Herbal Tincture vs. Herbal Extract

Herbal Tincture vs. Herbal Extract

Extract and tincture are both words we’ve all probably heard. We might even be able to use them in a passable sentence. But what are they really? And are they the same thing?

There are several methods for using herbs–powder, capsule, whole plant, etc. In herbal extracts and tinctures, alcohol, vinegar, glycerin or oils are the vehicle for using herbs. Herbal extracts are basically the liquid version of an herbal supplement.

But, let’s go a little deeper and understand that a little better.

Both tinctures and extracts are convenient and potent ways to take your herbs. They are created through a simple and time-proven process where a liquid extracts and takes on the properties of the herb. Think tea — herbs are soaked in water which then has the flavor and effects of those herbs.

So why two words for this process? The difference is in the liquid that is used. An extract might use any liquid such as glycerin, vinegar, oil, or even water.  A tincture is an extract that uses alcohol as the liquid that the herbs are infused into. In other words: all tinctures are extracts, but not all extracts are tinctures.

We are often asked which is better: a capsule, tincture, or glycerite. Part of it comes down to personal preference. If you don’t take it then it won’t do any good, so it is important to choose something that works for you. If you are most comfortable just swallowing a capsule and don’t want to taste the liquid, then a capsule is your answer. Or if you get tired of swallowing capsules, then extracts are a good choice.

However, there are some other factors to consider. When you take a capsule that has been filled with a powder version of an herb, you are getting the whole herb. But you also need to factor in how long that herb has been sitting on the shelf and what potency might have been lost during that time.

A tincture has captured those herbal properties and will preserve them for a very long time. If you are choosing herbal supplements to put in an emergency kit that you want available and effective in the case of a catastrophe, an alcohol tincture should always be your choice because it will not lose its potency as it sits over time.

Another important factor is that tinctures and other extracts are absorbed by the body much more quickly and completely. A capsule takes a couple of hours to absorb and may result in only 10-20% absorption. The Physicians Desk Reference (p. 1542 #49) tells us that 85-90% of a tincture is absorbed within the first 22-30 seconds–a much better return on your investment.

Tinctures and extracts have been a valuable method for using herbs for millennia. I’m often asked what is the best choice and there is no right answer. It really depends on your specific needs.

By Melanie Skelton, Master Herbalist