I often get puzzled looks when I use the word “tincture” or describe an infusion of herbs.  What is an elixir versus a tonic?  Why do we extract in alcohol?  So I thought I would define a few terms commonly used in herbal medicine.
TEA: First, let’s talk about “tea”, since it is a familiar word and concept that people can understand.  Technically, a “tea” is only made from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, which brings us white tea, green tea, black tea, oolong tea, bancha, pu-erh tea, and all the varieties within that.  This tea plant, Camellia sinensis, contains caffeine.  Pause.  Did you know that all of these teas come from the same plant??  Pretty cool.  Each type of tea is processed differently to bring out different flavors and properties.  For example, white tea is the least processed and lowest in caffeine of all these teas.  Depending on subspecies and where this plant is cultivated and the climate it is bred to grow in, you get an incredible diversity of flavors and aromas in teas.
TEA vs. INFUSION or TISANE: Okay, so, herbal “teas” are really herbal aqueous (water) infusions or tisanes, but now we just refer to any plant infused/steeped in hot water as a tea.  So if you ever are confused, hopefully this just added to the confusion!  By “infused” or “steeped”, we are referring to the plant material sitting in hot water, its properties getting extracted into the water.  I will refer to all plant water infusions as teas from now on.
Let’s continue then.  Some plants and the desired constituents in those plants are most active and available prepared as a water infusion, because the compounds are water soluble (hydrophilic).  These are best prepared and taken as a tea.
TINCTURES: Some plants contain desired compounds that tend to be more alcohol or oil soluble (they are more hydrophobic) and tend not to be water soluble, or poorly so.  These would preferably be consumed as a tincture, then, which is an extract of fresh or dry plant in an alcohol & water solution.  Something like lomatium root (Lomatium dissectum), which is oozing with resins and volatile oils when harvested fresh, is best prepared in a high-alcohol preparation then in order to capture some of these resins and oils in the solution, since these have many of the antibacterial, antiviral, and decongestant effects that lomatium can offer.
Can plants/herbs with water soluble compounds be extracted as a tincture?  Yes, they can!  These would just contain a lower alcohol percentage to water (say 40% alcohol content), therefore preserving the preparation while extracting both water soluble and some alcohol soluble compounds.
Tinctures are often desirable because they are a concentrated herbal extract that is taken in drop doses.  The added advantage is that the fresh plant can be extracted into the solution and then it is preserved for potentially years once the plant material has been pressed out and the liquid (tincture) is stored.
GLYCERITES: These are herbal extracts in vegetable glycerine, another solvent used to extract both water and alcohol-soluble compounds from plants.  There are generally not as many herbal glycerites available on the market.  Glycerine is a sweet, viscous bi-product of the soap-making industry and can extract some hydrophilic (water soluble) and hydrophobic (alcohol soluble) compounds from the plant.  Another advantage is that they are sweet-tasting extracts and because they contain no alcohol, they are great for kids and anyone averse to taking alcohol-containing substances (or anyone who should not, for that matter).
HERBAL OILS: One way to prepare herbs for topical use is to infuse (there’s that word again) herbs in oil so that the properties of the plant can be extracted into the oil.  Basically this means covering fresh or dried herbs with oil and allowing them to sit in the oil for a length of time and then pressing out the plant material.  The oil then can be used directly on the skin, or used in a lotion or salve.
SALVES: What the heck is a salve, anyway?  Pronounced “saav” (like “have” with an “s”; silent “l”), this is essentially a wax-thickened oil, and is basically what a lip balm is.  Beeswax or other emulsifying vegetable waxes are usually used to thicken/harden the oil so it can be spread on the skin.

Devil’s club is a familiar sight in our local woods, and a plant many hikers (or bush-whackers) know only as a nasty plant they may have grabbed once on accident.  Covered in spines, this plant is like our “native ginseng”.  Large leaves that are reminiscent of our big-leaf maple sit like umbrellas on top of thin, spiny stems that grow from 3-10 feet tall.  The root bark is used, harvested by very carefully and respectfully entering a family of these spreading stems covered in thorns, and cutting a chunk of root between two plants.  This does not kill the plant.  The bark is then stripped and cut up to make medicine.  Devil’s club has been used as a medicine for a long time, as the indigenous people all through the Pacific Northwest were well-acquainted with it.
The root bark acts as a safe and effective respiratory stimulant and expectorant, helping to break up and dispel mucus from the lungs.  It also seems to act as an herbal adaptogen, helping to support and protect the body from the potentially detrimental effects of long-term stress by strengthening the immune system and adrenal glands and balancing blood sugar, even perhaps helping with sugar cravings.
Energetically, this herbs seems to have a strong protective and strengthening ability, helping people to have better boundaries when that is needed.

The beautiful hawthorn tree, with its leaves that look like mini oak leaves and its spiny branches, is in flower right now, from snowy white to a medium pink depending on the species.  They produce prolific flowers, and later red berries, that are both used medicinally.  Crataegus oxycantha and C. monogyna are the two species used most often medicinally, and these produce dense clusters of white flowers and red edible berries that resemble small crabapples.  As a member of the apple family, this makes sense!  The berries have the longest traditional history of use.
Hawthorn is primarily known and used as a fantastic tonic for the cardiovascular system.  A safe, gentle, effective herbal remedy, this herb has been used to generally strengthen the heart muscle, lower blood pressure,  normalize heart rhythms, act as an antioxidant to reduce and prevent arthrosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries), to lower blood cholesterol levels (LDL in particular) and to increase circulation to the extremities.  Many of these uses have been born out in clinical studies, where some of hawthorn’s active compounds, mainly flavonoids and oligomeric procyanidins, have strengthened contractions of the heart muscle, increased the amount of blood pumped with each contraction, and promoted a stable, rhythmic heartbeat in study participants.
Aside from being a heart remedy, hawthorn is also used as a gentle diuretic, increasing fluid flow through the kidneys, as a nervous system and lung tonic, and to promote restful sleep and healthy digestion.  It is used for allergy-related reactions such as sinusitis, bronchitis, and asthmatic conditions, for attention deficit symptoms in adults and children, for insomnia, indigestion, & nervous stomach.
It is also used for emotional heart-related pain, such as grief and heartbreak to help protect and support the body, and in particular the heart and lungs which can be affected in times of grief and loss.