Powders vs Tinctures: What’s the Difference for My Herbs?
Jan 05, 2023
By Casie Giroux
An herbal remedy can come in a wide variety of forms—tinctures, powders, hot or cold infusions, vinegars, salves, capsules, syrups, gummies, and more. Some forms have a very long history of use, while others have emerged more recently within our mainstream culture such as gummies and capsules. The majority of ancient records demonstrating medicinal plant use were in the form of infusions (strong teas), decoctions (simmered), and macerations (alcohol extracts), though powdered herbs have been traditionally and are still commonly used within Ayurvedic medicine.
A major advantage to powdered herbs compared to teas or decoctions is that they require a much lower dose of the raw herb, since you are ingesting the entire herb instead of straining out the plant material—which means you’re also getting all of the beneficial dietary fiber and minerals.
Tinctures (or alcohol extracts) of herbs date back as far as distilled alcohol itself—to the Ancient Egyptians. However the term tincture wasn’t coined until the 19th century when western physician and scientist Carl Warburg created a “secret” tincture remedy to treat fevers.
Whether working with herbal powders or tinctures, they both have centuries of traditional use and efficacy but vary in how they affect the body and how they should be used. The main way I differentiate them is a long-term solution versus a short term “fix”. For acute situations like extreme anxiety, cold and flu, menstrual cramps, gas, or waking in the night, I rely on tinctures. For longer-term health goals like stress regulation, repairing the gut lining, or balancing hormones, powders are a better option.
Herbal powders are much more like food. Though they take longer to take effect, they readily absorb into the body and are often highly nutrient dense. Tonic and adaptogenic herbs that are meant to be taken long term, such as ashwagandha, reishi, chlorella, siberian ginseng, and maca, are especially beneficial in powder form. Tinctures on the other hand, absorb almost instantly into the bloodstream and are more potent in nature since they are already fully extracted and bioavailable.
Here is a list of the major benefits of each form:
Benefits of Tinctures:
- Concentrated form of active constituents (or medicinal properties)
- Includes constituents extracted by alcohol – some herbal constituents are best extracted that way so you’ll really only get those benefits in tincture format
- Readily bioavailable (easily absorbed, utilized, and felt by the body)
- Ideal for symptoms that need quick relief: extreme feelings of anxiety, cold and flu, menstrual cramps, gas, or waking in the night
- Easy to take on-the-go
- Quality remains overtime while powders can lose potency
Benefits of Powders:
- Wider range of fiber, mineral, and vitamin content from ingesting the whole plant
- Some vitamin-rich plants provide more benefits from being taken in their raw form (like chlorella or moringa)
- Even alcohol-free tinctures can contain trace amounts of alcohol
- Good for addressing longer term health goals like stress management, gut lining restoration, or hormone balancing
- In an Ayurvedic context, tinctures can be warming to an already warm/imbalanced constitution – powders are more nutritive and cooling in nature
- Can be incorporated to a variety of foods and drinks
Both herbal powders and tinctures hold an important place in an herbal medicine cabinet. One is not better than the other – it’s like comparing apples to oranges. I recommend daily use of herbal powders to maintain balance and the use of tinctures for the inevitable acute situations our body sometimes needs some extra support handling.
About Casie Giroux
Casie Giroux is a Clinical Herbalist with a background in communication sciences, herbal product formulation and creation, sustainable wildcrafting, teaching, and organic farming. She earned her certification through the California School of Herbal Studies in Forestville, CA. On the weekends you can find her playing in the garden, foraging for abundant plants, and camping by the water.