What is a Tincture?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A tincture is an alcohol-based derivative of a fresh herb or other natural plant material, used primarily as an alternative medicine or dietary supplement. Few mainstream pharmaceuticals still offer medicines in this form, although this method is still popular among herbalists and homeopathic practitioners.

An herbal tincture.
An herbal tincture.

One of the main problems faced by early pharmacists was drug potency. Many drug compounds were mixed by hand at the drugstore and sold to patients soon afterwards. The drugs in powdered form often lost much of their potency within a few days or weeks. Tinctures, however, could remain potent for several years.

Vodka can be used to make tinctures.
Vodka can be used to make tinctures.

The alcohol, glycerin or vinegar used in a tincture added stability to the concentrated chemicals found in the herbs. Although hundreds of herbs and plants could survive the process, the most common formulas involved chemicals like laudanum, mecurochrome and iodine. An opium-based anesthetic called tincture of paregoric was also very popular in the late 19th century.

Cheesecloth is used to strain liquids and capture solids.
Cheesecloth is used to strain liquids and capture solids.

Because the list of ingredients is small and the process very straightforward, many believers in herbal medications make their own tinctures to this day. These are considerably cheaper than their commercial counterparts, and they remain potent for up to two years. To prepare an herbal tincture, you will need a supply of dried, powdered or fresh herbs; a clean wide-mouthed jar; cheesecloth or muslin; and a supply of vodka or rum.

Place the herbs inside the jar and pour enough vodka or rum to cover them completely. Continue to pour the alcohol until you've reached the halfway point of the jar. Place a lid on the jar and store it in a dark, cool place for up to two weeks.

Shake the jar at least once a day. The alcohol should draw out the essence of the herbs. After two weeks, carefully strain the tincture through a cheesecloth or muslin into another clean jar and store it in a medicine cabinet. Most recipes call for one tablespoon to be consumed at mealtime at least once a day. In place of the vodka or rum, vinegar or glycerin can be used. The ultimate point of a tincture is not to cause intoxication, but to provide the strongest possible concentration of an herb's healing essences.

Modern pharmacists don't deal with tinctures.
Modern pharmacists don't deal with tinctures.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Is it all right to have the tincture soaking for more than two weeks? Mine has been in the jar for about a month now.


recently i visited doctor for my gray hairs and she gave me some tablets and folic tincture. is it safe to use it? i just want to know how it acts on hairs? please answer.


Thanks for a great site. i have recently started making my own tinctures and this page has been a big help.


If I'm making a tincture with a wide mouthed mason jar, how much herbs should I put in the bottom? - Just enough to cover the bottom, an inch, two inches?

thanks, Bob


thank you catapult43. that was helpful.


I was tired of spending thousands of dollars for prescription meds and having doctors cut me off due to a legitimate condition.

I'm pain free thanks to mother nature and a friend to help me learn. I'm now a pain management doctor, taking care of myself, still paying 350$/month for health insurance.


Tincture of Iodine is defined in the U.S. National Formulary (NF) as containing in each 100 mL, 1.8 to 2.2 grams of iodine, and 2.1 to 2.6 grams of sodium iodide. Alcohol is 50 ml and the balance is purified water.


I have recently found that 5-7 drops of a medical Cannabis tincture three times a day has dramatically reduced my arthritis pain and my dependency on Codeine meds. It is with a doctor's recommendation that this is possible in my state.


after the tincture is ready through the process of treating alcohol with the desired herb, what name would it be called with? for example ginseng treated with alcohol will be known as "tincture ginseng?"


what herbs can i use for tinctures?


Using 80-proof alcohol, vodka, rum or brandy is just about right for the tincture. Anything stronger will not improve the herbs medicinal quality, and anything less then 80-proof might not store well.


can i just go to a liquor shop and buy vodka or rum & use it as a preservative for tincture. are any brand names or specific names available?


What herbs do i use to make tincture?


How much tincture to take? many herbalists follow a standard dose of 1 drop of tincture for every 5 pounds of body weight. It should be placed in 8 ounces of water.

Even though dried herbs are acceptable for tincture making, fresh herbs are preferable.

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