To decide which liquid base is best for your unique lifestyle, it’s worthwhile to first understand how a tincture is made. Technically, a tincture is simply a liquid extract of an herb that’s been dissolved in some sort of liquid.
Unlike a decoction, which is boiledd to extract the medicinal constituents, tin a tincture the herbs are cool-soaked over a period of time, allowing their potent elements to transfer into the liquid.
In the herbal community, this liquid base is known as menstruum and can include alcohol, water, wine, vinegar and more. We’ll focus solely on alcohol and glycerin.
The alcohol used in tinctures is the kind you drink – ethanol or ethyl alcohol. Keep in mind that rubbing alcohol, with which many people are familiar, is poisonous for internal use. For safety purposes, it’s important to distinguish between the two.
One of the most prevalent alcoholic bases for tinctures is vodka. It’s colorless, has no taste, no smell, and you can get your hands on it cheap. However, commercial tinctures are often made with plain, unadulterated ethanol.
To effectively preserve a tincture, you need an alcoholic medium that’s at least 20% ethanol.
When it comes to herbal tinctures, Alcohol has some advantages. It’s a good solvent, meaning it extracts most of the medicinal constituents within an herb. It also works great as a preservative. Preservation is key when making tinctures, and alcohol tends to inactivate any enzyme that threatens to alter extracts over time. It's also helpful in controlling decomposition.
Alcohol does have a few downfalls. For instance, it doesn’t extract resins and mucilage (sticky herbs like mullein) very well. It’s also highly flammable and not heat stable. Not to mention, alcohol has no nutritional value and doesn’t benefit the human body in any way. Its also not an option for folks from various religious backgrounds or those working hard on sobriety who wish to abstain from alcohol as well as children.
Vegetable Glycerin, or glycerol, is a thick, sweet-tasting liquid that’s clear in color. It's the natural result of breaking down oil or fat. Although sweet, it contains no sugar and has a low GI index making it a perfect solvent for folks who have type 2 diabetes, hormonal issues or simply folks who live a low or lower carb lifestyle.
Glycerin is stable when heated and is better for extraction and constituent preservation than alcohol. It’s also great at extracting tannins, and it preserves the natural taste of the herb, which can be important for its therapeutic effect. Some research even suggests this substance can have an anti-oxidizing effect on the body.
Glycerin tinctures are the go-to option for children due to its taste and safety advantage. They also provide a smart solution for those wanting to avoid alcohol for health reasons.
Just like alcohol, glycerin has its own set of disadvantages. As a solvent, it has less range and is considered weaker than alcohol. It also doesn't last as long as alcohol-based varieties. Typically Glycerin lasts one year from the manufacturing date.
When researching glycerin vs alcohol tinctures, it’s important to keep your lifestyle and needs in mind. Weigh the pros and cons, and you’re sure to pick a winner.
At Spiritual Apothecary we currently handcraft our Elderberry Glycerine which has been a top seller and simply divine at supporting our immune systems this season. You can see it here. In the future we will continue to offer Glycerin based tinctures and add on some alcohol based tinctures as I strongly believe both have their place in wellness and healing.
Stay well friends