Maceration vs. Percolation: An Important Distinction
Maceration tinctures are the main way people make tinctures around the world, because it is relatively simple and you can't really mess it up too much. Percolations are more challenging because it takes some special equipment and more exacting technique, otherwise the tincture could fail and you'd have to start again.
What are Maceration Tinctures?
Maceration simply means you chop up or grind up the herb, put it in a jar and cover with your solvent (usually a combination of alcohol and water, or just straight alcohol). Let it sit for a month, then strain it out. The liquid leftover is the tincture, having extracted the active constituents of the plant.
Within macerations, there's a folk method (just throw the herbs in a jar and cover) and the scientific method, which is what we do with our macerations (add a specific volume of fluid to a specific weight of herb). Most of the tinctures we make are still maceration tinctures and all of our fresh herbs are tinctured using the maceration process.
What Are Percolation Tinctures?
Percolation tinctures are made by grinding a dried herb, moistening it with some of the solvent, then letting it sit for 12-24 hours to moisten and expand. It is then packed into a cone (not too gently, or too hard) and the rest of the solvent (alcohol/water) is poured over the top of the herb. The finished tincture drips slowly out of the bottom of the cone over the course of several hours.
Percolation tinctures are the main way that pharmacies and drug companies made herbal extracts (back before the 1940s when pharmacies and drug companies used herbal medicine). That's because not only is it faster, it's also stronger. In a maceration tincture all the different chemicals in the plant are competing for space in the tincture, and some are more soluble and some less. In a percolation tincture you have fresh solvent coming through the cone and picking up the most soluble constituents and dripping them out, then you have more fresh "blank" solvent coming through and getting the next most soluble ingredient, and so on. Therefore, a percolation extract is a more complete extraction technique.