A tincture is a concentrated liquid herbal extract. It is typically made by soaking herbs and other plant parts in alcohol for weeks to extract the active constituents.
Alcohol is considered an excellent solvent because it is food grade and can extract herbal constituents (such as resins and alkaloids) that are poorly soluble in water.
After a period of weeks, the herbal mixture is strained and the herb parts are removed, leaving behind the concentrated liquid.
Tinctures can be made from a single plant or a combination of plants. Fresh or dried leaves, roots, bark, flowers, and berries may be used to make tinctures.
The plant part depends on the species of plant. Herbal tinctures are sold in health food stores, some drug and grocery stores, and online.
Although many tinctures can be taken orally, some tinctures such as arnica and compound tincture of benzoin should only be used externally.
Types of Alcohol Used in Commercial Herbal Tinctures
The alcohol used in commercial herbal tinctures may depend on the type of herb. Herbs with water-soluble constituents are best extracted with a lower percentage of alcohol, while other constituents can only be extracted with higher levels of alcohol.
Commercial herbal tinctures often use a pure alcohol solvent made from corn, grape, wheat, or cane and distilled at or above 190 proof. Herbalists sometimes make herbal tinctures in small batches using vodka (80 to 100 proof).
The goal is to find high-proof alcohol that is safe for consumption. The higher the alcohol content, the better it will dissolve cannabis resin. Everclear is my alcohol of choice when making a tincture, as it is both safe to consume and highly potent.
Products like isopropyl alcohol are not intended to be consumed and should never be used when making a tincture—save that for cleaning your pipes!
How to Make a Tincture
The plant parts are carefully sorted so that any unwanted parts are removed. The herbs may be chopped coarsely before being placed into a glass jar.
The jar is filled with alcohol, capped tightly, and allowed to sit for weeks. (It must be left in the dark or away from the light.)
It may be shaken regularly and the jar may be topped up with alcohol if necessary. The plant material is strained and removed, and the liquid is typically poured into small, labeled, glass bottles with dropper tops.
If dried herbs are used to make the tincture, a common ratio is 1 part dried plant material to 4 parts liquid (1:4 ratio). If fresh herbs are used, a common ratio is 1 part plant material to 1 part liquid (1:1 ratio).
To keep it simple, I like to use this ratio when making a tincture: For every ounce of cannabis flower, use one 750 mL bottle of alcohol (for an eighth of weed, that’s about 3 fluid oz).
This produces a mild effect, great for microdosing. If you want a more potent tincture, reduce the amount of alcohol by a third until you hit your desired potency.
- Step 1: Decarboxylate your cannabis flower or concentrate (if you’re using flower, grind it to a fine consistency).
- Step 2: Mix your flower or concentrate in a mason jar with a high-proof alcohol (preferably Everclear).
- Step 3: Close the jar and let it sit for a few weeks, shaking it once a day.
- Step 4: After a few weeks, strain it through a coffee filter.
And if you don’t feel like waiting for several weeks, you can even get away with shaking it for 3 minutes, straining, and storing.
What to Look for in Tincture Bottles
Sterilized dark amber glass bottles are classic tincture bottles. The dark glass protects the herbs from ultraviolet light. The bottle and dropper are made of glass because plastic can interact with the alcohol in the tincture.
Since tinctures are concentrated extracts, the dropper helps to measure small amounts of the tincture.
The tincture jar and bottle should be labeled with details such as:
- Common name
- Latin name
- Plant part used (include whether it is fresh or dried)
- Plant source
- Type of spirit and alcohol percentage
- Batch number
- Any special instructions (e.g., external use only)
Cannabis tinctures offer a long list of benefits (many of which we’ll discuss throughout this article). To give you an idea of just how great marijuana tincture is, here are a few of the benefits you can enjoy whether you take a THC tincture for pleasure or a CBD tincture to relieve pain:
- You feel the effects quickly
- You can easily control the amount of tincture you take
- Marijuana tinctures are discreet (meaning you don’t have to worry about standing out)
- Tinctures are safe
- Tinctures have a long shelf life when stored properly
Obviously, you would only use a THC tincture to achieve a psychoactive high (although THC does have some pain-fighting properties). But if you use a CBD tincture, the benefits multiply. That’s because a CBD tincture can be used to treat:
- Low appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
- Chronic pain
- Artery blockage
- Bacterial growth
- Cancer cell growth
- Bone degeneration
- Muscle spasms
Couple the above benefits with the safe, fast-acting, easy-to-dose nature of the tincture itself, and you’ve got a potent recipe for medical relief of the toughest symptoms.
Other Common Tinctures Used in Herbal Medicine
Here’s a look at tinctures that are sometimes used in herbal medicine. (Many Chinese formulas or single herbs are produced as tinctures.)
Tincture of Benzoin
A common component of first aid kits, tincture of benzoin should only be used topically. Benzoin is a hard resin produced by trees, and the tincture is often used to help first aid adhesive bandages and wound closure strips stay in place.1 It is also said to protect the skin from contact allergy to the adhesive and reduce irritation.
A substance produced by bees to build beehives, propolis is being explored for its effects on allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, allergies, gynecological, oral, and skin disorders.
Elderberry fruit contains anthocyanins, a type of natural pigment with antioxidant properties. Consuming elderberries (and other dietary sources of anthocyanins) may reduce chronic inflammation.
Echinacea remains one of the most frequently used herbal products among older adults, according to a 2017 study. The review of previously published clinical trials found that some echinacea products may be more effective than a placebo for colds, but the overall evidence was weak.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a spice widely used in cooking. The active component in turmeric is curcumin, a substance said to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. A study published in the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, for instance, found that curcumin could have beneficial effects on knee pain and quality of life in people with osteoarthritis of the knee, however, it was less effective than ibuprofen at relieving pain.