by Jill Ruttenberg, AHG Herbalist & owner of AmaTierra Retreat Center in Costa Rica
The world of herbal and natural medicine can be confusing at times. This short explanation attempts to clarify what herb tinctures are, exactly, how they are made, how to take them, and why tinctures are often considered the best way to remedy a variety of ailments.
So, let’s jump right in! Tinctures are concentrated plant extracts made with either fresh or dried herbs which are soaked in alcohol and water, sealed in jars and shaken daily for a period of 2-4 weeks. During this process, the chemical constituents and healing properties of the plant are “extracted” by the liquid, and, when ready, the plant material is strained out and the liquid is stored in dark colored bottles, at room temperature and preferably in a dark place to protect the quality and longevity of the liquid. The ratios of water/alcohol and plant matter, as well as the length of time the herbs are soaked is specific to each kind of medicinal plant, depending on whether we’re using seeds, flowers, leaves, roots or tree barks, and more importantly, what constituents we are trying to extract. This is where the expertise and creativity of the practitioner comes in. For instance, if we are making a tincture of Reishi mushroom, the water extraction process captures a substance called “beta glucans”, which can slows tumor growth and stimulate T-cell production (to fight infection/cancer). And triterpines, which are strong antioxidants with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties are extracted by using alcohol. So, in this case, we use what we call a dual-extraction process, some of the mushrooms are made into a tincture with strong ethyl alcohol, and some are simmered in water. In the end, the two liquids are mixed, for an optimal Reishi tincture.
Can other solvents besides alcohol and water be used? And why use alcohol at all? Yes, you can use vinegar or glycerine to extract and preserve your herbs but technically, you would then have an “extract” and not a tincture. A tincture is always made with alcohol (most are made with 100 proof Ethanol: (Note: NEVER use isopropyl alcohol for making tinctures. It is toxic to take internally!!!!) because it is the best preserver of the plant matter and also because the alcohol goes straight to your bloodstream and to the places where your body needs the medicine so you can absorb it faster and more thoroughly. In fact, tinctures are about 50% better absorbed by the body than capsules or tablets which must be digested to be utilized. Tinctures have been around for hundreds of years, dating back at least to the Arab world of the 13th century. Of course, if alcohol is not right for you, you can usually find an alcohol-free extract, and do keep in mind that if yours is an excess heat condition, alcohol could be too warming for you. Since tinctures are very concentrated, you usually need fewer than 40 drops at a time, mixed in a little water and swished in the mouth, then swallowed.
The tincture blends that I make here are usually made specifically for the guests who come, but I also have four blends that we sell commercially: Joint-Eze for arthritis or injuries (with anti-inflammatory herbs including the Ginger and Turmeric we grow here!); Menstrual Eze for hormone balance, PMS and pain; Strong Defense for boosting the immune system (with Echinacea root, Astragalus and Reishi mushroom) and Sleep Well, which promotes a deep sleep without leaving you drowsy in the morning.
We call these AmaTierra Integrative Herbs, and you can see them here. What makes these tinctures unique is
1) they are all organic, (even the alcohol) and some are grown here on the property
2) the Herbs are from 4 different traditions: Western herbs, Traditional Chinese Medicinal herbs, Ayurvedic herbs and Tropical herbs. These work synergistically with your own body’s mechanisms so that healing can happen in a gentle but effective way.
You do not have to be a master herbalist to make tinctures for your own healing! When I lead herb walks around the property here at AmaTierra, we end the tour in my apothecary where I explain how tinctures are made, and I suggest to our guests that they see what’s growing around them: dandelion leaves, elderberries & flowers, chamomile, bearberry, yarrow: all of these are common in many parts of the U.S., Canada and Europe. Buy a few Mason jars, some distilled water and some vodka or Everclear, and read up on how to make yourself some helpful medicines! It’s fun and so rewarding.
We wish you the very best of health!
Jill Ruttenberg, RH, Co-Owner & Wellness Director of AmaTierra Retreat & Wellness Center in Costa Rica, is a professional nutritionist, certified practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and clinical herbalist registered with the American Herbalist Guild. She is also an experienced massage therapist, energy healer and Hatha yoga instructor. The Wellness Center at AmaTierra is Jill’s living dream, the fruition of decades of training, practice and experience in natural medicine and the healing arts.