What are Herbal Tinctures?

What are Herbal Tinctures?

At the Zen Maitri apothecary we create a range of natural products, from herbal teas to massage oils to supplements. But in this post we’ll be exploring a lesser-known aspect of natural health: herbal tinctures. If you’ve ever wondered... 
  • What is a herbal tincture?
  • What can tinctures be used for?
  • Are tinctures safe to take?
  • How do you make a herbal tincture?

…then you’re in the right place. Buckle up for our herbal tincture guide. 

What herbal tinctures do we recommend?

Let's start with the herbal tinctures that we've developed and reccomend. Our team has formulated a range of herbal tinctures that target different aspects of your wellbeing. 

The Zen Maitri Tincture Collection includes the following liquid herb blends... 

A few drops a day can make a big difference to your health and vitality. Now, let's get into the basics...

What is a herbal tincture?

Tinctures are concentrated liquid herbal extracts made from plants and used as herbal medicine. They are taken orally to relieve a wide range of health issues, or as a proactive way to support specific elements of your wellbeing. 

In chemistry terms, tinctures are solutions that use alcohol and water as a solvent. The alcohol extracts active nutrients from plants to form a concentrated liquid.

This combination allows for a greater part of the whole plant to be extracted and also preserves the medicine for much longer use. 

Alcohol is broadly thought to be the best solvent for making tinctures and extracting a wide range of plant properties. The method allows easy absorption of healing plant compounds into the bloodstream. However, liquids other than alcohol can be used as the solvent, including glycerin, vinegar and honey. The resulting liquids are not usually called tinctures but glycerites, vinegar and oxymels - which is a honey vinegar mix. 

The name tincture is derived from the Latin tinctus, meaning moistened or dipped, which later in Middle English became ‘tincture’. By the 17th century, tincture became a term used to describe the colour of medicine or a herbal solution. This is because tinctures take the colour of the plants they are extracted from. For example, tinctures made from hibiscus flowers are a deep purple. Those made from chamomile flowers are dark yellow. 

Recently we’ve found that tinctures tailored to stress and immunity have been growing in popularity. 

Our  Breathe Tincture  contains plant extracts that support the respiratory system and ease congestion.

Our Breathe Tincture contains plant extracts that support the respiratory system and ease congestion. 

So what’s inside a tincture?

Tinctures contain specific ratios of water, alcohol and dissolved plant material. The ratios are different according to the plant used and what we want to extract. The alcohol acts in two ways, as a preservative and also as a solvent that extracts compounds from the plant called ‘constituents’. The alcohol used is of edible food grade. Its technical name is ethanol or ethyl alcohol - the same alcohol you’d find in beer, wine, vodka, brandy, whisky and all the spirits in your drinks cabinet.

The water in the tincture also extracts plant compounds but is mainly used to balance the amount of alcohol included. Some parts of a plant need a great deal of alcohol (70-90%) to extract their compounds, such as resins like propolis and myrrh, and some need much less, like the polysaccharides in marshmallow root. 

We don't know exactly when alcohol was first used to make and preserve herbal medicines, but it is safe to say it was a very long time ago. Most authorities believe distillation of alcohol was first developed by the Arab chemist Al-Kindi in 9th Century Iraq, although evidence exists for the use of distillation as long ago as ancient Egypt. The first recorded description of the process was written by Albertus Magnus, a German theologian and early scientist in the 13th century. 

The first use of alcohol for extracting and preserving medicines is believed to have been by Persian and Arabian physicians and alchemists and we probably owe the wide use of tinctures to the apothecaries of the late medieval period. There are more recent recipe books where tinctures are made by boiling handfuls of herbs in barrels of wine and instructions to drink freely. The most usual method used today is macerating (chopping or mashing and then soaking) the herb in a water and alcohol mix for two weeks or longer. 

The mixture is shaken daily and then the liquid is strained off and bottled; the herb material is discarded. Finished tinctures are kept on the shelf in the herbalist’s dispensary in brown coloured bottles, usually of 500ml or more in volume. The brown colour of the bottle is to protect the liquid from light damage. The liquid is usually mixed together for a prescription with between five to seven different herbs and dispensed as needed in smaller bottles for the patients’ use. If a single, unmixed, herbal tincture is given, this is called a ‘simple’. 

Are tinctures herbal medicine?

Tinctures are made into herbal medicines by mixing a specific amount - usually 5ml or more - with water. This is taken several times a day or as directed. Because tinctures contain concentrated plant extracts, they are used as convenient vehicles for getting the right nutrients to where they are needed in the body. 

Tinctures are prescribed for a wide range of issues, including indigestion, stress, PMS, pain and insomnia. Benefits can be seen the same day but stronger effects usually start within one to two weeks. Tinctures can also be used directly on the skin and mixed into creams for a range of issues such as pain, bruises, spider veins, varicose veins and other skin conditions such as eczema, and fungal or bacterial infections. Tinctures can also be diluted and used as a mouthwash for fresher breath, and to soothe infections of the mouth. 

The process of making herbal tinctures

Tinctures can be made at home in the kitchen with vodka and herbs (dried or fresh plant material) this is usually called the folk method, where herbs are placed in a Kilner jar and covered with vodka and left to macerate (soak) for 2-4 weeks before straining to use.

Stronger tinctures are also made by herbalists in their dispensaries and their herbal supply manufacturers to more exacting standards where the weight of the plant material and volume of alcohol and water are measured precisely to ensure standardisation. Herbalists and herbal suppliers have equipment suited to making larger volumes of tinctures including a herb press to squeeze the liquid from the herbs. 

The most effective presses are hydraulically assisted electric versions to press as much liquid from the herbs as possible. 

Tinctures used to be made to the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia standard of 1:5 (containing 1gram of herb per 5ml of tincture) but most herbalists now use 1:3 and 1:2 tinctures as modern life demands more potent versions. This change has happened over the last 20 years or so. Some herbalists even use 1:1 tinctures (1ml of tincture equal to 1 gram of herb) when needed and appropriate. 

Tinctures are an easy way to create and keep herbal medicines which have a long shelf life. They are simple to take and quickly dispensed by the herbalist.

Tinctures can be slightly more expensive than teas per dose due to the alcohol and extra steps to produce them, but people enjoy their convenience and the speedy impact they can have on health and wellbeing. 

Tinctures are made by soaking plants in alcohol to extract beneficial nutrients.

Tinctures are made by soaking plants in alcohol to extract beneficial nutrients.

Are herbal tinctures safe?

Herbal tinctures can provide fast-acting relief and support to your body’s systems. They are made with natural ingredients and we usually recommend diluting a few drops with water. This is because they aren’t designed with flavour in mind! Only a very small amount of alcohol is consumed when taking a herbal tincture. It is a safe and effective way of delivering the benefits of herbs. 

Because they don't tend to taste great, it's fine to mix them with juice or some water mixed with honey. 

Explore our Tincture Range

We've got liquid herbs for a range of health concerns. You can explore our full tincture range here

Herbal Tincture FAQs

What are the Benefits of Using Herbal Tinctures?

Herbal tinctures work efficiently, targeting different aspects of your wellbeing from boosting your immune system to stress relief. The concentrated liquid form allows for quick absorption, making them potent options for health support.

How Do Herbal Tinctures Differ from Essential Oils?

While both tinctures and essential oils come from plants, the key difference lies in application. The main difference is that tinctures can (and are developed to) be ingested and are often used medicinally, offering a broader scope of use compared to essential oils, which are generally used topically or aromatically.

How to Safely Use Herbal Tinctures for Health?

We've developed a range of tinctures to support specific health needs. Moderation is key. Stick to the dosage recommended by your herbalist, typically starting with a few drops diluted in water or juice. Excessive use can potentially lead to adverse effects.

Are Herbal Tinctures Effective for Stress Relief?

Yes, herbal tinctures like our Balance Tincture are specifically formulated to regulate your body's response to stress. They work subtly but effectively, much like a calming background tune that helps you focus.

What Are the Common Ingredients in Herbal Tinctures?

Typically, you'll find a mix of water, alcohol, and plant material in a tincture. The alcohol serves as a solvent and preservative, while the water balances the alcohol content and aids in extraction. The plant material, of course, is the source of the beneficial compounds.

What is the Historical Origin of Herbal Tinctures?

Herbal tinctures have a storied past, stretching from ancient Egypt through the Middle Ages, and into today's holistic health scene. The method for creating tinctures has evolved, but the core concept remains: extracting plant goodness for health benefits.

How Do Herbal Tinctures Interact with the Immune System?

Tinctures like our Defend and Recovery blends are designed to proactively fortify your immune system and help you recover following illness. They're like your body's security team, working behind the scenes to help you fend off illness and get better when you need to. 

What Kinds of Solvents Can Be Used in Herbal Tinctures?

While alcohol is the most commonly used solvent, alternatives like glycerin, vinegar, and honey are also viable. Each type of solvent contributes its unique qualities to the final tincture, much like how different bases make for unique cocktails.

What's the Science Behind Herbal Tinctures?

In layman's terms, tinctures are like liquid gold mines of plant nutrients. The alcohol or other solvents help to extract these nutrients, making them readily available for your body to use.

What's the Role of Alcohol in Herbal Tinctures?

Alcohol is the star player in the tincture-making process. Not only does it act as a preservative, but it also helps in extracting a wide range of plant properties. Think of it as the facilitator in a group discussion—helping everyone else shine while maintaining order and longevity!

How Long Does It Take to Experience Benefits from Herbal Tinctures?

Depending on the issue you're addressing—be it sleep problems or stress—you can expect benefits to manifest anywhere from the same day to within a couple of weeks. It's like planting a garden; some seeds sprout quickly, others take their time.

Can Herbal Tinctures Be Used Topically?

Absolutely! Tinctures are versatile and can be mixed into creams or applied directly to the skin. They can tackle issues ranging from bruises to fungal infections. It's the Swiss Army knife in your natural remedy toolbox. check out this blog for advice on using tinctures for calming and cooling compresses. 

What Should I Look for When Shopping for Herbal Tinctures?

Quality and potency are key. Look for tinctures that have clearly listed ingredients (like ours!) and recommended dosages. If possible, go for brands that you or someone you trust has had good experiences with. It's like choosing a good restaurant—the best ones usually come recommended.

Are Herbal Tinctures Suitable for Long-Term Use?

This largely depends on the tincture and what you're using it for. Some are great for short-term relief, while others can be incorporated into your daily wellness routine. Consult with a healthcare provider to tailor your tincture usage to your needs.

How Are Herbal Tinctures Stored for Longevity?

For long shelf life, tinctures are usually stored in brown colored bottles to protect them from light damage. Consider it the tincture's "wine cellar"—an optimal environment that keeps them at their best.

Herbal Tincture Glossary

  • Alchemists: Early practitioners of science who contributed to the development of modern chemistry and medicine, among other fields.
  • Apothecary: An early form of pharmacy where medicines, including tinctures, were prepared and sold.
  • British Herbal Pharmacopoeia: A standard previously used for the ratio of herb to liquid in a tincture, often cited as 1:5.
  • Constituents: The active compounds extracted from plant material in a tincture.
  • Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol): The food-grade alcohol used in tinctures, also found in alcoholic beverages.
  • Glycerites: Tinctures made using glycerin as a solvent.
  • Herbal Tincture: A concentrated liquid extract of plant materials, often used for medicinal purposes.
  • Hydraulically Assisted Electric Press: A piece of equipment used by herbalists to extract as much liquid from the herbs as possible.
  • Kilner Jar: A specific type of glass jar used for preserving foods and making tinctures.
  • Macerating: The process of soaking plant materials in a solvent to extract their constituents.
  • Oxymels: Tinctures made using a honey-vinegar mix as a solvent.
  • Pharmacopoeia: An official publication containing a list of medicinal drugs, their effects, and directions for their use.
  • Polysaccharides: Types of compounds found in plants like marshmallow root, which might require less alcohol for effective extraction.
  • Resins: Substances like propolis and myrrh, which may require higher concentrations of alcohol for effective extraction.
  • Simple: A tincture made from a single plant material, as opposed to a blend of different herbs.
  • Solvent: The liquid used to extract nutrients and compounds from plant material. Common solvents include alcohol, glycerin, vinegar, and honey.
  • Standardisation: The process of ensuring uniformity in the concentration of active constituents in tinctures.

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