Tinctures – What are they and how do you use them?

What is a tincture you may ask?  Tinctures are liquid extracts made from herbs that you take orally (by mouth). They are usually extracted in alcohol (known here on our website as “regular”), but they can also be extracted in vegetable glycerine or apple cider vinegar (non-alcohol).

Tinctures are easy and convenient to use. Tinctures are also easier to give to children as they have to take only small amounts (see Children’s Dosage Guide for suggestions).

Because they are taken directly under the tongue, they enter the bloodstream much more quickly and directly than by any other means. This means that the action in the body is usually quicker then too.

Although some herbs will have an immediate effect, such as those used to help one relax, others that are more nutritive and building in nature may take several weeks of continual use before best results are seen (much like a multi-vitamin).

Tea vs. Tincture?

Herb Lore teas and tinctures are made from the same combination of herbs.  For example, Pregnancy Tea Tincture is made from Pregnancy Tea, and Nursing Tincture is an extract made from Nursing Tea, so the herbs are the same – it’s just two different ways of taking them. 

Some people enjoy teas and enjoy the relaxing aspects of taking a time-out to drink a cup of tea.  Others may not care for tea or do not have time to brew and drink a cup of tea. For these people, a tincture is perfect.  You take the drops and you are done.  

Tinctures are also very convenient, as nothing needs to be brewed.  You can easily carry a bottle of tincture in your purse and have it available to you at all times.  (Tummy Tincture for gas and tummy upset, and Rescue Remedy for anxiety, nervousness or injuries are popular items for one’s purse.) 

You can also make an instant cup of tea out of a tincture by adding two droppersful (squeezes) of tincture to a cup of warm water.  

Note: Two droppersful of tincture equals one 8 oz. cup of tea.

When you want an immediate response, such as herbs for relaxation or sleep, a tincture may give you more immediate results.  For nutritive herbs that can take several weeks of use to see results, either a tea, a tincture or a capsule would be fine.  It comes down to personal preference.

What is a Tincture Dropperful?  How Do You Take a Tincture?  Why won’t the glass tube fill all the way when I squeeze the dropper top?

On all dropper tops – no matter how large or small of a tincture bottle it comes in or how long the glass tube on the droppertop is – the bulb (the thing you squeeze) is the same size on them all. The bulb is what determines how much liquid fills the tube, not the length of the tube itself.

A standard suggested adult dosage for tinctures is 2 droppersful two to three times a day.

For children under 12, please see our Children’s Dosage Guide for recommendations.

With this standard dosing suggestion (for adults) of two droppersful three times a day, tincture bottles typically last this long:

  • 1oz. tincture bottle will last about one week
  • 2oz. tincture bottle will last two weeks
  • 4oz. tincture bottle will typically last about a month.

To take a tincture, it is best to take the drops directly under the tongue. This gets the herb directly into the bloodstream.

If necessary, it is fine to dilute the tincture in a small amount of water or juice. It may be flavored with lemon or honey to disguise the taste. For herbs that I don’t care for, I will put the drops into a tiny bit of warm water, add some honey, stir and quickly drink.  It really helps! 

NOTE: never give honey to a child under one year of age.

You may also put the droppersful of tincture into a cup of warm or hot water for an instant cup of herbal tea. Heat your water first, before adding the herbs. Heating the herbs in a microwave may kill or weaken their healthful benefits.  

Taking the tincture directly under the tongue and avoiding any liquids or foods for at least 15 minutes afterwards provides the best results.

Are Tinctures Safe for Pregnant or Nursing Women? How About Children and Babies?

Yes, tinctures are fine for pregnant and nursing women, even the alcohol-based versions. One dose of an alcohol-based tincture has approximately the same alcohol content as eating a very ripe banana.

For example, a 1oz bottle of tincture, should one drink the entire bottle at one sitting, would be the equivalent of one drink, one glass of wine or beer.  But the user is not drinking the entire thing at one sitting – they are taking drops of it at a time, spread out over the course of one week, and at this dose, the alcohol content is negligible.  (A 1oz bottle of tincture taken on a consistent basis should last one week.) 

Herb Lore does offer non-alcohol versions of nearly all of our herbal tinctures. Non-alcohol tinctures are good for children, those with alcohol sensitivities, or for those who simply prefer a non-alcohol product.

If you are pregnant or nursing, we invite you to see our list of Herbs to Avoid During Pregnancy and Lactation.

For babies, we recommend that nursing mothers take the tincture, which will then pass to their babies through the breastmilk.

For those who are not nursing, please see our FAQ’s page for ideas as to the best ways to administer herbs to your baby.

The Children’s Dosage Guide outlines general dosage recommendations for children, which is available on our website under the Articles & Information section. 

One thing of note – babies will want to suck on the dropper.  Do not let them, as they could break the glass dropper by biting it, and they could also contaminate the non-alcohol tincture and cause mold to form. As we have done extensive laboratory testing on our non-alcohol tinctures to find the right amount of vegetable glycerine to use to prevent mold from growing, this is unlikely. However, it’s always wise to check. Mold is very easy to spot – it will be a whitish-grey blob that floats on the top of the tincture or grows in the glass dropper tube.  If this happens, please discard the product.

For some herbs, such as roots, barks, berries, and non-aromatic seeds, it takes a powerful liquid such as alcohol to extract the medicinal properties from the herb.  Extracting with a less powerful liquid will only result in a less effective product – really, a waste of your time and money.  This is why you will see some of Herb Lore’s tinctures available only in an alcohol-base.  We refuse to sell anything that is not of the highest quality. 

To dissipate the alcohol:  For those who prefer a non-alcohol product and there’s not one available, you can put the drops of tincture into a small amount of hot water (the amount is not important, it is the heat and allowing the tincture to sit for 5-10 minutes in the hot water). This will dissipate the alcohol content, leaving only the herb matter and water behind.  (Be careful not to have your water so hot that you burn yourself.)

What is the Shelf Life of my Tinctures? How Should I Store Tinctures?  What are They Made With?

Tinctures are extracted most often in alcohol because it is such a potent solvent and extractant. As mentioned before, some herbs simply will not release their medicinal qualities to a solvent that is less potent, such as water, apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerine. It takes something stronger, and alcohol is perfect. 

It also acts as an effective preservative. Alcohol-based tinctures have a virtually unlimited shelf life if stored in a cool, dark location.  Refrigeration is not necessary.

Tinctures made from apple cider vinegar are wonderful, as the apple cider vinegar has wonderful health-building qualities of its own. They can be used as salad dressings, marinades or in foods, as well as for your regular tincture use. The shelf life of apple cider vinegar tinctures is very short – about a year or so if kept in a cool, dark cupboard or refrigerator (recommended). Apple cider vinegars are considered non-alcohol tinctures.

Vegetable glycerine is also used to make non-alcohol tinctures – these tinctures are also known as glycerites.

They have a much longer shelf life than the apple cider vinegar but shorter than the alcohol-based tinctures.

Tinctures made of vegetable glycerine are wonderful for children. They have a sweet taste to them and can make even bad tasting herbs taste good! Glycerine does not have the extraction power that alcohol does, but it still does a fantastic job and results in a highly effective product. They are a great choice for children or for those who prefer a non-alcohol product.  

Please see the article entitled Storage of Your Herbal Products for more details on storing and maintaining your herbs, to ensure their quality and freshness, and how to keep from contaminating your herbal product.

Herb Lore offers tinctures that are made of Certified Organic grape alcohol and Certified Organic vegetable glycerine.  We offer both versions of our tinctures unless the herb used will not produce a good-quality product using the non-alcohol vegetable glycerine. Roots, hard seeds and many barks will not release their medicinal properties to anything less than alcohol, and in those cases, we offer the tincture in the regular alcohol-base only. 

For more information on what we use to make our tinctures (including information on any potential allergies), please see What Sets Us Apart, found in About Us. 

Store your tinctures and all of your herbs in a cool, dark cupboard. This includes your cooking spices, which most people keep above a hot stove. Keeping them in a heated area can cause your herbs and spices to become weak and less effective more quickly.

You may carry and keep tinctures in a purse or briefcase.

Be sure not to leave your tinctures in a hot area for long periods of time, such as in a car, as heat can negatively impact the quality of your herbal products.

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written by Pam Caldwell
Certified Herbalist — Fertility, Pregnancy, Birth, Postpartum & Lactation Specialist