Herbal Tinctures

herbal tincture
An echinacea tincture (pictured left). Gary Ombler/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

A tincture is a liquid extract made by soaking herbs in alcohol to extract the active ingredients from the herbs. Alcohol is considered an excellent solvent because it is food grade and can extract herbal constituents, such as resins and alkaloids, that are poorly soluble in water. After a number of weeks, the herbs are then strained and removed, leaving behind the liquid.

 A tincture can be made of a single herb or a combination of herbs.

Herbal tinctures are used because of their fast absorption and because of their long-shelf life. If the alcohol content of a tincture is a concern, glycerin extracts, capsules, or tablets may be used instead.  Herbal tinctures are sold in health-food stores, some drug and grocery stores, and online. Some tinctures, such as arnica and compound tincture of benzoin, should only be used externally. 

Types of Alcohol

The alcohol used in commercial herbal tinctures typically depends on the type of herb. Herbs with water soluble constituents are best extracted with a lower percentage of alcohol, while other constituents can only be extracted with higher levels of alcohol. 

Commercial herbal tinctures are often made with pure alcohol made from corn, grape, wheat, or cane and distilled at or above 190 proof. Herbalists sometimes make herbal tinctures in small batches using vodka (80 to 100 proof).


Making a Tincture

Herbal tinctures are made by combining carefully sorting the plant parts, removing any unwanted parts. The herbs may be chopped coarsely before being placed into a glass jar. The jar should be labeled with details such as the name, plant part used, type of spirit, batch number, and date.

The jar is filled with alcohol, capped tightly, and allowed to sit for weeks. It may be shaken regularly and the jar may be topped up with alcohol if necessary. The plant material is strained and removed, and the liquid is typically poured into small, labeled, glass bottles with dropper tops. 

If dried herbs are used to make the tincture, a common ratio is 1 part dried plant material to 4 parts liquid (1:4 ratio). If fresh herbs are used, a common ratio is 1 part plant material to 1 part liquid (1:1 ratio).

Common Herbs

Herbs that are commonly used to make tinctures include basil, black walnut, catnip, chaga, chaste tree berry, dandelion, echinacea, ginkgo, hops, ginseng, feverfew, milk thistle, mint, oregano leaf, and reishi

Uses for Tinctures

Tinctures are used for a variety of ailments and health concerns, such as sleep difficulties, migraines, nerve pain, sweating, menstrual cramps, and for colds.