A tincture is a liquid herbal preparation made by soaking herbs in a “menstrum”- which is just a fancy word for liquid. Tinctures are more concentrated medicinally than herbal teas and are popular to use because they are simple to take and easier to use on the go than herbal teas.This is intended to be an introduction to glycerin tinctures; a simple, easy to use guide for the beginner.
Alcohol, Glycerin and Apple Cider Vinegar
There are three liquids typically used to make tinctures- apple cider vinegar, alcohol and glycerin. When herbs are soaked in the liquid, some of the healing constituents of the plants are extracted into the liquid. So, after soaking the plant material for a while and then straining it out, what you are left with is a somewhat potent herbal medicine. Tinctures have more plant extract- more medicine- in them than herbal teas. Of the three liquids, alcohol makes the “strongest” tincture in that it extracts more medicine from the plant material than glycerin or apple cider vinegar. Another way to say this is that alcohol is a better solvent. It is also a better preservative and a well made alcohol based tincture can last for years.
Apple cider vinegar produces “weaker” tinctures, meaning that it extracts less medicine from the plants. Apple cider vinegar tinctures also have a short shelf life- about a year- and are not commonly used by herbalists anymore. There are a few herbs I soak in apple cider vinegar, but I use those for other purposes, for cooking, for example, rather than for internal medicine.
Sitting in between alcohol and apple cider vinegar- a unfortunately receiving somewhat of a bad rap within the herb world- are glycerin tinctures. Glycerin is a sweet, sticky substance. Most commercially available vegetable glycerin is a byproduct of commercial soap making, derived from coconut oils.
.Glycerin tinctures have their advantages and disadvantages. I use only glycerin tinctures as we do not keep or use alcohol in our home due to our traditional Anishnabe beliefs and way of living. And, this is one of the advantages of glycerin. Glycerin tinctures are suitable for those who cannot tolerate alcohol for whatever reason and also for those who do not use alcohol because of religious, cultural or spiritual beliefs. Glycerin is sweet tasting and many glycerin tinctures have an appealing taste, blending syrupy sweetness with herb flavours. Although glycerin is sweet, it is not processed in the body the same way that sugar is and so it is suitable for diabetics. It won’t raise the blood sugar. Some herbs, particularly those that are highly water soluble take very well to glycerin and an excellent Elderberry Syrup can be made with Elderberries and glycerin.
The downsides to glycerin tinctures? Glycerin is not as strong a solvent as alcohol and some herbs- particularly resinous herbs- will not take well to glycerin. This also means that glycerin tinctures are not as potent as alcohol tinctures, however, the decreased potency of the glycerin tincture can be countered by giving larger doses of the glycerin tinctures. Glycerin also has a shorter shelf life than alcohol. Properly made glycerin tinctures have a shelf life of 2-3 years. I don’t really see this as a weakness, however, as I typically use up the tinctures I make within a year or two.
Tinctures can be used to treat a wide range of ailments and health concerns, as well as for preventative medicine. In my own practice, I have used glycerin tinctures as part of an overall treatment for a wide variety of health issues including fever and teething pain; allergies; cold, flu and other infections; sore stomachs. high blood pressure and cardiovascular health; urinary tract infections; menstrual cramps; muscle, joint and chronic pain; immune support and more.
OK…. So now you know what glycerin tinctures are, how do you make them??? We’ll cover that in our next post, which should be posted within the week! There are a couple different methods which can be used which vary from the very simple to the more precise and measured. We will go over how to make tinctures from dried herbs, as well as fresh plants. Stay tuned for the recipes!