I have to admit, this is a subject I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching on, before I was comfortable with a tincture medically. After years of curious and questioning acquaintances, co-workers and friends, the choice on whether or not to use a tincture boils down to one of two things generally. Either there is a religious restriction on alcohol, or they are ordinary men and women, who just don’t want alcohol in their lives. Both of those thing apply in my own life. I get it. So why do I tincture my herbs?
Lets start with the most obvious question, first. How much alcohol is in a dose of tincture? I generally fill a 00 size capsule with my concoctions, resulting in a liquid dose of roughly .03% of a single ounce (about 1/4 teaspoon), half of which is likely water. To give you an understanding of that number, a ripe banana contains roughly .08%, or less than 1% of an ounce of alcohol, as does a small glass of orange juice. And again to keep a true perspective, most people recognize that the cold medicine Ny-Quil has alcohol; it does at 10%. But did you know, a teaspoon of vanilla contains 35% alcohol? It’s use is ubiquitous, and everywhere! So a medical dose of tincture contains a minute amount of alcohol. But is the alcohol necessary?
Alcohol is a solvent. A solvent is a necessity for many herbs that have a difficult time releasing their constituents. For instance, berries and barks. The critical component of an herb is found deep in the cells of the plants. That requires dissolving the cell wall to release the plants natural medicine in a form that can be consumed by us, and then utilized by our bodies.
We can often dry an herb to accomplish that task since drying and crushing will compromise it’s cell walls, making the liquid we take it with, the medium, to extract the medicinal properties. But some herbs are not water soluble, and require either heating (which will often destroy an herbs constituents) or they require a solvent, to break down and destroy the cell walls in a cool temperature, freeing those vital chemicals and properties from the cells without damaging them.
Now I can hear you asking, don’t vinegars and glycerin tinctures work the same way? The short answer is yes. The long answer is more complex.
An alcohol tincture does more than pull the constituents free of the cells, it also acts as a preservative, and an insurance policy again biological growth that can happen in a vinegar or glycerin tincture. An alcohol tincture will offer a more consistent medicinal grade of product, and is easily combined with other tinctures for broader formulations (like insomnia, colds, anxiety, and pain.) Quite simply they last for years. If you are of the prepper sort, or just want to make sure you have what is necessary for your health in an emergency, you don’t want to have to be making and/or replacing your tinctures every year. While the jury is out on whether an alcohol tincture lasts 6 years, 25 or until the alcohol evaporates, there is no doubt your shelf life is far, far longer, than with any other method.
Also, an alcohol tincture is more readily absorbed, and quickly utilized by the body. It’s also much more effective for younger patients at far smaller doses of the herb, than with a glycerite or vinegar tincture. Think of this particular form of preparation as the strongest, most effective way of preserving your emergency medicine cabinet.
Now for the very best part, you still can avoid what little alcohol is contained in a tincture by putting your dose in a simmering cup of hot water (NEVER boiling, you will destroy what you’ve worked so hard to preserve) or herbal tea (peppermint is the great disguiser! 🙂 ) and letting it sit for ten minutes before drinking it. This should evaporate the lion’s share of any remaining alcohol.
For our families needs, this is the route we have chosen to take, but regardless of how you preserve your herbs, by all means, preserve them. Keep what you will need in an emergency (3 months would be a great beginning goal) to sustain your family if you couldn’t get to a doctor.
One final thought. Don’t wait until an emergency hits, to learn to use these herbs you’ve prepared. Do your homework, study your subject thoroughly, and begin with a single herb. I might suggest tincturing for your first herb, California Poppy (no, not the illegal poppy, or Afghalistan Poppy , papaver somniferum), but Escholzia Californica, with different alkaloids for pain relief that is non-addicting, and works to relieve anxiety as well.) For further information, read Califonia Poppy,
The information presented at Herbs and Wildcrafting is for informational purposes only. No statement has been evaluated by the FDA, any federal agency, medical expert, nutritionist or even the town gossip. Remember to do your own research.
Please consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition.
No information on this site should be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis or determine a treatment for a medical condition.
The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.
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I encourage you to do your own research. Learn everything you can on any given herb or medicine, and in doing so, you will be coming from a point of knowledge rather than hoping someone else is right. It’s always better to learn from two or three good sources, and more if you have the inclination and time.