A herbal tincture is an extraction of the active component of a herb, usually with alcohol but sometimes with vinegar such as cider apple vinegar. Tinctures provide a stable and well-preserved way of administering herbs. Making tinctures is especially effective in extracting the active components of woody herbs, roots and resins. Tinctures retain ingredients that can be lost in heat treatment like making teas, and in the processing of dry herbal extracts. Tinctures are highly potent so only a small quantity is required for an effect, and the tincture is more readily available in the gut so will work faster than giving the whole herb. Some herbal tinctures will be absorbed in the mouth before they are even swallowed.
To make a tincture, the dried or fresh herb is chopped and covered in alcohol (or vinegar) in an airtight container. Typically, a 40% ethanol alcohol is used. Alcohol is more effective than vinegar at extracting the active components, and alcohol tinctures are more potent than vinegar tinctures. The mixture is stored for two to three weeks (longer, with vinegar), during which time it is shaken periodically to help the extraction process. The alcohol (or vinegar) extracts the active component, and the mixture is then strained. The ratio given after the description of a tincture e.g. echinacea tincture 1:2 refers to the weight of herb to volume of alcohol that has been used to make the tincture.
The amount of alcohol that is taken in with a tincture at the recommended dose is tiny, and would not be enough to cause any health problem or liver challenge. It has been said that the amount of alcohol in a human dose of herbal tincture is the same as in one ripe banana.
The alcohol base means that the shelf life of tinctures is several years, and they keep their potency. Vinegar-extracted herbal tinctures have a shorter shelf life and should be used within a year of being made. Tinctures are a useful and effective way of administering herbs to horses.