How to Make an Herb Press from Salvaged Materials

If you are interested in making an herb press, chances are you already know the powerful healing qualities of both plants and fungi. In fact, many of our common pharmaceuticals are derived from plants. There are degrees, however, to how much of a given plant’s medicinal properties are available through basic digestion.

The process of tincturing, for example, uses a liquid or menstruum derived from either alcohol or glycerin to extract and concentrate these medicinal properties, which can be readily taken up and put to use by the body. Compare this process to making cold-brew coffee, for example. Cold-brew requires steeping coffee grounds in water overnight. The final product is a highly concentrated batch of caffeine and other compounds in liquid form that can either be diluted or taken straight depending on desired potency.

Tinctures are only one technique for making plant medicine. Herbs can be used both internally and topically to address a spectrum of health complications. In addition to tinctures, I enjoy making salves that soothe cuts, burns, rashes, and abrasions. In a healthcare system that prioritizes expensive quick-fixes like pharmaceuticals and invasive surgeries, discovering the inherent medicine found in common, abundant plants can literally be a life-saver.

The Herb Press

After researching various models of herb presses, I settled on the C-clamp method with modifications. The main reason I chose the C-clamp is because I can use the clamp as an actual clamp in other projects when I am not making tinctures or concentrates. This adds versatility to my tools and avoids the dreaded uni-taser that a conventional herb press implies. I am not running an herb business, so I am not getting a lot of use out of this machine. It suits my needs for the amount of tincture I make.

The ultimate value of going to the “trouble” of making your own herb press (or anything homemade) is to create something personal and functional that takes from the waste-stream, encourages resourcefulness, and reunites the invaluable teamwork of your hands and brain. You are encouraged to develop any modifications to this model with the resources available to you at any given time.

Starting from the top and working clockwise to the center:

  1. Paint-strainer Bag – Originally used to strain paint. It has elastic around the opening to hang on a bucket. It is now used to strain the liquid from the plant material. It keeps the plant material neatly contained and can be rinsed and reused repeatedly unlike cheesecloth.
  2. Metal Pitcher – This contains the strained liquid and feeds into the next vessel. It is fitted with a barbed spigot that connects to the feeder tube and gaskets to create a water-tight seal. The spout feature is helpful for pouring out the remaining liquid that does not pass through the tubing. Note: I try to avoid using plastics, as these caustic liquids encourage leaching. Stainless steel or glass is the way to go whenever possible when dealing with food or drinks.
  3. Steamer Tray – Originally used to steam vegetables, the collapsible flaps were removed (can be used for another art project) leaving only the base with legs to keep it off the bottom of the pitcher.
  4. 8” C-clamp – The mechanism that provides the force to extract the liquid from the plant material.
  5. Tubing – Connects to the barbed spigot that transports the liquid to the receiving vessel.
  6. Metal Bowl – Used to expand the surface area of the C-clamp, distributing the weight of the pressing feature evenly over the plant material.

The Clamp Stand

There are models using the C-clamp as hand-held, but this gives you a little more freedom in handling. The press can be tightened to a degree and left to sit for a minute, extracting the liquid somewhat, and then tightened further to extract the remaining liquid.

For this prototype, I modified small wooden cutting boards to fit around the C-clamp. These are a dime a dozen at the local Goodwill. I purchased small brackets to reinforce the nails and glue that initially fastened the boards together. I painted the wood and brackets for aesthetic purposes with used paint found at my local Habitat for Humanity Restore. This is an opportunity for you to get creative and design a clamp stand out of whatever materials you have nearby.

Assembling and Using the Press

  1. Connect the tube to the spigot and insert the tube into the receiving vessel (a 16 oz bottle in this example)
  2. Insert the steamer tray
  3. Secure the mesh bag to the pitcher
  4. Pour any free liquid (menstruate not in need of pressing) through the strainer and allow it to pass into the receiving vessel
  5. After all of the free liquid is poured, begin transferring the plant material into the mesh bag. Depending on the size of your batch, you may want to do this a little at a time.
  6. Synch the bag with twine and place on top of the steamer tray
  7. Center the metal bowl on top of the bag
  8. Begin tightening the clamp until it meets the metal bowl. Make sure the bowl is still centered.
  9. Tighten incrementally. Depending on the quality of your metal, you may not want to stress it too much. In this prototype, the metal pitcher and bowl came out distorted as a result of the pressure from the clamp.
  10. Continue the above steps until all of the plant material is pressed. Reposition the bag of plant material one or two times to be thorough.

The Finished Product

In this example, I strained a batch of master tonic*. The result is the strained plant material, or marc, and the concentrated liquid. For master tonic, I can use the marc in cooking. When making tinctures, discard the marc into the compost bin. The liquid was conveniently transferred into these bottles and ready to consume and potentially distribute.

*Master tonic is a pickled drink made using: apple cider vinegar, white onion, ginger, garlic, horseradish, and dried cayenne pepper. Steeped for three weeks much like a tincture, master tonic is used as a preventative/reactionary cold and flu remedy, containing anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.

The Tincture Press

With Diagrams to Build One

I currently have two tincture presses. The one featured here is quite large and heavy. I have had it for over 20 years and it still functions well. A few parts needed to be altered and fabricated, mainly the accessories such as the pans, steel plates, and block. The only thing done with the press body was having it painted a few years ago.

I also have a smaller one that I lend to students for them to press their medicines as well as occasionally bringing it on the road.

One of the main problems with tincture presses is their price and availability. They are often very expensive, generally costing over $500 and going up from there. And they are difficult to find online or anywhere else

The Role of the Tincture Press

The tincture press is invaluable for pressing (compressing) the plants used when making liquid herbal medicines such as tinctures and glycerites. When pressing a tincture, you can see the color of the liquid change. This represents the constituents that would otherwise be trapped in the plant and not available in the medicine. This increases both the potency of the final tincture as well as capturing more of the medicine that might be lost otherwise.

I understand that many people do not have the money or space for this apparatus. But for those that do, these can be very helpful for getting the most out of your medicine.

There are alternatives such as the potato ricer and apple press, though I find these do not crush and release the constituents of hard plant parts such as seeds and rhizomes as well. But they are inexpensive and easily available.

If you happen to find yourself building one of these…

I know a few people who are interested in purchasing one. In all the years I have been sharing these diagrams, I know only one person who has built a similar functional model. I think many herbalists would be glad to purchase one from a reliable and not-too-expensive source. Keep in mind that shipping them adds a lot to the cost.

Building a Tincture Press

The tincture press schematics were drawn by Cal Janae, a fellow herbalist (thank you again Cal).

I cannot describe the building process, as that is outside my field of expertise (and by ‘outside my field’ I mean 13 galaxies away). But if you are handy and have welding skills, this may be a project for you. The pans are off-the-shelf restaurant supplies, though one of the pans will need a spout welded in. The hydraulic jack is also just a regular car jack (I’ve had to replace this a few times over the years).

Please note:  Press is now available in black or green.  Please indicate color preference when ordering!

This press comes complete with an all-new solid base and stainless perforated cylinder.  Unbreakable and truly heavy-duty, the press features all stainless-steel herb contact surfaces, silent automatic return, custom inner pan, fingertip adjustment, mirror finish, takes little effort to press (a very smooth action), and has the ability to squeeze out every last drop of liquid.  This is the nicest mid-size tincture press on the market. Handmade in Williams, Oregon, America.

Features of the 1/2 gallon tincture press:

• Heavy steel construction, unbreakable, with a hard finish

• All stainless steel herb contact surfaces, including custom piston and pressing pans.  Piston is precisely turned and mirror-finish as in photo

New bulked-up platen with a bolt-less, form-fitted, stainless-steel juncture to the jack.  Sturdy, steady and perfectly plumb.

New inner perforated cylinder assembly is now stock–basically a precision-fit, perforated stainless steel basket on a custom stainless-steel disc.  This assembly cannot get stuck, reduces pressing cloth wear and is easily disassembled for cleaning–really sweet! *  check below for more specs

Jacks have been retooled with a round stainless toggle for finger-tight lock-down and letdown–no need to use the handle to let down the press.

The Strictly Medicinal Tincture Press, available in 1/2 gallon size only.

Hand-squeezing medicinal herb tinctures and herb infused oils is OK for starters, but most people who have tried this soon find the method somewhat wasteful. The hydraulic tincture press saves time and labor while increasing yields by as much as 40%. Herbs, alcohol and organic olive oil can be quite expensive, and a high quality tincture press pays for itself in short order by maximizing returns of all these precious substances. Furthermore, the higher pressures obtained in the tincture press result in better extraction of medicinal constituents from the herbs, resulting in products of increased strength and efficacy.

herbal extract machine

“In over two decades in the herb industry I have had the opportunity to press out thousands of herbal extracts, using all kinds and sizes of tincture presses. The Strictly Medicinal Tincture Press is manufactured according to my exact specifications, and it is the sweetest, cleanest, most efficient midsize press I have ever operated. The spring-loaded return is a breeze. Nowadays I make extracts for family and friends, and I find that this tincture press perfectly fits my needs—big enough to do gallons of echinacea, but small enough to do a scant quart of valerian.” –Richo

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