An “herbal extract” is a very concentrated liquid in which a solvent is used to extract the herbal properties out of plant material. The typical solvents used for extracts are alcohol, vinegar, or vegetable glycerin.
Herbal extracts are very simple to make and convenient to take. Instead of having to drink a whole cup of tea, you can take a dropperful or 2 of a highly concentrated dose of an herbal extract. Herbal extracts are very convenient for acute situations that require hourly doses. It’s easier to take a few droppers of medicine hourly than it is to drink 1/2-1 cup of tea hourly, especially if a person is not feeling well.
Choosing a Solvent
As I mentioned earlier, alcohol, vinegar, and vegetable glycerin are used as a solvent in extracting and preserving the properties of the herbs.
Many people refer to all 3 solvents (alcohol, glycerin, vinegar) as being tinctures, but by definition a tincture is made using alcohol. Sometimes people will choose glycerin or vinegar as a substitute, and I’ll explain why in a minute.
So how do you choose which one to use for your extract? Let me briefly explain each one.
Alcohol is the most effective menstruum in extracting herbal properties. It’s very potent and does the best job at breaking down hard herbs like bark and berries, though it is used for the other parts of the plants too, like leaves and flowers. Alcohol extracts fats, waxes, resins, most of the alkaloids, and some of the volatile oils from the herb.
When making tinctures, different percentages of alcohol can be used. I’m not going to go into that in today’s post, but we will be highlighting this topic in a later post this month.
For those that are sensitive to alcohol or do not wish to use alcohol, there are a few alternatives.