You’re not the first person to have questions about herbs and herbalism. So, we brought in one of our experts to help answer some of the most common questions and concerns. David Bunting, Herb Pharm's VP of Botanical Affairs, began studying herbalism in 1979 and has been making herbal medicines professionally since 1982.
Question: What is an herbal tincture?
Tinctures are liquid extracts that are made with potable alcohol as all or part of the combined extraction solvent, known as the menstruum. Following the extractive process, the tincture is then separated from the spent herb and is typically filtered. From there it is bottled as a single herb extract or blended with other tinctures to form a compound product. Tinctures are convenient and easily dispensed, taken in liquid form and added to water or other liquid according to labeled instructions.
The alcohol used in tinctures is the same ethanol produced by fermentation that you find in beer and wine. Alcohol acts as an excellent solvent for a wide variety of phytochemicals, especially those that have limited solubility in water. It is also an excellent preservative, so that tinctures typically last several years. Like other extracts, tinctures bypass the need to digest entire herbs in the gut and are easily absorbed. While the term “tincture” is sometimes applied to liquid extracts made without alcohol, technically only liquid extracts made with alcohol are tinctures.
The extraction menstruum can be tailored for each herb to best extract its unique phytochemical profile with an emphasis on known actives. This is done by using other components such as water to dilute the alcohol concentration. When starting with the highest concentration of naturally distilled alcohol, this gives a possible alcohol percentage range of about 20 to 95%. That range can accommodate extraction of more water-soluble polysaccharides all the way to highly alcohol-soluble resins. The menstruum can also be composed of other ingredients such as glycerin, which is used to curb precipitation. Since the menstruum becomes part of the finished extract, every component must be food grade and/or pharmaceutical grade.