Ask an HerbalistFeb 2, 2022

What’s the difference between Liquid Herbal Extracts and Herbal Tea?

We love talking about herbs and herbalism, and we especially love answering your questions about those topics. That's why we brought in our team of herbal experts to respond to some of the most common questions and concerns we hear.

Our herbalists have decades of combined experience working with herbs — and the people who take them. They answer your most pressing questions, in our regular column “Ask an Herbalist.”

What’s the difference between Liquid Herbal Extracts and Herbal Tea?

Herbal teas have always been one of the foundational preparations in herbalism. They are a perfect adjunct to other liquid extracts like tinctures. The key differentiating feature with teas is that they are skewed heavily towards water-soluble constituents. Tinctures, in contrast, skew towards alcohol-soluble (fat-soluble) constituents. One caveat is that the alcohol content can be adjusted from very low to very high to suit the herb at hand. This flexibility allows for a very broad extraction range for properly made tinctures. Herbs high in alcohol-soluble constituents are poorly water-soluble. This is the reason that high alcohol is used to extract certain herbs and create tinctures rich in these often critical plant constituents.

A fun way to demonstrate this difference is to add a dropper full of a predominantly alcohol-soluble herbal tincture to water and watch the reaction. Tinctures like Milk Thistle, Kava, Myrrh, Propolis and many others will react very strangely when the hydrophobic phyto-constituents contact water. They can appear to churn and swirl in the water and will often have a milky appearance.

Another differentiating feature is that teas, unlike tinctures, must be made extemporaneously. Even kept in the fridge, teas do not last more than a few days. Tinctures, however, are self-preserving. This gives them a long window of use. And where a fresh, undried herb is superior to the dried version, tincturing can be used to extract the fresh herb for year-round use.