Tinctures 101: A Crash Course on Plant Extracts from a Clinical Herbalist
Jan 05, 2023
By Casie Giroux
With the introduction of our first tincture, Take the Edge Off, you may be wondering what the significance is when it comes to this new format (as opposed to herbs in powdered form). Here’s all you need to know:
What is a tincture? A tincture is a concentrated liquid extract of an herb. Herbs are extracted with a combination of high-proof alcohol or ethanol and water, and sometimes also with vegetable glycerin or even vinegar. Taking herbs in tincture form is beneficial for a variety of reasons:
- Tinctures get readily absorbed into your body, which means the effects are typically faster-acting.
- Bioavailable constituents in the herbs bypass the digestive process so your body absorbs the benefits of the herbs more quickly.
- Tinctures are highly-concentrated, so you only need a small amount to be effective.
- Some medicinal properties of herbs are best extracted with alcohol, versus when herbs are in powdered form.
- Tinctures are easy-to-use and a convenient way to take your herbal medicine on-the-go or with minimal preparation.
How are tinctures made?
A tincture is created through soaking or extracting an herb part—leaves, flowers, bark, roots, stem, seeds, or fruit in a mixture of ethanol (alcohol) and water. The mixture of ethanol and water (and sometimes glycerin and vinegar) is called the solvent or menstruum. Depending on the specific herb, plant part, and which constituents are attempting to be extracted, the percentage of ethanol within the solvent varies. This is where herbal knowledge about phytochemistry comes into play!
The constituents of plants are what act on the human body to provide us with the medicinal benefits. Alkaloids, tannins, resins are examples of plant constituents that are best extracted with alcohol. In contrast, carbohydrates (for example: inulin, polysaccharides), mucilage, minerals, and vitamins are highly water soluble, so they’re best extracted with water. Since a tincture solvent contains both water and alcohol, we are extracting the widest array of benefits from the plants by using two solvents.
What Makes Our Process Unique
The process we use is more rarely utilized these days when it comes to creating herbal tinctures. Each plant in our tincture is extracted separately in a mixture of alcohol and water, in order to get the optimal phytochemicals from each herb. For most tinctures, after the herbs are extracted in the solvent, the mixture is strained and the plant material is discarded. Instead of discarding the plant material, we take the process a step further by incorporating a spagyric process.
A spagyric process is an ancient process made up-to-date for the 21st century. It involves taking the otherwise discarded plant material and reducing it down into mineral salt that is then added back into the liquid extract. This makes a more potent and truly full-spectrum extract. Most tinctures cannot capture the full spectrum of minerals of the plant, since the plant material is typically thrown out. However with our process, we are adding a soluble version of each herb (in the form of mineral salts) back into the end product.
For example, the oat straw in our Take the Edge Off tincture is high in magnesium, zinc, and iron. By using the spagyric process to turn oatstraw’s plant matter into mineral salts after extraction, and then adding those mineral salts back into the extract, we are capturing a wider range of those mineral benefits than with just the initially extracted liquid alone.
What also makes our Take the Edge Off tincture particularly special is that it is almost completely alcohol-free (under 1000 ppm of alcohol). High-alcohol tinctures can be harsh on the palate and digestive system, and the glycerin adds a pleasant sweet flavor and combines well into beverages. After we extract our herbs in alcohol, we evaporate the alcohol and replace it with vegetable glycerin to preserve the extract. As a result, we get all the benefits of an alcohol extract without having to ingest any actual alcohol (which is also great if you’re using Take the Edge Off as a swap for alcohol)!
If you’re looking for some fast-acting herbal remedies, tinctures are a great way to go—starting with quick tension relief from Take the Edge Off.
Want to learn more about powdered herbal blends versus tinctures? Read our side-by-side comparison here.
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.