Ask an HerbalistFeb 2, 2022
Ask an Herbalist: What's the difference between glycerin and alcohol in herbal extracts?
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What's the difference between glycerin and alcohol in herbal extracts?
Alcohol, or more specifically ethanol, has a broader extraction range than glycerin. It can be diluted with 3 parts of water and used to capture a more water-soluble phytochemical profile. Diluted with 1 part of water or less it can be used to extract an alcohol-soluble (also known as oil-soluble) profile from the herb. This becomes particularly important when extracting resins, essential oils, some alkaloids and a host of other predominantly alcohol-soluble compounds.
Glycerin extracts capture a narrower range of phytochemicals that lie in the mid range between alcohol-soluble and water-soluble. Finished glycerin extracts must be at least 55% glycerin for effective preservation, which further limits glycerin's flexibility. For the herbs where glycerin is an effective extractive medium, the advantage is an alcohol-free extract. Alcohol-free glycerites are particularly suited to kids and to adults with alcohol sensitivity, including recovering alcoholics.