What Are Herbal Tinctures and Extracts?

If you’ve been looking for an easy way to harness the power of traditional herbal medicine in an easy-to-make, easy-to-take method, you’re reading the right blog post. 🙂

Tinctures are concentrated liquid herbal extracts made by soaking herbs in a liquid solvent, typically alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin. This process draws out the active compounds of the dried or fresh herbs into the liquid, resulting in potent herbal medicines.

These herbal medicines contain many of the same active ingredients as those in drug stores. For example, the salicin in willow bark is a precursor to salicylic acid, the basis for aspirin, making it an effective alternative for everyday aches and pains.

Of course, more thought and love goes into the final tincture than just placing herbs in a solvent, and we will share that process with you today!

The History of Tinctures and Extracts as Traditional Herbal Medicines

One of the first collections of herbal tincture and extract recipes came from a German encyclopedia of distillation practices called “Liber de arte distillandi” by Hieronymous Brunschwig.

In it, he explained in vivid detail the medicinal benefits of various plant extracts and their health benefits, the correct plant parts to use for particular afflictions, and everything else an ancient alchemist could want to know about cooking up herbal remedies.

Of course, the first written account doesn’t imply it’s the first time an herbalist brewed up health tinctures and extracts. These herbal remedies have a much longer history:

Indigenous North American Practices

Long before European contact, Indigenous peoples respectfully crafted herbal remedies, particularly those based on the Four Sacred Medicines: Tobacco, cedar, sweetgrass, and sage.

A tincture / extract of tobacco was an effective emetic– or medicine that induces vomiting– while one of cedar could treat fungal infections. As knowledge about the natural health benefits of various plant materials grew within native communities, so did the range of herbal tinctures and extracts they turned to for treating various ailments and afflictions.

Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome

The ancient civilizations in Egypt, Greece, and Rome laid the early groundwork for herbal medicines of the Eastern hemisphere, which eventually became the knowledge that Brunschwig relied on for informing his own practices.

Egyptians, for instance, used wine or vinegar to extract plant essences, as documented in the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical texts dating back more than 3,500 years to 1550 BCE. These early understandings of herbal medicine were further refined by notable Greek and Roman scholars like Hippocrates, the namesake of the modern Hippocratic oath, and Galen, who served as the personal physician of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Medieval Europe

During the Middle Ages, European monasteries became centers for herbal knowledge, particularly after the Irish and Scottish peoples began practicing ethyl alcohol distillation during the 14th century. At the time, medicine was less based on scientific evidence and more on trial and error or superstition.

They sometimes based some of their understanding of medicine on something as simple as the plant’s shape. For example, they believed that the seeds of plants that look like heads– like skullcaps– would be an effective treatment for headaches.

However, that doesn’t mean they never got it right. They used mint herbal tinctures and extracts for nausea, which we know today is an excellent way to relieve digestive upset.

19th to 20th Century

Though modern medicine has reduced the use of herbal tinctures and extracts, they remain a staple in many traditional medicine practices. Indigenous communities, in particular, use knowledge of tincture-making that was preserved and passed down throughout generations.

We’ve seen a resurgence of interest in herbalism in the last decade, whether as an alternative treatment for everyday ailments or a preventative measure that’s part of their daily wellness routine. Everything from herbal teas to botanical-infused salves is finding a home in pantries and medicine cabinets. Amongst those remedies are herbal tinctures and extracts.

What’s the Process for How Tinctures Are Made?

Tincture-making falls under one of two methods: The folk method, which involves covering the herb with the solvent, and the weight-to-volume ratio method. Because they can include one or more plants, it’s also essential to know what plant parts offer which medicinal properties and how different extracts work together to provide the most therapeutic benefits.

To create tinctures and extracts, your favorite herbalist selects the highest-quality fresh or dried herbs based on their medicinal properties. Then, they place them in a jar with a solvent, typically grain alcohol. There are other options for solvent, but alcohol acts more efficiently at extracting the broadest range of plant nutrients.

Once everything’s packed in, they let the tincture / extract steep by sealing the jar and storing it in a cool, dark place for several weeks so the solvent can draw compounds out of the herbs into the liquid. In indigenous herbalism we understand that plants are a nation of relatives. When we ask a relative for help, we don’t grab them by the shoulders and shake them and ask them for help. We respect the plants and their gifts of healing and in so doing, we gently roll the jar of herbs to keep the process moving along.

After a full cycle of the moon or a minimum of two weeks, they strain off the liquid to remove the plant material, so all left behind is concentrated liquid herbal extracts that we know as herbal tinctures and extracts.

Choosing the Right Solvent

Depending on the solvent used in the tincture, it can directly affect which compounds are extracted from the herbs and, thus, the tinctures and extracts’ therapeutic properties.

Distilled alcohol is super versatile because it’s so effective at coaxing out the broadest range of compounds, including alkaloids, terpenes, and flavonoids, which are often responsible for the herb’s therapeutic effects. It’s also an excellent preservative, making these tinctures and extracts long-lasting.

Vinegar is a milder solvent for extracting minerals and vitamins from herbs. Vinegars also have their own medicinal properties, as they are high in mineral salts like potassium and contain starches and sugars. It’s non-toxic, well-tolerated, and is a digestive and respiratory system tonic. However, it’s less effective at extracting certain alkaloids and terpenes. So, it’s a good choice for those who don’t want to or can’t ingest alcohol, but the tinctures and extracts may have a different, often milder, therapeutic profile.

Vegetable glycerin is a sweet, non-alcoholic solvent that extracts water-soluble compounds. The more pleasant flavor makes these tinctures and extracts more palatable, especially for children. This herbal medicine tends to be less potent than its distilled alcohol counterparts but is still effective in extracting therapeutic compounds like vitamins, enzymes, resins, and amino acids.

Note that vinegar and glycerin tinctures and extracts have a very short shelf life– around 6 months– compared to alcohol tinctures, which have a shelf life of 10 years. 

Different Types of Herbal Tinctures

Tinctures are made in two forms: simples and blends.

  • Simples are tinctures and extracts with a single herb. They’re great for targeted health benefits linked to that particular botanical and ideal for folks who want to test how their body reacts to individual herbs before trying them in blends. Miss Anne’s carries the largest selection of high-quality herbal tinctures and extracts in the southeast, with over 150 simples on the shelf. 
  • Blends combine multiple herbs into one tincture, allowing all the benefits to work together in a single drop. The individual herbs within the blend enhance each other’s health benefits and are helpful for more complex health concerns or addressing multiple issues at once.

Let’s look at Miss Anne’s lineup of herbal tincture blends:

For Muscle Soreness

Muscle pain can put a damper on your day and slow you down, so we created Sore Subject Muscle Pain Formula to banish those annoying aches and pains. This blend offers natural relief from muscle discomfort.

  • Pedicularis (Pedicularis densiflora) eases muscle tension and pain.
  • Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis) helps relax muscles and relieve spasms.
  • Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) reduces inflammation.
  • California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) brings natural pain-relieving powers to the mix.
  • Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is a calming herb perfect for soothing sore spots.

For Mental Wellness

Mental wellness is as important to living a balanced life as physical health. Whether you need assistance managing day-to-day stress, lifting your spirits, or sharpening that lightning-quick wit, we have herbal blends that help you achieve inner harmony and mental well-being.

Stress Less Nerve Restoration Blend is a calming blend to ease your mind and soothe your nerves:

  • Milky Oat Tops (Avena sativa) comforts the nervous system so you can unwind and de-stress.
  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) acts as a stress shield, making your body and mind more resilient against daily pressures.
  • Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) reduces anxiety and brings about a sense of tranquility.
  • Lavender (Lavandula spp.) smooths out the rough edges of a stressful day with its renowned relaxation properties.

Blues Chaser Heart Ease Tonic uplifts your mood for happier days ahead.

  • Milky Oat Tops (Avena sativa) gently supports your emotional well-being, easing stress and tension.
  • Mimosa Blossom (Albizia julibrissin) is known for its mood-boosting and heart-easing qualities.
  • Hawthorn (Crataegus spp. – berry, leaf, blossom) nurtures emotional balance and heart health.
  • Rose Petals (Rosa spp.), as a symbol of love and care, lift your spirits and banish bad moods.

Mind Mender Brain Tonic is a brain-boosting tonic that gives you mental clarity and increases cognitive functioning:

  • Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) clears mental fog to increase your alertness.
  • Calamus (Acorus calamus) sharpens your focus and cognitive abilities.
  • Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) improves memory and supports overall brain health.
  • Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) boosts cognitive functions and enhances memory retention.
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) invigorates the mind and improves concentration.

For Menstrual Cramps

Cramp Ease Cramp Support keeps period pain at bay with a gently nurturing blend of:

  • Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus) acts like a natural uterine muscle relaxant.
  • Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium) works with cramp bark to relax muscles and reduce uterine spasms.
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has warming properties that help soothe pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) is a traditional herbal remedy for balancing hormones and easing menstrual discomfort.

To Improve Sleep Quality

Sometimes, we need a little help to drift off. Sweet Slumber Sleep Support calms your mind and relaxes your body to help you achieve a more restful sleep.

  • California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) has mild sedative properties.
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) reduces anxiety and insomnia.
  • Catnip (Nepeta cataria) reduces sleep restlessness.
  • Hops (Humulus lupulus) are a traditional sleep aid for promoting relaxation and improving sleep quality.

To Boost the Immune System

Ain’t No Time to Get Sick Immune System Support herbal tincture / extract offers a spectrum of immune effects so you can stay strong and resilient in the face of seasonal sickness.

  • Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is packed with antioxidants.
  • Echinacea Root (Echinacea purpurea), known for its immune-boosting properties, helps ward off the common cold and flu.
  • Red Root (Ceanothus americanus) supports lymphatic health and immune system response.
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is an excellent anti-inflammatory.
  • Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia aquifolium) contains antimicrobial berberine, which supports the body’s defense mechanisms.

For Menopause Support

Cool Off Hot Flash Support provides natural relief from hot flashes associated with the hormonal fluctuations that come hand-in-hand with menopause.

  • Motherwort (Leonurus cardiac) supports the heart and nervous system to ease menopausal tension and mood swings.
  • Peach (Prunus persica) has cooling properties to help manage hot flashes.
  • Milky Oats (Avena sativa) nourish the nervous system for calming support during hormonal changes.
  • Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a mood lifter that also assists in calming the nervous system.
  • Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) balances hormones, which is particularly helpful in managing menopause symptoms.

For Coughing and Respiratory Health

Whether it’s a nagging cough or a scratchy throat, Miss Anne’s has the perfect herbal tinctures and extracts for respiratory health issues.

Make Ya Holler Soothing Throat Spray is a targeted spray to soothe sore throats and calm coughs.

  • Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia aquifolium) contains berberine, an antimicrobial effective at combating fungal or bacterial infections.
  • Echinacea Blossom (Echinacea purpurea) skyrockets your immune response and soothes inflamed tissues.
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) soothes irritation and eases cough.
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a soothing antiseptic.
  • Propolis, a natural resin, has healing and antimicrobial properties.
  • Honey soothes the throat and adds a yummy, sweet taste.

Lung Support for Wet Cough helps clear mucus and supports respiratory health.

  • Bee Balm (Monarda spp.), an antimicrobial, fights infection.
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has expectorant properties to get rid of mucus.
  • Usnea (Usnea spp.) is a lichen with antimicrobial benefits to support lung health.
  • Elecampane Root (Inula helenium) is another expectorant that helps clear lung mucus.
  • Orange Peel (Citrus sinensis) contains beneficial flavonoids and vitamin C.

Lung Support for Dry Cough moistens and soothes dry, irritated respiratory passages.

  • Mullein Leaf (Verbascum thapsus) soothes irritated mucous membranes, ideal for dry coughs.
  • Plantain (Plantago major) has anti-inflammatory properties to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum spp.) is warm and comforting for achy throats.
  • Marshmallow Root (Althaea officinalis) moistens and soothes dry tissues.
  • Wild Cherry Bark (Prunus serotina) calms the cough reflex and eases respiratory discomfort.

For Digestive Trouble

Digestive Cordial Gastric Soother is a gentle blend for easing digestive discomfort with herbs known for their beneficial effects on the gut.

  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita) eases digestive spasms and discomfort, known for its soothing properties.
  • Turkey Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) helps maintain healthy bowel movements.
  • Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) soothes the digestive tract and reduces acidity.
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) relieves gas and bloating, promoting overall digestive comfort.
  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) aids in digestion.

For Seasonal Allergies

Aller-Geeze Allergy Relief‘s formula alleviates annoying allergy symptoms, making it easier to enjoy the outdoors, no matter the season.

  • Ambrosia (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) has anti-allergic properties.
  • Bidens (Bidens pilosa) supports immune function and relieves allergy symptoms.
  • Elder Flower (Sambucus nigra) soothes respiratory irritation often associated with allergies.
  • Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea) manages inflammation and respiratory discomfort.
  • Nettle (Urtica dioica), a natural antihistamine, can slow down allergic reactions.

For Hangover Relief

For those nights out that turn into not-so-fun mornings, A Few Too Many helps your body recover from hangover symptoms and supports liver health.

  • St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum) elevates your mood and calms your nervous system.
  • Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) supports liver function and detoxification.
  • Cleavers (Galium aparine) cleanse the lymphatic system and kidneys.
  • Milky Oat Tops (Avena sativa) nourishes the nervous system, reducing hangover-related stress.
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) eases nausea and aids digestion.

For Help With Smoking Cessation

Quitting smoking is no easy task, but 2 Legit 2 Not Quit can assist in your journey by reducing cravings and easing withdrawal symptoms.

  • Milky Oats (Avena sativa) helps you manage stress and anxiety during withdrawal.
  • Mullein Leaf (Verbascum thapsus) supports lung health by aiding the healing process of the respiratory system.
  • Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) eases anxiety and promotes relaxation to manage nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
  • Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) acts as a non-addictive nicotine substitute to help reduce cravings.
  • Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) gives you an energy boost to help your body adapt to the stress of quitting.

For Prostate Support

Love Your Libido is a blend tailored for prostate and male reproductive health.

  • Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) maintains prostate health and supports urinary functions.
  • Nettle Root (Urtica dioica) works synergistically with saw palmetto for prostate health and hormonal balance.
  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) improves circulation, which is beneficial for overall reproductive health.
  • Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) supports stamina and vitality.

Frequently Asked Questions About Herbal Tinctures

Wondering if tinctures and extracts are the same thing as essential oils? Not sure if they’ll interact with other medicines? We address your burning questions about herbal tinctures and extracts below:

How powerful are tinctures and extracts?

Tinctures are highly potent because they are the concentrated liquid form of plant extracts. They make it easier for our bodies to absorb the compounds in the herbs, so most folks only need small dosages to feel the benefits.

What are the best herbs for tinctures and extracts?

The “best” herbs for tinctures and extracts depend on many factors, like the particulars of your concern, your “constitution,” and your health history. Looking for more restful sleep? Consider hops or passionflower. Looking for digestive support? Ginger may be the answer. For immune system support, you can’t go wrong with echinacea. Turmeric tinctures and extracts are great for inflammation, while elderberry tincture / extract is your best friend during flu season. It’s all about choosing the right herb for your particular needs.

What is the difference between herbal extracts and herbal tinctures and extracts?

Extracts can use various methods and solvents to get concentrated goodness from herbs, while tinctures and extracts specifically use alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin. Tinctures are a type of extract, just a bit more specialized.

Is a tincture more potent than an extract?

Tinctures are usually less concentrated than extracts. You shouldn’t underestimate the power of tinctures and extracts, though! They’ve still got plenty of oomph and are perfect for everyday use.

What is the difference between herbal tinctures and extracts and essential oils?

Tinctures are herbal extracts you can take internally, while commercial essential oils are the concentrated volatile oils of a plant extracted through distillation. Tinctures can extract essential oils, along with many other beneficial components of a plant.

Can herbal tinctures and extracts cause adverse reactions?

Like anything you put in your body, herbal tinctures and extracts can sometimes cause adverse reactions, like allergies or medication interactions. For example, while St. John’s Wort “brings light into the darkness,” it can also lower the efficacy of pharmaceuticals. Chat with your herbalist if you have any concerns!

Is it safe for pregnant women to use herbal tinctures and extracts?

Not all tinctures and extracts are safe for pregnant women. If you’re expecting, please consult a healthcare provider before using herbal remedies, including tinctures and extracts.

What are the beneficial psychological effects of tinctures and extracts?

Many tinctures and extracts offer psychological benefits, making them a beneficial part of mental health regimens designed for treating anxiety, depression, etc. Herbs like St. John’s Wort and Ashwagandha are popular mood-boosters and stress-relievers, but there are plenty more that can give you the mental lift you’re looking for.

Can herbal tinctures and extracts help heal wounds?

Herbs like calendula (Calendula officinalis) and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) are known for healing wounds by aiding in tissue regeneration and reducing inflammation, making them excellent alternatives for natural wound care.

How effective are herbal tinctures and extracts in treating skin diseases?An herbal tincture / extract can be part of a health regimen to treat skin diseases, depending on the condition and the herb used. For example, tinctures and extracts containing burdock (Arctium lappa) or neem (Azadirachta indica) have skin-clearing properties and can help with conditions like eczema or acne.

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