BY: Salome Hartter, Master Herbalist
Have you ever found yourself wondering:
“Why do herbal preparations on the market come in so many different forms? I understand teas. And powdered-herb capsules are pretty much self-explanatory. But what are tinctures, and what are their benefits?”
What is a tincture and how does it work?
Tinctures are made by soaking plant material for a period of time in a liquid that will draw the soluble active ingredients from the plant into the liquid.
The most common liquid used in tinctures is alcohol. Generally speaking, alcohol extracts the highest concentration of the active properties out of plants because of its chemical nature. Other solvents, such as vegetable glycerin and apple cider vinegar, are also used to make tinctures although their extraction range is not as broad. They do best with tender plant material like leaves, flowers, and aromatic herbs.
Now here’s another dimension. While alcohol is generally the strongest extractor, plant constituents (i.e., vitamins, alkaloids, phenolic acids, etc.) vary in their degree of water-solubility. Thus, varying mediums will extract somewhat varying concentrations of the varying compounds. Wow!
But all in all, either alcohol or glycerin will do their part to extract the most significant properties from the plants you are tincturing.
Do you want to learn how to make your own herbal tinctures customized with the medium you desire? Here at Walnut Creek Botanicals, we offer tincture kits complete with all the needed herbs, clear instructions, straining cloth, labels and a bottle. So Easy! Most of the herbal tincture kits give directions complete with options for vodka, glycerin or a combination of the two (known as glycohol, logically) to use as the medium in your tincture kits.
Maybe you’re puzzled as to which medium is right for you.
Alcohol makes a more vigorous extract.
Glycerin makes a more palatable extract.
Glycohol meets in the middle, offering you the extraction potential of alcohol and the palatability of glycerin. Largely speaking, the glycohol base works best for most people.
While we would suggest the glycerin extracts for infants or those with alcohol sensitivities, the amount of alcohol actually ingested in a single dose of tincture is pretty small. As a general rule, an entire 2-oz bottle of tincture made with vodka as a base has a slightly lower alcohol content than an 8-oz glass of wine. Of course, that is an excessively large dose and would never be consumed at once! One dropperful of 40% alcohol tincture is equivalent to about ½ teaspoon of wine (or 1/96th of an 8 oz. glass). Glycohol based tinctures would contain even less alcohol than that.
If you want to extend the tincture’s shelf life, it is helpful to use some alcohol if possible because it will hinder the growth of microorganisms that may be introduced to your tincture.
You may also be asking yourself, what is a tincture good for?
Herbal tincture benefits
First of all, tinctures are more readily absorbed into the body than capsules. Let’s look at some quick figures. A capsule takes 20-30 minutes to digest, plus the time it takes to reach a point where it is absorbable by the bloodstream.
The most obvious benefit is that being a liquid, tinctures take much less time to digest and can more quickly permeate through the system. The herbal tincture’s benefits are maximized if they are taken sublingually, which means the drops are placed under the tongue and held there for about 60 seconds. In essence, this bypasses the digestive tract as the mucous membranes in the mouth absorb the liquid, giving the bloodstream pretty direct access to your extract in a matter of seconds. Neat!
What’s more, remember that our bodies absorb only about 15-20% of the nutrients in a pill and 85-90% of the nutrients in liquids, so the bioavailability of a tincture is naturally greater than a capsule.
Three cheers for tinctures!
Another point of study is that tincturing concentrates the nutrients. I could throw a couple leaves into a cup of hot water to make a tea, or I could throw a handful of leaves into a cup of my solvent of choice to make a tincture.
Statistically, 2 dropperfuls of tincture equals an 8 oz. brew of tea. Sometimes it’s just easier to take 2 dropperfuls of tincture than brewing and drinking a cup of tea!
Keep in mind that alcohol tinctures pretty much last forever. Glycerites will last several years. And the dried herbs or capsules sitting in my cupboard start losing their quality after a year or so.
Herbal tinctures vs. capsules and teas, which should I take?
If you would rather not experience the bitter taste of a tincture, then you might prefer consuming capsules or teas.
Another consideration when choosing between tinctures vs. capsules is, if you want a very regulated dose, or if you are not concerned with the rate of absorption, take a capsule. Capsules are more concentrated than teas.
I think there is something to be said too for the joy you can find in sipping a hot or iced tea. Teas will hydrate and nourish at the same time. As they are a liquid, their absorption rate is also considerably greater than a capsule. Lastly, hot teas are some of the best diaphoretics and they are an easy way to help you relax.
If you are looking for herbal teas, you can check out our collection at walnutcreekbotanicals.com!