Everything You Need to Know About Herbal Tinctures
Today we’re talking about herbal tinctures. In this episode of Apothecary Wisdom, I’m answering the questions: What are herbal tinctures? We’ll compare the benefits of alcohol tinctures vs. glycerine tinctures. I’ll share some alternatives to alcohol tinctures and how to remove alcohol from herbal tinctures. How to store tinctures and how to determine the proper dosage of herbal tinctures for adults and children. If you want to know how to make an herbal tincture watch this video.
If this is our first time meeting, my name is Maria Chowdhury, and I’m a midwife-herbalist. As a midwife, I’ve helped hundreds of babies be born safely at home, and as an herbalist, I created an herb company called Birth Song Botanicals. We make lots of tinctures and sell them all over the world. You can check us out at and learn more about us at Birth Song Botanicals. com
What are Herbal Tinctures?
Herbal tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts made by soaking either fresh or dried, bark, berries, leaves, flowers, or roots from one or more plants in a liquid combination of alcohol and water. This liquid solvent is called the menstruum. The alcohol pulls out or extracts the active and therapeutic properties for the plants, the alkaloids, the vitamins, and minerals.
After the extraction process, the concentrated liquid is separated from the herbs and is filtered out. The used plant parts are composted. And the concentrated liquid that remains is now called a tincture.
In tincture making, there are actually several types of solvents that can extract the medicine from the plants. Each solvent has its advantages and disadvantages in medicine making. For example, you can extract herbs using other solvents such as water, glycerine, vinegar, oil, and honey.
Technically speaking, a tincture is liquid herbal extracts made with alcohol, while the term “tincture” is sometimes applied to other liquid herbal extracts made without alcohol. The alcohol used in tinctures is the same ethanol produced by fermentation that you find in beer and wine. Alcohol acts as an excellent solvent for many phytochemicals, especially those with limited solubility in water. It is also an excellent preservative so that tinctures can keep several years. Like other extracts, tinctures bypass the need to digest whole herbs in the gut and are easily absorbed, giving them an advantage over taking pills or capsules.
Glycerine is a clear, colorless, and odorless liquid with an incredibly sweet taste having the consistency of thick syrup. Glycerine is also an excellent solvent for extracting constituents from plants without the use of alcohol. However, it is not as powerful an extractor as alcohol is. Glycerine is best used for flowers, leaves, and aromatic herbs, whereas alcohol is better at extracting properties from the tough parts of the plants like roots, barks, and dried berries.
Glycerine extracts are known as “glycerites” and are an excellent choice for administering herbal support to people who are sensitive to alcohol. Glycerine has anti-fermentative properties that are efficient for preservation. A glycerite has a shelf life of 14-24 months, versus an alcohol extract with a shelf life of 5+ years.
Vinegar works a little differently than alcohol or water as an extraction solvent. The differences are mainly important to very technical herbalists who like to compare the different extracting liquids. However, if you plan to avoid the use of alcohol altogether and want to use vinegar as your sole menstruum, the differences between the two should be taken into consideration.
Vinegar is more like food or a nourishing tonic. Vinegar is essentially acetic acid+water, and it has unique extraction properties that are different from alcohol and glycerine. Vinegar is terrific at extracting the vitamins and minerals of the plants. However, it is not as effective at extracting the other parts of a plant’s chemical make-up. The shelf life of a vinegar extract is much shorter as well. It is around six months. Vinegar is the way to go, if you are looking to make a nourishing or digestive tonic, or want a good alternative to alcohol because it isn’t available or isn’t desired.
Alcohol Tincture vs. Glycerine Tincture
Each of the herbal preparations has its upsides and downsides. Alcohol has a clear advantage over glycerine in several areas. Alcohol is more accessible to access than glycerine. I can dive an buy a gallon of PGA right now, and it is more affordable. I have to order glycerine online, and it’s expensive. Alcohol is a more robust extractor and is better at getting the medicinal properties out of tough woody parts of the plant. An alcohol tincture potency is more potent and more concentrated than a glycerite, meaning you can use less of a tincture to get the same results. Alcohol has better preserving properties. The shelf life of an alcohol tincture vs. a glycerine tincture is nearly five times longer. Alcohol tinctures absorb into your system quicker, yielding faster, and more reliable results.
At the same time, glycerine tinctures taste better than alcohol tinctures, making them easier to take and to give to children. Glycerin excels at extracting flavors of aromatic parts of the herb making pleasant tasting tinctures in general. Many people choose not to consume alcohol for religious reasons making glycerine the best option for them. Glycerine is better for the people who avoid alcohol because of alcoholism and other substance addictions. Selling glycerine tinctures is easier online because alcohol tinctures are flammable and need hazmat storage, which costs more to ship and store.
Is The Alcohol Content in Tinctures Safe?
People have asked me, can you get drunk with a tincture?
While it’s true, one of the advantages of alcohol tinctures is that the body can absorb alcohol quickly, and it does not need to enter your gut to be absorbed as pills and capsules do. Alcohol-based tinctures are incredibly fast-acting because alcohol can enter our bloodstream very quickly; that’s what makes alcohol tinctures such effective herbal medicine. However, you are taking such a small amount of alcohol in a tincture that you will not get drunk! The amount of alcohol in an herbal tincture is compared to the amount of alcohol found in vanilla extract. Even a ripe banana has more alcohol in it than an herbal tincture does.
Because I serve the community as a midwife, women ask me why is there alcohol in our herbal tinctures? Or they ask, is an alcohol tincture safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding? The short answer is yes; alcohol tinctures are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding moms.
Check out our herbal tinctures for pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, menstruation and immune support.
Because tinctures use ethyl alcohol, which is high-proof alcohol that is commercially available and very safe for consumption, given that the amount of tincture taken is minimal (usually between 20-40 drops), the amount of alcohol consumed is negligible. The more significant concern for pregnant and breastfeeding moms, from my perspective, is not the alcohol content. Instead, it is the herbs that they are taking. The better question is, is this herb safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding?
How Do You Remove Alcohol From an Herbal Tincture?
If you find yourself in a situation where you have an herbal tincture with alcohol, you want the medicinal properties of the herbs but wish to remove the alcohol. Don’t worry; removing the alcohol from a tincture is easy. All you have to do is get a cup of boiling water or tea and drop the appropriate dosage on the surface of the hot water. Leave it uncovered so the heat can evaporate the alcohol from the water. If you cover the tea, the alcohol will not evaporate out. Wait for at least 5 minutes for the alcohol to dissipate.
How long do Herbal Tinctures Last?
A few more questions I get asked about herbal tincture are:
- How long do herbal tinctures keep?
- Do herbal tinctures go bad?
- Do herbal tinctures have a shelf life?
- Do herbal tinctures need to be refrigerated?
The short answer is herbal tinctures have a shelf-life of several years as long as they are made and stored correctly. They don’t need to be refrigerated. Yes, herbal tinctures can go bad, and they need an expiration date.
The industry standard is to put an expiration date on any herbal supplement that is consumed. The industry standard for an alcohol tincture is five years. However, tinctures are prized for their long shelf life. I’ve read other herbalists talking about how herbal tinctures made with alcohol, that have been appropriately stored, were laboratory tested after ten years and still good.
Alcohol Tincture vs. a Glycerite- Who Has the Longest Shelf Life?
When you compare alcohol tinctures to glycerine tinctures, you see that alcohol is a much stronger solvent and can maintain a much longer shelf life than a glycerine extract. Glycerine is sweeter and is more likely to promote mold and bacteria growth and turn rancid more quickly.
Glycerites should be consumed within three years of being produced for the best results. Whereas alcohol tinctures can easily last five years or longer when stored properly.
How Do You Properly Store Herbal Tinctures?
Regardless of what your tincture is made out of, simply store your herbal tincture in a dark bottle. Seal the lid tightly and place it in a dry, temperature-controlled environment like your pantry—Tinctures lose efficacy when exposed to light, heat, moisture, and dramatic temperature fluctuations.
Please do not store your tinctures in the window seal or keep them in your car during the hot summer or freezing winter.
Time Affects Herbal Tinctures Potency
Time affects all herbal preparations in terms of potency and effectiveness. The more time that passes, the less potent the preparation becomes. As soon as a plant is harvested, its medicinal properties begin to fade. Solvents can help extract and preserve a plant’s properties for a time, but effectiveness naturally wanes.
It is completely normal for herbal tinctures that have been stored for a long time to have herbal particles floating in the liquid. It is also common to see a ring of resin around the dropper. Shoot that happens even before it passes its expiration date. What happens is the tincture was filtered out just before it was bottled. However, potent plant extracts will have resins in them; that is why they work so well. Over time, the resins collect on the dropper. If you see this on your dropper, don’t be concerned. Simply wipe the dropper off and shake your tincture well before taking it.
How it was made
A solvent such as alcohol is an excellent preservative. A properly made alcohol tincture will not mold or grow bacteria like a glycerine tincture might or other herbal preparations such as syrups, vinegars, infusions, decoctions, and teas. A tincture will separate like I just explained. However, generally speaking, the worst that will happen to your out of date alcohol tincture is that it will not be as potent as it was when it was first made.
How it is Being Utilized
How you utilize the tincture may also affect how well the tincture keeps. For example, dropping drops of tincture directly into your mouth is less sanitary than adding drops of a tincture into a small amount of water.
Trust Your Senses To Tell When An Herbal Tincture Has Gone Bad
In all my post and videos, I try to tell you the whole story while being conservative and erring on the side of safety. The same is true with my recommendations for the shelf-life of tinctures, however, like I mentioned before, there is lots of leeway when it comes to the shelf-life of herbal tinctures depending on how it was made, stored and used.
Let your five senses help guide you and tell you if your tincture has gone bad or not. Think back to how your tincture looked, smelled, tasted, or felt when you first made or bought it. Compare that to how it looks, smells, tastes, or feels now. Does it smell like the herb or just alcohol? Are there lots of floating particulates in the liquid? Has the color changed dramatically? Does it look moldy? Remember, trust your gut and don’t confuse the herbal resins for mold.
Tinctures and glycerites are more potent and more concentrated than teas, infusions, and decoctions. That means the dosage can be much smaller. There is not a one size fits all answer when it comes to herbal dosage. This is the art of herbalism. For example, when considering the proper dosage of mild tonic herbs like hawthorn, nettle, and dandelion, you can take several droppers full mixed in a glass of water 2-3 times a day. However, when working with stronger herbs like echinacea or goldenseal, 10 to 20 drops three times a day is plenty. Cayenne is so strong that one drop might be enough.
As a mom, midwife, herbalist, I work with generally gentle, safe, nourishing, and tonic herbs most of the time. I am rarely working with the stronger, more toxic medicinal herbs that require caution. All of our Birth Song Botanicals herbal tinctures are made with safe, gentle, and effective herbs for women and children.
Having said that, there is a general rule of thumb for tincture dosing that I follow in my practice. I tend to start small and build from there. I start with the lowest dose possible that gives the desired results. There is no need to take too much herb and waste it if I can take less and still feel the benefits.
Remember, the dose can be herb specific; however, for an adult who weighs 150 pounds, they get the full recommended dosage, which is 35-40 drops (1 ml ) 2-5 times a day depending on the circumstance. Generally speaking, I’m not taking the herb more than five times a day unless I’m actively treating acute illness such as a cold or flu, or I need to produce more breastmilk quickly.
If you weigh less than 150 lbs, and you feel like your body is sensitive to taking medicine. Then reduce the dose to 1/2 a dropper, approximately 20 drops 2-5 times a day.
If you weigh more than 150 lbs and feel your body is not very sensitive to taking medicine, you can double the dose. Instead of taking1 dropper, take two full droppers 2-5 times a day.
I’m not much more than 150 lbs, but I take two droppers of most of my tinctures. Because I’m that hardcore :)
Herbal Tincture Dosages for Children
How do you know you are giving your child the correct dose of an herbal tincture? When I am determining the dosages of herbs, I take into consideration the child I am working with, the illness, the stage of the illness, the severity of the illness, and what herbs I am working with. I start with a small amount and watch how they respond before I give them any more.
I rely on my intuition to guide me. Let me clarify: I do not merely “guess;” I work within a framework of experience, evidence, and knowledge, but sometimes the book recommends a small amount of a tincture when it feels appropriate and safe to give more in the given situation. Now that I have been working with herbs for more than 20 years, I allow myself to follow my intuition more. Most definitely, in the beginning, I did not. I only followed the book to the letter. But the more books you read, the more you realize there are many styles of herbalism and not merely one way. I encourage you to get at least 3-4 good herbal books—one solid reference book, one for children, and the other to match your personality. You will find similarities and differences in how they approach herbalism and how they dose. With experience, you will find your comfort zone and eventually develop your own intuition.
Children prefer glycerites, and as a general rule of thumb, you give your child that is six months or older one drop of herbal tincture to every 5 pounds of body weight, as needed. Do not exceed more than five doses in 24 hours. For example, if your child weighs 18-20 pounds, you can start with four drops.
Learn How to Determine The Tinctures Strength for Children’s Dosages
When you care for children, it’s essential to understand the strength of the tincture and the proper dosage.
1 bottle = 30 dropper full 373 Mg/ml of our Children’s Immune Boost Tincture
1 dropper full = 35-40 drops*
1 drop of tincture contains 9.4 mg
Using the example above. That child will receive 38 mg per dose.
*It is important to know that this measurement ranges (35-40 drops) because it is not guaranteed that each drop will be the same amount. This means that one drop can be slightly smaller or larger each time.
I’ve written an Herbs for Kids Ebook for you! It covers tinctures and so many more herbal remedies to keep your children as healthy as possible during the cold and flu. We also have a full line of herbal tinctures for children that you can order for your home apothecary.
How to Small Patch Test Herbal Tinctures for Children with Allergies
If allergies are a concern and you would like to test an herb on your child before you give it to them internally, you can rub a few drops of the tincture onto your child’s inner arm for about a minute. If within 24 hours you see any redness, puffy eyes, rashes, or tightness in the throat, do not give that herb internally.
If you don’t notice any reaction, you can give your child 1/2 the recommended dose internally and wait to see if you notice any reaction to the herb. If you still do not notice any reaction, then you may proceed with your herbal protocol.
Thank you so much for reading today! We have lots more videos and posts about herbs, for you to check out.
Until next time my friends, drink deep and always walk in beauty!
*This post is for educational purposes only. It does not replace medical care. If you or a loved one has been bitten by an unknown insect or a known poisonous spider seek medical attention.*
Like our Birth Song Botanicals Facebook Page
Follow Birth Song Botanicals Co. on Instagram
Read our Birth Song Botanicals Blog
Watch Birth Song Botanicals on Youtube
Listen to Birth Song Botanicals on SoundCloud
Be inspired by Birth Song Botanicals on Pinterest