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Potion, elixir, tincture, philter, what?

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#1 Snowwy



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Posted 14 January 2018 - 10:03 AM

I recently started researching herbs and how to use them and I saw a few places where they said they were used in potions and elixirs. Then I kept reading and others say they are primarily for incense or tinctures. Then someone referred to mixing one into a "philter" (not sure if that's a device or a mixture). And I'm just confused as to what any of these terms are referring to and I am not finding anything in the books I've gotten on herbs. There is no section of the books with any of those things listed in the chapter titles or summaries in the index at least, I haven't read through them yet tho. If anyone has any info that would help or even like a recipe book that might point me in the right direction that would be awesome.
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#2 Mountain Witch

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Posted 14 January 2018 - 01:30 PM

It depends on the author. Usually a potion or philtre is an infusion or decoction of an herb/s (think "tea"). An elixir can be the same, or it can be a sweetened version, either by simply adding a sweetener, or something brewed sweet like a syrup or oxymel.

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#3 Holdasown


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Posted 23 January 2018 - 04:24 PM

For me I interpret:

Potion- liquid mixture for ingestion (could be any kind like tea, tincture, elixir, etc. 

Elixir - potion used for medical purposes, specifically magic based. 

Tincture - placing an herb in a carrier for the purpose of extracting the essence for ingestion or use in lotions, etc. This would be like dandelion in apple cider vinegar for kidney stones.

Philter I had never seen before seems to be the same as Potion.

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#4 BlackbirdSong



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Posted 07 February 2018 - 01:56 PM

Please do excuse the length of this, it’s my cobbled together notes, but I thought it might be of some use to you, Snowwy.


Tincture – An alcohol based solution in herbal medicine (from my notes) it is often 1:2 for fresh herbs and 1:5 for dry herbs. This can change dependent on the herb type, so it’s worth checking a reliable source. I think the percentage of alcohol needs to be about 50% as water can disrupt the process. A tincture is a strongly infused alcohol and you usually take only a few drops of it, whereas you can also infuse alcohol or make alcohol from a plant’s fruit or flowers – and you can drink lots of that!


[Fluid] Extract – Similar to a tincture but using another type of solvent such as glycerin, vinegar, water etc. The ratios can differ depending on the solvent type and often Extracts and Tinctures will be used as interchangeable terms depending on the author and text, so it’s always worth reading that particular material carefully to see whether they are referring to alcohol, vinegar, glycerin or any other solvent.


Elixir – In books on Witchcraft, I’ve found the use of this often varies, but in Herbal Medicine, I’ve found an Elixir is usually a solution using the herb alongside alcohol and honey.


Philtre – Usually a drink, and is often used in a context where one is wishing to evoke a certain emotion in someone, for example, the famous “love-philtre”. I’ve seen variants of these, but most are described as a tea or sometimes a decoction.


Tea – Herbs steeped in already boiled water, often in a teapot. The water is poured on and left to sit for 3-15 minutes (some longer and some shorter periods) usually hot unless otherwise stated. Again, the plant involved has an impact and Green Tea, for example, can be an exception and really 1-2 minutes can suffice otherwise it can be terribly bitter. Tea is usually drunk and often people suggest 1-2 teaspoons of your herb of choice.


Infusion – These may be cold or hot, and could really be considered just another phrase for tea. Infusions are usually drunk, though some authors and practitioners have suggested other uses such as face-washes or to add to an ointment (see below).


Decoction - Water is first heated in a saucepan on the stove and most herbs are added at boiling point. The heat is turned down a little and it is usually left to cook for around 20 minutes, creating a stronger concoction than an infusion or tea. The plant material is usually strained at the end of the process. A decoction is also usually drunk.


Syrup – This begins as a tea made on the hob (stove top), so boiled in a saucepan. However, you then boil it down to a much more concentrated form (decoction) and add a type of sugar, such as honey or cane sugar (or sometimes glycerin). Often it is then strained, depending on the spice or herb used (and the person making it!). The sugar helps preserve it, and as it is usually taken in smaller quantities, the concentration can be important. This can be useful for healing formulas, tonics or concoctions that you wish to take daily or every so often to give or enhance a quality or power – for example, luck.


Ointment – This tends to be a plant preparation that is simmered in oil or fat that can solidify, such as coconut oil; the herbs are then removed from the mixture and it’s left to cool. Often herbs are first prepared in an infusion and blended into the oil. As it is low in water content, it provides a barrier for the skin, helping to prevent the skin losing moisture and allowing the active components to be absorbed. They can be oiler and softer than salves (though people disagree on this).

Salve – Salves tend to contain beeswax alongside an oil or fat, but are very similar to an Ointment. A salve is often prepared by boiling herbs in water, then adding oil and simmering until the water evaporates off to leave the oil. When left with the herbal oil, those making it may add something like beeswax to give the consistency. Though there is variation on belief about technique and consistency, salves can often be thicker and waxier or even creamier than ointments. They don’t tend to sink into the skin as much as a cream (like ointments) and get absorbed into the bloodstream and so can be useful for treating outer skin problems or protecting skin, however this again depends on the oil or fat used. Some define a salve as any balm or ointment that is soothing, the same can be said for ‘Balm’.

Balm – Balms also tend to contain beeswax alongside an oil or fat. It is often seen as being the same as a salve, though some argue there is difference in texture, consistency or a slight variation in ingredients. They are often described as herbal infused oils mixed with wax. It can also be applied to describe aromatic resins, again usually rubbed on skin.


Lotions and Creams – Oil, water and beeswax (or another emulsifying agent) are blended together with the herbs to make the cream or lotion. A lotion has a higher content of water (around 75%) (40-50%) compared to a cream which has less, and therefore has a thicker consistency. [Body Butters are slightly different again, but usually contain oil and often a natural butter, such as mango butter.]

[Herbal] Compress – Compresses are usually stated to be one of three types. Hot, Cold and Heating (which the body gradually warms itself). There are both wet compresses and dry, and the purpose for the compress will usually dictate the type. If someone has an inflamed area of skin, you may use a cold compress, if they have muscular pain, it may be a hot compress. The definition of Compresses can be hard to explain as they do vary a lot. Most compresses are made of material dipped in an infusion, [diluted] tincture or decoction, though some contain herbal sachets or herbs themselves. Some may call for a leaf to apply it rather than material, I’ve heard of cabbage and plantain leaves being used in this way in particular. Some people may tie layers of cloth over the compress, making it a ‘heating’ compress that the person’s body should heat naturally and gradually, others may apply it with clay, or some tie the compress itself without a covering. A dry and hot compress might be a mixture of rice and herbs wrapped in material and heated (like a homemade heat pad that you warm in the microwave), this sort may be held upon the area rather than being tied on or covered in clay. You might think of rubbing a dock leaf on a nettle sting – and this would be the raw idea behind a compress and a poultice, really – applying herbs to skin to relieve discomfort in this case.


Poultice – Similar to a compress, but usually using a mixture of herbs or plants that are fresh (or dried and remoistened) and usually mashed into a paste which is applied to a cloth or leaf. Some people refer to them ‘plasters’ as plasters when other ingredients such as cornflour are added to the paste. Usually these would be applied to a wound or injury to draw out infection or swelling and encourage healing, held in place by wet material or a wet compress on top. Porridge and Bread Poultices are probably the most well-known.


Potion – Can include any of the liquid variants of these, most of the time they are referred to as being drunk, but I’ve heard of some being used for cleansing as being spat over the unwell person, or given back to the Earth.


I haven’t mentioned soaps, soaks or baths here, but they are used a lot in Herbal Medicine as well. (For example, the mustard foot bath when you have a cold.) I have noticed a lot of books talk about adding herbs to the bath and so thought it was worth a mention here! Some books omit to mention that you can put the herbs into a sachet rather than in the water, though I quite like discovering bits of rosemary in my hair over the next day or so. If you do use a sachet, it may need to soak in the water longer than if you use herbs freely. Some people add them to Bath Salts as well, and Epsom Salts can be great to use for healing purposes to get body salts up. I’ve done this mainly for cleansings as I find the combination of the salt and certain herbs can work well. I also use herbal baths to prepare for spirit work and some spell work. I know of many people who dislike using your typical body wash prior to spirit, spell and trance work, and so Herbal Soaps can be really useful here – especially as I’ve found spirits to often dislike sweaty human odour and so washing just with plain water isn’t always enough if you’ve just had a long and hot day at work. That will be different for everyone though, of course, and they may not have found that at all.


The herb or spice used can have such a big impact on the success of each type of preparation, and so I find it is always wise to check which types work best for the specific plant you’re working with. For example, Comfrey could work very well in a cold infusion for a compress, whereas you may want a Skullcap and Passionflower tea to send you to bed.

I hope this has been helpful and I’m so sorry it’s so long! If you’d like me to provide references I’m happy to, it may not be exact as my notes are from across the years and I’ve not always been as good at recording references as I should, but I can look through my books, sites I know to be reliable and reading material I’ve got if that would be helpful. (I haven’t included food related ones as they tend to be more obvious, though I can always add them. eg. Basil Butter or Rose Oil)


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#5 Ravenshaw


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Posted 09 February 2018 - 05:18 PM

BlacksbirdSong - good summary!


#6 Pazuzu


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Posted 10 February 2018 - 10:39 PM

Daaaaaaaamn... that pretty much summed it up for me Blackbirdsong
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#7 BlackbirdSong



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Posted 11 February 2018 - 12:11 PM

Thank you, Pazuzu and Ravenshaw!

I was thinking this morning about how with an Elixir, perhaps nectar could be seen as the most natural form of one? Also, thought to say though Tea/Infusion times vary, often above 10 (often up to 30) minutes would be a normal time to leave to brew to obtain the medicinal/healing benefits, and if using for a bath, maybe even left overnight. I thought that wasn't very clear in the above so had better correct myself!

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#8 witchinplainsight


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Posted 13 February 2018 - 10:12 AM

That's a brilliant post Blackbird, thanks very much!

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