Understanding Herbal Tinctures & How They Are Made

Understanding Herbal Tinctures & How They Are Made

In the world of herbal medicine, tinctures are a very commonly used preparation that are known for their ability to deliver potent, concentrated doses of herbal compounds.

Tinctures are most commonly made using a combination of water and alcohol as solvents, which is arguably the most effective way to extract and preserve the active ingredients from herbs. However, tinctures can be made using a vegetable glycerin or vinegar for an alcohol-free alternative (more on this below).

In this blog post, we'll delve into the different methods of making herbal tinctures, including the different solvents, extraction ratios and how using dried versus fresh herbs can affect the end product. 

Understanding the Different Solvent Options:

Alcohol is typically the preferred solvent in herbal tinctures due to its superior extraction and preservation capabilities, and is often used alongside water to achieve a specific alcohol amount. It effectively draws out a wide range of bioactive compounds, including alkaloids, glycosides, and essential oils, which may not be fully extracted with other solvents like glycerin or vinegar. Its high solvent efficiency allows for the creation of highly concentrated tinctures that deliver potent doses of the herb's therapeutic properties.
Alcohol also acts as a natural preservative, ensuring the tincture has a long shelf life and remains stable without refrigeration. 
Additionally, alcohol-based tinctures are quickly absorbed by the body, providing faster therapeutic effects. These qualities make alcohol the more common and reliable choice for crafting herbal tinctures compared to other solvents.

Glycerin functions as an alternative solvent for herbal tinctures, particularly for those who prefer alcohol-free options or have sensitivity to alcohol. Glycerin is a clear, sweet-tasting liquid that is derived from vegetable fats.

Glycerin is known for its ability to extract certain water-soluble compounds from herbs, such as glycosides and mucilage, making it suitable for herbs that yield their medicinal properties in aqueous solutions.

Glycerin-based tinctures are often preferred for children's formulations or for individuals who wish to avoid the alcohol content in traditional tinctures. However, glycerin is less efficient than alcohol in extracting a broader range of active compounds, especially those that are alcohol-soluble. This limitation may result in less potent tinctures compared to alcohol-based extracts. Glycerin also has a shorter shelf life and may require refrigeration to maintain stability.

Despite these considerations, glycerin offers a viable alternative for those seeking alcohol-free herbal preparations while still capturing the benefits of medicinal plants.

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV):

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) serves as a unique solvent for herbal tinctures, valued for its natural acidity and health-promoting properties. As a solvent for herbal tinctures, ACV extracts primarily water-soluble compounds from herbs, including vitamins, minerals, and some bioactive plant compounds like flavonoids. It is particularly suitable for herbs that release their beneficial properties in acidic environments.

ACV-based tinctures are favored for their mild flavor profile and gentle action, making them a popular choice for individuals who prefer a more palatable alternative to alcohol-based tinctures.

However, ACV may not extract as broad a range of active compounds as alcohol, particularly those that are alcohol-soluble. ACV-based tinctures may require refrigeration to maintain stability and prevent spoilage.

Despite these considerations, apple cider vinegar offers a natural and accessible option for creating herbal tinctures that harness the health benefits of both vinegar and medicinal herbs.

Using Dried vs. Fresh Herbs

Another key consideration in tincture-making is whether to use dried or fresh herbs. Both have their advantages and can influence the final product.

Using Dried Herbs:

  • Consistency: Dried herbs provide a consistent, reliable source of medicinal compounds since they have a stable moisture content.
  • Availability: Dried herbs are often more readily available and can be stored for longer periods.
  • Control Over Extraction: Using dried herbs allows for better control over the extraction process, as the moisture content is predictable. Using dried herbs typically yields a more potent final product as dilution from the water content in fresh herbs isn't a concern. 

Using Fresh Herbs:

  • Potency: Fresh herbs can be more potent, as they contain volatile compounds that may degrade during the drying process.
  • Flavor and Aroma: Fresh herbs often impart a stronger flavor and aroma to the tincture.
  • Water Content: Fresh herbs contain more water, which can dilute the alcohol and potentially affect the extraction accuracy.

When using fresh herbs, it's important to account for the additional water content by using a higher proof alcohol to ensure effective extraction and preservation.

Understanding Extraction Ratios

A tincture extraction ratio defines the proportion of herb to solvent (commonly alcohol or a water-alcohol blend) employed in producing the tincture. Ratios such as 1:5 or 1:4 are used to quantify this relationship, where the first number indicates the weight of the herb and the second denotes the volume of the solvent. For example, a ratio of 1:5 signifies that 1 part of the herb was blended with 5 parts of the solvent during preparation (in the case of a 1:5, this would be understood as 200mg/1ml).

Extraction ratios play a significant role in shaping not only the potency but also the overall quality and efficacy of herbal tinctures:

  • Higher Ratio Tinctures (e.g., 1:10): While these tinctures may have a lower potency per drop, they are appropriate for herbs containing strong or easily extractable active compounds. Typically used in cases of "maintenance" or  when a milder effect is needed, these tinctures can be describe as a more gentle form of herbal medicine. 
  • Lower Ratio Tinctures (e.g., 1:2, 1:3): Lower ratios are preferred for potent herbs or when a stronger, more powerful therapeutic effect is desired. These tinctures are medicinal strength and particularly valuable for addressing specific health concerns, ensuring a potent and specific therapeutic benefit. 

Single Extraction vs. Double Extraction Tinctures

The method of extraction plays a crucial role in the efficacy of the tincture. There are two primary methods: single extraction and double extraction. Most herbal tinctures are made using a single extraction method, but in the case of medicinal mushrooms, double extraction can be particularly beneficial. 

Single Extraction Tinctures:

In a single extraction, the herb is soaked (macerated) in alcohol for several weeks to allow the solvent to draw out the active compounds. This method is straightforward and effective for most plants and herbs.

Double Extraction Tinctures:

Double extraction involves a two-step process that combines steaming and maceration. This method is especially useful for mushrooms and other tough, woody herbs that need some extra processing in order to ensure their bioavailability. 


Making alcohol-based herbal tinctures is a rewarding process that allows you to create potent, personalized herbal remedies or simply understand the medicines that you are using a bit better. By understanding the different variables that go into making an herbal tincture, you'll be able to better use and create herbal tinctures. 

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