Posts

Liquid extracts, often called “tinctures,” are a convenient and effective way to take herbal remedies.

Alcohol is the most oft-used medium to extract, as it is effective in various percentages in pulling out a variety of water-soluble and fat-soluble constituents from the plant, as well as being a powerful preservative. However, there are instances where alcohol is not desirable, either because of its pungent taste or not being appropriate for a certain population. For that, we do have the option for some herbs to be consumed as a “glycerite,” a vegetable-glycerine extracted tincture.

Vegetable glycerine is the clear, sweet, viscous liquid that is a bi-product of the soap-making industry, and due to its chemical make-up does extract an array of water-soluble constituents, and some fat-soluble constituents as well. Because of their sweet taste, these glycerites can be administered straight to pets by squeezing into their mouth, or given to children either straight or in a bit of liquid. It is often a way to add sweetness to an herbal blend, and some herbs taste quite delicious as a glycerite.

For example, in the pictures above, the pink liquid is Rose Glycerite, and it captures the floral nature of rose petals perfectly. Mixed in blends to add a floral note, or for supporting the emotional heart in times of grief or sadness, this glycerite is a favorite of our herbalists here at Herban Wellness. The bottle with the dark red liquid contains Schisandra Glycerite, which is one of my absolute favorite herbs in this form. Schisandra berry is called the “five flavor fruit” because of its complex flavor profile of sour, pungent, bitter, salty, and sweet, and it has an adaptogenic effect on the adrenal glands and the stress response, making it a valuable ally for stress relief, recovery, and for energy levels. The sweetness of the vegetable glycerine makes this berry much more palatable, and downright tasty, even when consumed by itself directly in the mouth.

Other herbs pictured in their glycerite form above are Lemon balm, which makes a sweet, slightly lemony, slightly herbaceous liquid for calming the nervous system and is often used in formulas for children to help calm or relax. Nettle Glycerite is a green, herbaceous extract that can help soothe allergy symptoms due to its anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effects. So this glycerite is nice added to tea, juice, a tonic, or smoothie for its effects. Ginger Glycerite is the golden-yellow liquid above, and is delicious added to sparkling water or lemon water while on the go for its anti-nausea, stomach calming, and anti-inflammatory properties.

We have created a couple glycerite blends that are entirely alcohol-free for children, that can also be used by adults that don’t want to take alcohol. We can also customize fully alcohol-free blends, even though our selection of glycerites is lower than that of alcohol-tinctures. The reason for this is that many plants do not extract as well in vegetable glycerine. However, we can work with you to find what will work best if it is your desire to avoid alcohol entirely. We also regularly create herbal blends for a specific reason using a combination of glycerites and tinctures, for flavor and potency.

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.