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Although in pharmacy definitions exist that encompass a broad range of manufacturing procedures and materials, for our purposes a tincture is the liquid preparation produced by macerating prepared plant material in a mixture of alcohol and water at room temperature over a prescribed period of time, which is then pressed and filtered to yield a fluid into which active constituents of the herb have dissolved.


In the UK, tinctures have for a long time been the most used form of medicine by herbal practitioners and are growing in popularity with the public. They are widely available, economical to produce and use, compact enough to stock in considerable variety and have a good shelf life. They can be mixed with each other in almost any combination, and are convenient to take. Within reason they can be mixed with other liquid preparations such as fluid extracts, syrups and juices. They can also be incorporated into many forms of preparation for external use.

Effectively any herb can be converted into a tincture, but tinctures are not appropriate to all therapeutic strategies. A main consideration here is that they contain a significant amount of alcohol, which is in itself warming and stimulating. Tinctures are thus the preparation of choice for tonics, carminatives and circulatory stimulants and generally any situation where warming and energising are appropriate.

It is noteworthy that tinctures have probably met their maximum popularity in the UK where the cold damp climate will tend towards a variety of ills for which warming and stimulating will be common remedial objectives. Nevertheless situations will arise where a cooling effect is demanded. A little alcohol is unlikely to defeat the powerful cooling properties of the intense bitters such as Gentian, Gentiana lutea or Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium. Where more gently cooling herbs are concerned, while these may still be therapeutically useful in tincture form, the cooling potential is reduced or lost. Mucilage, the cooling and soothing constituent par excellence, is certainly damaged by the presence of alcohol. Enough survives in a high quality tincture of Comfrey leaf, Symphytum officinalis to play its part amongst the other healing constituents of this remedy; in the case of Marshmallow root, Althaea officinalis which bears little else but mucilage, a cold decoction or syrup may be preferable.

Tinctures are likewise a poor medium for diaphoretics, where a hot infusion is called for to promote a therapeutic sweat. Alteratives may “flush out the system” more efficiently in infusion form.

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