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An herbal tincture is a concentrated liquid form of one or more herbs. To make a tincture, a person must soak parts of an herb for several weeks in alcohol or vinegar.
The soaking process extracts the active components of the herb or herbs. Alcohol is often the liquid of choice, as it can extract components, such as resins and alkaloids, that are not water-soluble.
People usually take tinctures orally by using a dropper to place the liquid under their tongue.
Depending on the types of herbs involved, tinctures can include various parts of the plant. Some of the most common parts in herbal tinctures include:
- dried leaves
- fresh leaves
A person can purchase tinctures online, at health and wellness stores, and in some grocery or drug stores.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate the creation or use of herbal tinctures. A person should speak to their doctor before using a tincture, especially if they take medications.
Herbal tinctures may not be safe to create at home. Certain parts of plants can be toxic and harmful to humans when used topically or ingested.
A person should fully understand which parts of a plant are safe before attempting to make their own tinctures.
A common method of creating a tincture includes the following basic steps:
- Gather the useful parts of the herb(s), possibly the berries, leaves, roots, bark, or all of these, and remove any unwanted parts.
- Wash and coarsely chop the herbs.
- Place them into an airtight jar.
- Pour alcohol or vinegar into the jar and seal it. For fresh herbs, use a 1-1 plant-to-alcohol ratio. For dried herbs, use a 1-4 ratio.
The concentration of alcohol depends on the plant’s water-soluble ingredients. Those with more water-soluble components need alcohol with a proof of 80–100, while those with fewer water-soluble components need 180-proof alcohol.
Seal the jar for 6 or more weeks to give the alcohol time to absorb the active components of the herbs. Shake it occasionally.
After opening the jar, strain the plant parts from the liquid. Be sure to label the jars with some basic information about the tincture, such as:
- the common or Latin names of the herbs used
- the parts of the plants and whether they were fresh or dried
- the type of alcohol and its concentration
- the date of creation
- instructions on how to use the tincture
How to use
To use a tincture, fill a dropper or small syringe with the liquid and drip it into the mouth, just under the tongue. Hold the tincture in the mouth for a few seconds before swallowing.
Rinse the mouth thoroughly with water to get rid of the bitter taste. The precise dosage a person should take depends on their age, but it is best not to take more than 2 small full droppers. Do not give tinctures to children.
We list six of the most common tinctures, often available commercially, below.
Bees produce a substance called propolis. While no extensive research exists, some evidence suggests that propolis may help treat allergies and skin disorders.
For example, one 2017 review of studies looked at the potential health benefits of propolis, honey, and royal jelly.
The authors suggest that propolis may be useful for healing wounds and acne. It also has properties that may help reduce allergic skin reactions.
Additional evidence indicates that propolis may help maintain vaginal health by preventing yeast infections and treating bacterial vaginosis.
Cannabis tincture could offer several health benefits.
In recent years, researchers have recognized the potential for cannabis to treat pain, seizures, and nausea.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA have only approved three cannabis components for use in medicine: dronabinol, nabilone, and cannabidiol, which is commonly known as CBD.
However, the FDA also state that it is illegal for manufacturers to create cannabis supplements.
A person should check with their state and local laws before attempting to make their own cannabis tincture.
Turmeric contains curcumin, an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound. Many people around the world use turmeric as a spice in foods.
Some people may use turmeric tinctures to help relieve inflammation. A 2017 systematic review indicated that curcumin has a positive impact on osteoarthritis knee pain, which is related to inflammation.
However, the study also showed that curcumin was less effective in relieving pain than ibuprofen.
Benzoin is an essential oil that may help treat topical skin issues.
In a review of studies that investigated several essential oils, researchers identified benzoin as being potentially effective at treating minor cuts and skin issues.
Historically, people have used benzoin tinctures beneath bandages to help heal wounds and protect the skin.
Benzoin is only safe for topical use — do not ingest it.
Echinacea is a common herbal supplement and tincture that many people use to boost their immune system. However, research does not fully support its use for fighting infections.
One review examined 24 studies that investigated echinacea’s potential to treat the common cold. The review concluded that echinacea provided no benefits in this respect.
Herbal tinctures, like herbal supplements, have several potential side effects. Many people presume that herbal, natural, and safe are synonymous. Just because a remedy is “herbal” or “natural” does not necessarily mean that it is safe or effective.
A 2014 article looked at the possible safety implications of herbal supplements and tinctures. The author found that, despite popular misconceptions about herbal remedies, they can have several side effects.
Before making and using an herbal tincture, a person should consider:
- possible interactions with current medications
- safe ways to use the tincture, as some may be toxic
- potential allergic reactions
Before attempting to make an herbal tincture at home, note that some plants have toxic parts. Many people prefer to buy tinctures instead.
A person should be knowledgeable about the plant and understand the potential for toxicity and exposure to pesticides before trying to make a tincture.
There has been minimal research into the use of herbal tinctures.
Some results indicate that herbal supplements may help address certain health issues. However, there are risks associated with these supplements and tinctures, including toxicity and reactions with other medications.
A person should consult their doctor before taking an herbal tincture and research the plants extensively before making their own.
The types of tinctures mentioned above are available for purchase in some health food stores and online.