 The..Dew exhaled from
some sorts of Herbs or Weeds,..carries with it the Seminal Tincture of the Herb.
7. Chem. and Pharm. a. In early chemistry,
and in derived uses: The (supposed) essential
principle of any substance obtained in solution. Also, the extraction of this essential principle.
tincture of gold, POTABLE gold, aurum potabile. tincture of the moon (i.e. of silver, Luna): see quot. 1706.
1610 B. JONSON Alch. II. iii, Infuse vinegar, To draw his volatile
substance and his tincture. 1626 Fort. Isles
Wks. (Rtldg.) 649/1 This little gallipot Of tincture, high rose tincture. 1651 FRENCH Distill. vi. 179 A way by which
the tincture of gold which is the soule thereof,..may be..extracted. 1669 WORLIDGE Syst. Agric. (1681) 39 Many of
our best Mechanicks being too much addicted to the tincture of this Grain [barley]. 1675 E. WILSON Spadacrene
Dunelm. Pref. 12 As to the discovery of Metalline tinctures in waters. 1696 PHILLIPS (ed. 5), Tincture..In
Chymistry, the Extraction of the Colour, Quality and Strength of any thing. 1706 Ibid. (ed. Kersey), Tincture of the
Moon, is a Dissolution of some of the more rarify'd parts of Silver, made in Spirit of Wine, and whetted by
b. Mod. Pharmacy. A solution, usually in a menstruum
of alcohol, of some principle used in
medicine, chiefly vegetable, as tincture of opium (laudanum), but sometimes animal, as tincture
of cantharides, or mineral, as tincture of ferric chloride.
More particularly called an alcoholic tincture. But the menstruum may also be sulphuric ether or spirit of ammonia
(both mainly alcohol), which give ethereal and ammoniated tinctures respectively; when wine is used they are
called medicated wines. A tincture is simple when it is a solution of one substance only, compound when of two or
a1648 DIGBY Chym. Secr. (1682) 172 An excellent Spirit of Wine,
fit to draw Tinctures. 1704 J. HARRIS Lex.
Techn. I, Tincture, in Chymistry, is a Dissolution of the more fine, and volatile Parts of a mixt Body in Spirit of
Wine, or some such proper Menstruum. 1712 tr. Pomet's Hist. Drugs I. 184 A Tincture is likewise extracted with
Spirit of Wine Tartariz'd.
In a ceramic or stainless steel pot, combine water with an appropriate
amount of the herbs/spices (Ody suggests 30 g dried or 60 g fresh botanical
to 750 ml). Using the same proportions as if you were making a tea (6 or
8 parts of water to 1 of botanical) seems to work best of me
c1430 LYDG. Min. Poems (1840) 82 (Mätz.) The coke by mesour
sesonyth his potages..By decoccioune to take
theyr avauntages. 1502 ARNOLDE Chron. 165 Moysted wt water of the decokcien of benes. 1605 TIMME Quersit. I.
vi. 24 The airey..parts..are separated by decoction.
4. A liquor in which a substance, usually animal or vegetable,
has been boiled, and in which the
principles thus extracted are dissolved; spec. as a medicinal agent.
1398 TREVISA Barth. De P.R. XVI. ciii. (Tollem. MS.), is ston [lapis
lazuli] schal not be eue with decoccyon.
c1400 Lanfranc's Cirurg. 216 Waische e place wi a decoccioun of camomille. 1563 T. GALE Antidot. II. 8
Decoctions..be liquors and other thynges boyled together and then strayned. 1607 TOPSELL Four-f. Beasts (1673)
332 A ‘decoction’ is..the broath of certain hearbs or simples boyled together in water till the third part be consumed.
1. All the difference between Decoctions and Syrups made by Decoction
is this, Syrups are made to keep, Decoctions only for present use, for you
hardly keep a Decoction a week at any time, if the weather be hot, not half so long.
2. Decoctions are made of Leaves, Roots, Flowers, Seeds, Fruits, or Barks, conducing to the cure of the Disease you make them for; in the same manner
are they made as we shewed you in Syrups.
i.e. "Secondly, Syrups made by Decoction are usually used of Compounds yet may any Simple Herb be thus converted into Syrup; Take the Herb, Root, or3. Decoctions made with Wine last longer than such as are made with Water, and if you take your Decoction to clense the passages of Urine, or open
Flower you would make into Syrup and bruise it a little, then boyl it in a convenient quantity of Spring Water, the more water you boyl it in the weaker will it
be, a handful of the Herb, Root, &c. is a convenient quantity for a pint of Water; boyl it till half the water be consumed, then let it stand till it be almost cold,
and strain it (being almost cold) through a woollen cloth, letting it run out at leisure without pressing, to every pint of this Decoction ad one pound of Sugar
and boyl it over the fire till it come to a Syrup, which you may know if you now and then cool a little of it in a spoon, scum it all the while it boyls, and when it
is sufficiently boyled, whilst it is hot strain it again through a woollen cloth, but press it not; thus have you the Syrup perfected."
Oils can be made in several manners. Essential oils are made by various types of extraction; we won't consider them here. Infused oils, in which the 'essence' of the botanical is extracted into a carrier oil by infusion, are most commonly used in period medicine.
The most common carrier oil used in period appears to have been olive oil. Other kinds of carrier oils, such as sweet almond, canola, linseed, hempseed, poppyseed, were probably also used in period depending on availability and budget. Modern oils such as soy can also be used: consult a good book on herbal preparations or cosmetics to pick an oil. Additives such as lanolin, glycerin and vitamin E are not period but can help the oil keep.
Oils can be either hot-infused or cold-infused. Cold-infused oils take much longer to produce than hot-infused oils, but retain better quality.
Store all oils in a cool dark place, in closely-sealed bottles or jars.
1. Oyl Olive, which is commonly known by the name of Sallet Oyl, I suppose
because it is usually eaten with Sallets by them that love it; If it be pressed
of ripe Olives, according to Galen is temperate, and exceeds in no one quality.
2. Of Oyls, some are Simple, and some are Compound.
3. Simple Oyuls are such as are made of Fruits or Seeds, by expression,
as Oyl of sweet and bitter Almonds, Linseed, and Rapeseed Oyl &c. of
4. Compound Oyls are made of Oyl of Olives and other Simples, imagine Herbs, Flowers, Roots, &c.
5. The way of making them is this, having bruised the Herbs or Flowers
you would make your Oyl of, put them in an Earthen pot, and to two or three
handfuls of them, powr a pint of Oyl, cover the pot with a paper, and set it in the Sun, about a Fortnight or less according as the Sun is in hotness; then
having warmed it very well by the fire, press out the Herbs &c. very hard in a press, and ad as many more Herbs to the same Oyl, bruised (the Herbs I
mean not the Oyl in like manner, set them in the Sun as before, the oftner you repeat this the stronger will your Oyl be; at last when you conceive it strong
enough, boyl both Herbs and Oyl together till the Juyce be consumed which you may know by its leaving its bubling, and the Herbs will be crisp, then strain
it, whilst it is hot, and keep it in a stone or Glass Vessel for your use.
6. As for Chymical Oyls, I have nothing to say in this Treatise.
7. The General use of these Oyls is for pain in the Limbs, roughness of
the Skin, the Itch &c. as also for Oyntments and Plaisters. "
I. 1. a. Med. An external curative application, consisting of a solid or semi-solid substance
spread upon a piece of muslin, skin, or some similar material, and of such nature as to be adhesive
at the temperature of the body; used for the local application of a medicament, or for closing a
wound, and sometimes to give mechanical support. See also COURT-P., MUSTARD-P., STICKING-P.
a1000 Be Dômes Dæe (E.E.T.S.) 80 Hwi ne bidst u e beunga and plaster? c1000 Sax. Leechd. I. 304, enim
as ylcan wyrte wyrc to plastre; lee to ære wunde. c1290 S. Eng. Leg. I. 360/54 Leie it..ase ei hit a plastre were.
13.. Seuyn Sag. (W.) 1572 He laide a plastre under his ribbe. c1400 Lanfranc's Cirurg. 60 Take schepis talow &
buttere, & make a plaster. 1579 LANGHAM Gard. Health (1633) 90 A plaster of sowre bread boyled in wine,
draweth sores passing well.
1413 Pilgr. Sowle (Caxton) I. xxxi. (1859) 35 A very fool may he be clepid that leith a plaister corosyf to a
wounde. 14.. Stockh. Med. MS. 87 For to make trete at ys callyd playster of plomb. 1535 COVERDALE Isa. xxxviii.
21 And Esay sayde: take a playster of fyges [1611 a lumpe of figges..for a plaister], and laye it vpon the sore.
1. a. A soft mass of some substance (as bread, meal, bran, linseed, various herbs, etc.), usually
made with boiling water, and spread upon muslin, linen, or other material, applied to the skin to
supply moisture or warmth, as an emollient for a sore or inflamed part, or as a counter-irritant
(e.g. a mustard-poultice); a cataplasm.
1542-3 Act 34 & 35 Hen. VIII, c. 8 To practyse use and
mynistre in and to any outwarde sore,..any herbe or
herbes oyntementes bathes pultes and emplasters. 1639 T. DE LA GREY Compl. Horsem. 104 The poults of
mallowes, &c. must be every night applyed.
1544 T. PHAER Regim. Lyfe (1545) 64b, Ye must laye vppon
the payne a pultes made of herbes, and floures.
1562 W. BULLEIN Bulwark, Bk. Simples 23b, Good to be put into glisters..and in pultases. 1563 T. GALE Antid. II.
72 A Cataplasme or Pultis. 1610 MARKHAM Masterp. II. cxiii. 408 Couer the soare place..with this Pultus. 1626
BACON Sylva §60 The Pultass relaxeth the Pores. 1633 JOHNSON Gerarde's Herbal I. xx. 28 Very good to be put
into pultesses. 1657 W. COLES Adam in Eden cxix, It is used in Pultisses.
1592 SHAKES. Rom. & Jul. II. v. 65 (Qo. 1597) Is this the poultesse
for mine aking boanes? 1611 COTGR.,
Pulte, a poultice. 1612 WOODALL Surg. Mate Wks. (1653) 365 The hearb Crowes-foot, made into a Cataplasme or
Poultis. 1643 STEER tr. Exp. Chyrurg. x. 44 With a little Vinegar and Honey make a Powltice. 1645 R. SYMONDS
Diary Civ. War (Camden) 275 Make a poltis; lay it on with red flocks. 1658 A. FOX Würtz' Surg. I. viii. 33 There is
no need of such a Poultess.
1. Pultisses are those kind of things which the Latins call Cataplasmata,
and our learned Fellows that if they can read English thats all, call them
because 'tis a crabbed word few understand; it is indeed a very fine kind of Medicine to ripen Sores,
2. They are made of Herbs and Roots fitted to the Disease and Member afflicted,
being chopped smal and boyled in Water almost to a Jelly, then by adding
a little Barley Meal or Meal of Lupines, and a little Oyl or rough Sheep Suet, which I hold to be better, spread upon a cloath and applied to the grieved
3. Their use is to ease pains, to break Sores, to cool Inflamations, to dissolve hardness, to ease the Spleen, to concoct Humors, to dissipate Swellings.
4. I beseech you take this Caution along with you, Use no Pultissees (if
you can help it) that are of a heating Nature; before you have first clensed
because they are subject to draw the Humors to them from every part of the Body. "
A linctus. (Q.V.: A medicine to be licked up with the tongue)
1544 T. PHAER Regim. Lyfe (1553) Djb, Take mornynge and euening,
a spounefull of the syrupe of iuiubes..in
maner of a loc. 1597 GERARDE Herbal I. xxxiv. §2. 47 They are good in a loche or licking medicine for shortnes of
breath. 1601 HOLLAND Pliny II. 76 This seed is passing good for lohoches or electuaries to be made thereof. 1657
W. COLES Adam in Eden lxxiii. 139 The Juyce of Liquorice dissolved in Rose Water, with some Gum, Tragacanth,
is a fine Lohoch..for hoarsenesse.
1. That which the Arabians call Lohoch, and the Greeks Eclegma, the Latins call Linetus, and in plain English, signifies nothing else but a thing to be licked
2. Their first invention was to prevent and remedy afflictions of the Breast and Lungs, to clense the Lungs of Flegm, and make it fit to be cast out.
3. They are in Body thicker than a Syrup, and not so thick as an Electuary.
4. The manner of taking them is often to take a little with a Liquoris stick and let it go down at leisure.
5. They are easily thus made, make a Decoction of any pectoral Herbs, the Treatise will furnish you with enough, and when you have strained it, with twise
its waight of Honey or Sugar, boyl it to a Lohoch; If you are molested with tough Flegm, Honey is better than Sugar, and if you ad a little Vinegar to it you
will do well, if not, I hold Sugar to be better than Honey.
6. It is kept in Pots and will a yeer and longer.
7. Its use is excellent for roughness of the Windpipe, Inflamations of the Lungs, Ulcers in the Lungs, difficultie of Breath, Asthmaes, Coughs and distillation of
Make an infusion or decoction of the herb(s) in water. Mix it 2 to 1 with sugar. Heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Boil until reduced by 1/2 to 2/3, or to a thick syrup.
Period or near period sources
(I am indebted to Iasmin de Cordoba for some annotations.)
Culpepper, Nicholas. Culpepper's Complete Herbal and English Physician.
(no editor, online and facsimile edition). Publisher: J. Gleave and Son,
Deansgate, Manchester England. 1685/1826. Also available online in
the Peter Cole published original at these locations:
Culpepper's book of medicine was first
published in 1652. Included
with the descriptions of herbs and their uses is a section on the
temperaments of herbs and the directions for making various
substances, but especially ointments.
Gerard, John.Gerard's Herball (Thomas Johnson, Ed.). Publisher: Dover.
ISBN: 048623147X. c.1597/1633.
Gerard's Herball was first published in
1597. I used the 1633
facsimile edition which was corrected and added to by Thomas
Johnson (he added nearly 800 plants and descriptive information
as well as roughly 700 new illustrations). An excellent and complete
edition for any researcher to own, though the cost is prohibitive.
Readers would be well-advised to remember Johnson's additions to the
work and read the text accordingly, looking specifically for Gerard's
Markham, Gervase. The English Housewife. (Michael R. Best, Ed.)
Publisher: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN: 0773505822.
The English Housewife was published in
1615 as book two of the
two-part Country Contentments, with the first book being called
The Husbandmans Recreations. Best's edition was based on the
1633 edition with corrections for the 1615, 1623, 1638, and
1658 editions as appropriate. Markham's work is that of a copyist.
His text is based on Bancke's Herbal, A Treasury of Healthe, A Book
of Soveraigne Approved Medicines and Remedies, and Arcana Fair
faxiana, among others. Excellent edition for the price, with thorough
and scholarly editing. Unfortunately, this is not a facsimile copy and
the text and spelling has been normalized throughout the work.
della Porta, Giambattista. Magiae naturalis [Natural Magick]. 1558/1584.
Available on the World Wide Web from
This work edition is a translation done
by Porta himself and placed
online by Major Scott L. Davis (US Army, Retired). Of specific interest
to the researcher will be Porta's eighth and ninth books of this 20-book
compilation, which are labeled "Of Physical Experiments" and "Of
Beautifying Women." Printed facsimile copies are extremely expensive,
even for a modern edition, ranging in price from $150-300 (US$).