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Tea, tincture or tablets?

Herbal medicines come in many forms, and you may find some of them more convenient to use than others – or you may have a personal preference for a particular type of preparation. Throughout this blog I usually recommend tinctures and teas (infusions) because they work quickly and you can easily mix two or more ingredients together, but there will be situations where a powdered herb or syrup s more suitable. Good-quality capsules or tablets can also work well, but make sure you buy them from a reputable supplier. You can take different forms of preparation together, for instance, garlic tablets and herbal tea. Tablets are best for travelling as there is no risk of spillage. The preparations most commonly used are described below, with an explanation of how to take them

TINCTURE

A tincture is an extract that results from steeping herbs in alcohol for a period of time; during the steeping time active constituents from a plant dissolve into the alcohol. Specific proportions of herbs and alcohol are used to produce different tincture strengths or ratios. Typical proportions are 1:5, 1:3, 1:2 or 1:1, but occasionally you may come across different ratios, such as 1:8, 1:10 or 2:1.

To give you an example, a 1:5 (‘one in five’) tincture is made with one part of plant material and five parts of alcohol, both expressed in weight. If you buy a ready-made tincture the strength of alcohol used for making it will be indicated on the label, expressed in percentage, and can vary between 25% and 90%. It is important to realise that the term ‘tincture strength’ refers only to the concentration of plant constituents in a given tincture, and must not be confused with the strength of alcohol used for the extraction process. Tincture strength determines the dosage of a particular tincture, while the strength of alcohol is relevant to the process of extraction and the quality of the product.

Concentrated and standardised tinctures

I would avoid any tinctures that are highly concentrated (e.g. more than 2:1), as such tinctures have not been used traditionally and little is known about their safety. For the same reason I would also advise against using standardised tinctures, unless such a tincture is provided for you by a qualified medical herbalist for a specific reason. Standardised tinctures usually focus on one specific constituent of a particular herb and are guaranteed to contain a particular amount of such a constituent. In addition to the lack of traditional knowledge, there are also a number of other problems with these tinctures: they disregard the synergy between all the constituents of a given medicinal plant, they often choose a constituent that has been wrongly assumed to be the most active one, and they can contain an artificially high proportion of a particular compound.

Different names

You may come across different terms for tinctures: herbal extract, liquid extract, fluid extract or glycerite (based on glycerine instead of alcohol).

Benefits of using tinctures

Tinctures are easy to use, well absorbed and versatile in application. The amount of alcohol in each dose is negligible; therefore they can be used for all age groups, except for babies, and in pregnancy.

How to take tinctures

Warning: A dose of tincture must be mixed with water before drinking – do not take tinctures neat!

The amount of water used to dilute a dose of tincture can be as little as 30ml or as much as a full cup. It is a matter of personal preference: if you dilute with a small amount of water you have less to drink but the taste is strong; if you dilute with more water the taste is better but there is more to drink. Some people opt for the former and then follow it with a cup of plain water. Although water is preferable, you can also use fruit juice to dilute tinctures, especially for children.

If you want to make your own tinctures instead of buying ready-made ones, refer to post 26.

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