Sunday, February 20, 2011


A tincture is an alcoholic extract (e.g. of leaves or other plant material) or solution of a non-volatile substance (e.g. of iodine, mercurochrome). To qualify as a tincture, the alcoholic extract is to have an ethanol percentage of at least 40-60% (80-120 proof) (sometimes a 90% (180 proof) pure liquid is even achieved). In herbal medicine, alcoholic tinctures are often made with various concentrations of ethanol, 25% being the most common. Other concentrations include 45% and 90%. Herbal tinctures do not always use ethanol as a solvent, though this is the most frequent. Other solvents include vinegar, glycerol, ether and propylene glycol, not all of which are used for internal consumption. However, where a raw solvent's pH factor is a sole consideration, the advantage of ethanol is that being close to neutral pH, it is a good compromise as a passive used solvent of both acidic and alkaline constituents where a tincturing methodology is concerned. Glycerine, when utilized in a tincture methodology's passive (i.e. 'non-critical') manner, is a poorer solvent generally, and vinegar, being acidic, is a better solvent of alkaloids but a poorer solvent of acids, which would result in the alkaloids being more present in the preparation than otherwise. However, for people who do not imbibe alcohol for medical, religious or moral reasons, non-alcoholic (glycerite) tinctures are an alternative.
Alcohol tinctures cannot be subjected to high temperatures and are thus considered a 'non-critical' passive methodology regarding this factor. This is one of the primary reasons why glycerol, due to early Eclectic medicine studies (now for the most part outdated concerning the subject), is typically seen as inferior to alcohol, when utilized in a non-critical tincture methodology fashion (which is how Eclectic medicine researchers utilized glycerol in their tincture making studies), since it does not exhibit the extractive potential of alcohol when used in a low temperature non-critical tincturing setting. Glycerol used in a non-critical tincturing methodology, as is typically done in the herbal products industry at large for instance, will result in a weak solution, whereas if glycerol is subjected to a contemporary innovative serialized methodology currently in the industry, the extractive potential of glycerol is quite astounding. Therefore, glycerite products made using such innovative serialized extraction technologies are showing great promise, even rivaling alcohol tinctures on numerous points.
Solutions of volatile substances were called spirits, although that name was also given to several other materials obtained by distillation, even when they did not include alcohol. In chemistry, a tincture is a solution that has alcohol as the solvent.

General Method of preparation:

A general method of preparation on how tinctures can be prepared is the following:
  • Herbs are put in a jar and a spirit of 40% pure ethanol is added (80 proof Vodka, for example)
  • The jar is left to stand for 2–3 weeks, shaken occasionally, in order to maximise the concentration of the solution.
To make a more precise tincture, more extensive measuring can be done by combining 1 part herbs with a water-ethanol mixture of 2-10 parts, depending on the herb itself. With most tinctures, however, 1 part water at 5 parts ethanol is used.

Advantages of Tincture:
Ethanol is able to dissolve substances which are less soluble in water, while at the same time the water content can dissolve the substances less soluble in ethanol. It is possible to vary the proportion of ethanol and water to produce tinctures with different qualities because of different substances. One example of this is tincture of Calendula officinalis, which is frequently used either at 25% ethanol or 90% ethanol. The solvent also acts as a preservative.

Disadvantages of tinctures

Chemically speaking, ethanol possesses a profound intrinsic denaturing and inert rendering quality. This quality accounts for a large part of ethanol's anti-microbial properties. This denaturing and inert rendering quality also has an undesired effect on many extracted botanical constituents. For instance, alcohol intrinsically fractures and denatures many highly complex aromatic compounds and denatures many extracted for polysaccharides. Other constituents are likewise subjected to denaturing and being rendered inert. The basic tenets of chemistry teach that anytime a biologically viable component is denatured or rendered inert, it will reduce or negate the prior biological viability. This factor needs to be seriously considered and weighed by the clinician or consumer when determining the hoped for biological viability of an ethanol-based botanical tincture both as to sought for efficacy and dosage considerations.
Ether and propylene glycol tinctures are not suitable for internal consumption and are instead used in such preparations as creams or ointments.

Examples of Tinctures:

Some examples that were formerly common in medicine include:
  • Tincture of Cannabis sativa
  • Tincture of Benzoin
  • Tincture of cantharides
  • Tincture of ferric citrochloride (a chelate of citric acid and Iron(III) chloride)
  • Tincture of green soap (which also contains lavender)
  • Tincture of guaiac
  • Tincture of iodine
  • Tincture of opium (laudanum)
  • Camphorated opium tincture (paregoric)
  • Tincture of Pennyroyal
  • Warburg's Tincture (aka Tinctura Antiperiodica aka Antiperiodic Tincture), an antipyretic medicine of the 19th-century.
Examples of spirits include:
  • Spirit of ammonia (also called spirit of hartshorn)
  • Spirit of box, or ethanol, which was derived from the destructive distillation of boxwood
  • Spirit of camphor
  • Spirit of ether, a solution of diethyl ether in alcohol
  • "Spirit of Mindererus", ammonium acetate in alcohol
  • "Spirit of nitre" is not a spirit in this sense, but an old name for nitric acid (but "sweet spirit of nitre" was ethyl nitrite)
  • Similarly "spirit(s) of salt" actually meant hydrochloric acid. The concentrated, fuming, 35% acid is still sold under this name in the UK, for use as a drain-cleaning fluid.
  • "Spirit of vinegar" was glacial acetic acid and
  • "Spirit of vitriol" was sulfuric acid
  • "Spirit of wine" or "spirits of wine" is an old name for alcohol (especially food grade alcohol derived from the distillation of wine)
  • "Spirit of wood" means methanol, often derived from the destructive distillation of wood

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