Tinctures are an essential element of traditional herbal medicine. By soaking the bark, berries, leaves or roots of certain medicinal plants in grain alcohol, vinegar or glycerin, the active ingredients of the plant are drawn out into a concentrated liquid which may have medicinal and other health benefits.
Ann Zimmerman, a licensed acupuncturist and co-founder of Middleway Acupuncture and Herbs in Talent, says that people have made tinctures for hundreds of years. “In our clinic, we use tinctures to treat pediatric conditions such as earaches, sleeping problems and digestive issues,” she says. “For adults, tinctures can be used for problems with fertility, digestion, menopause and insomnia, to name a few.”
Dr. Judith Boice, a naturopathic physician at Siskiyou Vital Medicine in Medford, says that plant medicine can treat just about any condition.
“A tincture is the extract of an herb,” she says. “Fresh or dried herbs are put in a jar and covered with 190-proof alcohol or glycerin. The same herb soaked separately in each liquid will produce slightly different properties. The mixture should sit in a dark place, like a closet, for two to three weeks or longer.”
Boice says after the herbs have soaked for several weeks, strain the mixture through cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Discard the herbs. The extract that is left is now a concentrated form of the herb. If properly stored in a tight container or bottle, the tincture will last for several years
“Because it is concentrated, you don’t need as much,” she says. “One cup of herbal tea is roughly equivalent to 30 drops of tincture,” she says.
Zimmerman says some tinctures are a blend of 10-12 herbs, all chosen for certain properties.
“These blends are very targeted remedies,” she notes. “Depending on what you are treating, use two dropperfuls two to three times a day.”
Zimmerman says tinctures are helpful in relieving anxiety and promote relaxation, which is especially important now during this time of COVID-19. “In Chinese medicine, we promote herbs to strengthen the immune system. We need to be as strong as possible. Echinacea/goldenseal is a good one for immune support,” she says.
Boice says that if you decide to make your own, be very sure that you know the plants you are dealing with. Some herbs are actually toxic and can be harmful.
“Know the plant,” she says. “If you are not 100% certain, ask a gardener or call an extension office. Once you decide on the plant to use, make sure it has not been exposed to pollutants. With a plant, you can’t wash away chemicals. Make sure it is growing away from the road and has not been exposed to lawn sprays. Autumn is the best time to gather roots. The plant has been harvesting energy all summer and will be full of nutrients.”
Boice suggests making small batches if you are just starting out. Once you have more experience, work up to a quart or two at a time.
“Herbs are very complex, and sometimes they have hundreds of substances and multiple actions,” says Boice. “For instance, our native Oregon grape root is rich in berberine, which is a substance known for its antifungal, antibiotic and antiviral properties. It makes an excellent tincture. Hawthorn berry is another one. This is a heart tonic rich in antioxidants that help protect the health of the blood vessels. It is a superfood full of vitamin C.”