Bag
Your bag is currently empty.
What are Herbal Tinctures?

What are Herbal Tinctures?

9 February 2021 ۰ Alex Dover ۰ Zen Maitri

What are Herbal Tinctures?

You probably know all about herbal teas and natural supplements already. In this post we’ll be exploring a lesser-known aspect of our approach to 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 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 which use alcohol and water as a solvent. They are made using alcohol to extract 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’, referring to colouring. 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. 

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

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

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. 

Tincture+-+Night+Time.jpg

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. 

What herbal tinctures do we recommend?

Our team has formulated a range of herbal tinctures that can supplement different aspects of your health and wellbeing. 

Some of our favourites include: 

A few drops a day can make a big difference.

Arrange a consultation to find out more about how herbal medicine can help you live better. 

Alex Dover

Alex Dover is one of Zen Maitri’s consultant Medical Herbalists. He trained at London’s University of Westminster, where he studied for 5 years and gained a BSc Honours degree in Herbal Medicine. Alex has always had a keen interest in plants and their qualities. He’s passionate about herbal medicine and the powerful healing properties plants can offer to his patients.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published