Tinctures are concentrated extracts of the berries, leaves, roots, or bark of certain plants, combined with either alcohol or vinegar. Tinctures have been around for thousands of years and are an important component of traditional herbal medicine. The plants used in tinctures have a wide variety of healing properties – tinctures are simply one way to consume them.
Technically, vanilla extract is a tincture. Vanilla beans are split open and soaked in vodka for an extended period. Herbal tinctures (like those used for their medicinal properties) can be taken straight by the dropper or diluted in the liquid of your choice. They’re also commonly added to cocktail recipes to impart a unique flavor.
In the United States, tinctures are considered dietary supplements and can be used to support a wide range of wellness goals. Their effects will depend on which plants are used, the amount of and frequency with which the tincture is taken, and the needs of the individual ingesting it. It’s highly recommended that you consult a qualified medical professional for advice on the appropriate use for your personal needs before consuming any store-bought or homemade tincture.
Five Types of Tinctures and Their Benefits
While you can buy tinctures online or at your local apothecary, it may be easier to make them yourself. Most tinctures follow a basic recipe, swapping out the plants depending on which tincture you’re making. The general directions are:
- Wash and coarsely chop the plant.
- In an airtight jar, combine alcohol or vinegar and chopped plant.
- For fresh herbs, use a 1:1 plant-to-liquid ratio; for dried herbs, use a 1:4 ratio.
- Seal the jar and place in a cool, dry place for at least six weeks, shaking occasionally.
- After opening the jar, strain the plant parts from the liquid and discard them.
When storing your finished tinctures, be sure to label them with some basic information:
- Which plant you used, which parts, and whether they were fresh or dried
- The type of alcohol or vinegar used
- When the tincture was made
- Instructions on how to use the tincture
How to use tinctures
To use a tincture, fill a dropper or small syringe with the liquid. Drip it into your mouth and hold it under your tongue for a few seconds before swallowing. It may have a bitter taste, so rinse your mouth thoroughly afterward. Dosage depends on age, but many sources recommend not taking more than two small dropperfuls. Do not give tinctures to children.
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Elderberry syrup is a popular cold and flu remedy, and elderberry tincture provides all the same benefits with the added bonus of a longer shelf life. It’s crucial to cook elderberries before using them to make tinctures – raw and undercooked elderberries are toxic to humans and can cause intense gastrointestinal upset.
Elderberry extract has been used medicinally for centuries to fight infections, boost immunity, and even shorten the duration of flu symptoms. Elderberries themselves are a good source of fiber, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and C.
Good for: Immune support
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Turmeric’s power comes from a compound called curcumin, a potent antioxidant proven to reduce inflammation and prevent illness. Preliminary research shows that curcumin may help prevent or even treat prostate cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer, and colon cancer. This is likely due to turmeric’s antioxidant properties, which protect cells from oxidative damage.
Turmeric can also help prevent the buildup of plaque that can block arteries, causing heart attack and stroke. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties have also shown promise in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and arthritis.
Good for: Cancer prevention, reducing inflammation, and lowering blood pressure
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Besides prompting the “That smells great ‒ what are you cooking?” conversation, garlic has many health benefits. One large study found that a daily garlic supplement reduced the number of colds by 63% compared to a placebo, with the average length of the cold reduced from five days to only one and a half.
Garlic also contains compounds that can lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and improve blood pressure, particularly in people with high cholesterol and hypertension. Some studies found that garlic supplements worked just as well as prescription medications.
Good for: Improved circulation and blood pressure
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Echinacea is one of the most popular medicinal herbs in the United States and is primarily used to treat symptoms of the common cold as well as boost the immune system. Echinacea contains compounds called phenols, which have antioxidant properties. One study showed that taking echinacea can decrease your chances of catching the common cold by 58%.
Echinacea plants also contain alkamides, rosmarinic acid, and caffeic acid, all of which have been shown to help reduce feelings of anxiety.
Good for: Fighting inflammation and infections
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Besides making a delicious tea, chamomile contains flavonoids that are believed to have relaxing and anti-anxiety properties. Chamomile has also been used to manage menstrual cramps, support digestion, and lower blood sugar levels. Chamomile’s sleep-aid properties are attributed mainly to apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to certain receptors in your brain that can promote feelings of sleepiness.
The anti-inflammatory properties in chamomile may prevent damage to the cells of your pancreas, the organ that regulates blood sugar. Damage can occur when your blood sugar levels are chronically elevated. Animal studies have found that chamomile helps prevent blood sugar spikes after eating.
Good for: Regulating blood sugar and reducing sleepless nights
Side Effects of Tinctures
As with other herbal supplements, tinctures have potential side effects. Just because a remedy is “herbal” or “natural” does not necessarily mean that it’s safe or effective. The plants used in tinctures may also interact with prescription medications. Common side effects of tinctures include:
- Gastrointestinal issues, like bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and heartburn
- Allergic reactions, including fever, itching, hives, and anaphylaxis
- Drop in blood sugar
- Sensitivity to light
- Tincture burns, including irritation under the tongue
The Bottom Line
Tinctures are a unique alternative to taking supplements in pill form, but they’re not without their own risks. Some studies say they can provide health benefits like improved sleep, less anxiety, and even help in preventing cancer, but they haven’t been studied as much as other forms of treatment.
Making your own tinctures adds another level of risk – ensuring the ratio is right and that you’re using safe and clean plants is crucial. Always speak with your doctor before beginning any new supplements.