What is a tincture?
A tincture is a liquid extract of a medicinal plant. Usually, the plant is soaked in alcohol, which acts as a solvent to extract the active constituents of the plant. Tinctures are highly concentrated extracts. They make working with plant medicine very convenient; all you need is anywhere from a drop to a few squirts per dose. We love tinctures for this reason. If you have a hard time swallowing herbal capsules, tinctures are an incredible alternative.
It is generally recommended to take tinctures sublingually, as the sensitive membranes under the tongue are some of the most highly absorbent in the body. By by-passing the digestive tract, the medicine is rapidly absorbed straight to the bloodstream where it can begin restoring balance to the body immediately.
What kind of alcohol is used to make tinctures?
Truthfully, you can use any kind of alcohol you want. What is crucial though, is having the proper proof. Most plants work best in distilled alcohol above %50 but again, it varies a lot depending on the constituents you are trying to extract. %30 alcohol is the lowest percentage you can use while maintaining the natural preservative qualities of the alcohol.
We prefer to use organic cane spirits. Using the term “spirit” to describe alcohol actually comes from the alchemical tradition, as the production of alcohol was used to try and capture the pure spirit of the plant. As this is the foundation of the medicine, we prefer to ensure our spirits are as high quality as possible, and have committed to using organic alcohol. We generally go for organic cane, which adds that special sweetness to our formulas.
Are all tinctures made of alcohol?
Tinctures are generally alcoholic in nature, however the term is increasingly used for glycerin, vinegar and even oil extracts like with CBD. “Ethanol offers the advantage of dissolving constituents that are insoluble or sparingly soluble in water, helping to preserve them in solution.” (Hoffman et al 2003)
How to Store Tinctures
One of the many gifts of tinctures is that when cared for correctly, they have an incredibly long shelf life. To ensure yours stay as potent as possible, make sure to keep them in a cool dark place.
A (Brief) History of Tinctures
While it seems a precise history of tinctures is cloaked under the veil of time, we attempt here to present you with a general overview of this incredible method of working with plant medicine.
As we discovered above, to make a tincture you need alcohol. Generally, scholars seem to agree the first recorded evidence of the production of distilled alcohol was around 7000 BCE, in China. However, less conclusive research speculates alcohol was being produced as far back as 10 000 BCE in places like what is now Egypt, Turkey and Israel.
With distillation as one of the 7 stages of alchemy, there is a strong link to the development of this process and the alchemical tradition. In fact some historians believe that the alembic (a tool for distillation) was invented between 200-300AD, in Egypt by ancient alchemists.
In 1027, The Al-Qanoon fi al Tibb (The Canon of Medicine) was published after years of compilation. This was a foundational text (consisting of 5 volumes!) of Islamic medical knowledge. Written by Ibn Sina, this body of work profoundly influenced early medicine Europe. The text covered a vast array of topics including the preparation of herbal tinctures.
Europe took longer to catch on to the distillation of alcohol, which really didn’t become widespread until the 14C. By then, alcohol was referred to “spirited water” (because it contained the spirit of the plant) and was often used for medicinal purposes. As exploration of the healing powers of water expanded, it was latered referred to as acqua vitae or “water of life” and was woven this way into early pharmacology (Coppers).
While we don’t know exactly what the first tincture ever made was, its safe to say that in an era free from endless (digital) distractions of modern life it was much easier to hear the wisdom of the natural world and somewhere along this timeline someone insightfully put some plants in alcohol, let them sit around, and discovered the miracle of maceration.
The details of the first tincture are uncertain but this method of making medicine was very common by the Victorian era. With as many botanical traditions as there are cultures, we like working with tinctures because they hold strong links to our European ancestry and our love affair with the alchemical tradition.
We are blessed to live in a time where tincture accessibility is at an all time high. We love these extracts because they are easy to dose and also convenient for travelling.
Hoffman, David; ; Fnimh ; AHG. “Medical Herbalism : The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine” : 2003
Hirst, K. Kris. "History of Alcohol: A Timeline." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-alcohol-a-timeline-170889
Coppers, Iberian. “History of Alcohol Distillation.” https://www.copper-alembic.com/en/page/history-of-alcohol-distillation