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A tincture prepared from white willow bark and ethanol

In medicine, a tincture is an alcoholic extract (e.g. of leaves or other plant material) or solution of a non-volatile substance; (e.g. of iodine, mercurochrome). To qualify as a tincture, the alcoholic extract is to have an ethanol percentage of at least 40-60% (sometimes a 90% percent pure liquid is even achieved). [1] In herbal medicine, alcoholic tinctures are often made with various concentrations of ethanol, 25% being the most common. Other concentrations include 45% and 90%. Herbal tinctures do not always use ethanol as a solvent, though this is the most frequent. Other solvents include vinegar, glycerol, ether and propylene glycol, not all of which are used for internal consumption. However, the advantage of ethanol is that being close to neutral pH, it is a good compromise as a solvent of both acidic and alkaline constituents. Glycerine is a poorer solvent generally and vinegar, being acidic, is a better solvent of alkaloids but a poorer solvent of acids, which would result in the alkaloids being more active in the preparation than otherwise. However, for people who do not imbibe alcohol for medical, religious or moral reasons, non-alcoholic tinctures are a possible alternative.

Solutions of volatile substances were called spirits, although that name was also given to several other materials obtained by distillation, even when they did not include alcohol. In chemistry, a tincture is a solution that has alcohol as the solvent.


General method of preparation

A general method of preparation on how tinctures can be prepared is the following:[2]

  • Herbs are put in a jar and a spirit of 40°C pure ethanol is added
  • The jar is left to stand for 2–3 weeks, shaken occasionally, in order to maximise the concentration of the solution.

To make a more precise tincture, more extensive measuring can be done by combining 1 part herbs with a water-ethanol mixture of 2-10 parts, depending on the herb itself. With most tinctures, however, 1 part water at 5 parts ethanol is used.[1]

Examples of tinctures

Some examples that were formerly common in medicine[3] include:

Examples of spirits include:

Advantages of tinctures

Ethanol is able to dissolve substances which are less soluble in water, while at the same time the water content can dissolve the substances less soluble in ethanol. It is possible to vary the proportion of ethanol and water to produce tinctures with different qualities because of different substances. One example of this is tincture of Calendula officinalis, which is frequently used either at 25% ethanol or 90% ethanol. The solvent also acts as a preservative.

In order to take the preparation, the tincture is normally placed in a container and boiling water is added, which causes the ethanol to evaporate substantially. The liquid resulting can then either be left to cool or have a neutral liquid added before being taken orally. Ether and propylene glycol tinctures are not suitable for internal consumption and are instead used in such preparations as creams or ointments.

See also

  • Nalewka - a traditional Polish category of alcoholic tincture.
  • infusion - a water or oil based extract with similar historical uses to a tincture.
  • Elixir - A pharmaceutical preparation containing an active ingredient that is dissolved in a solution containing some percentage of ethyl alcohol.
  • Extract


  1. ^ a b Groot Handboek Geneeskrachtige Planten by Geert Verhelst
  2. ^ How to make a tincture
  3. ^ The Pharmacopoeia of the United States, 1850 ed.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

TINCTURE (Fr. teinture, Lat. tinctura, tingere, to dye, stain), the colour with which a substance is dyed; hence, metaphorically, distinctive character or quality. The term is used in heraldry of the metals, argent, or, of the colours, gules, azure, sable, vent, &c., or of the furs, ermine, vain, &C. Since the 16th century a conventional arrangement of lines and dots gives the equivalents of these tinctures in black and white (see Heraldry). In medicine, a tincture is a fluid solution of the essential properties of some substance, animal, vegetable or mineral; the menstruum being either alcohol, ether or ammonia; the various kinds are accordingly distinguished as alcoholic, etherial or ammoniated tinctures.

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