Tinctures vs. Glycerites

Posted by on Aug 7, 2015 in blog | 2 comments

Tinctures vs. Glycerites

Herbal medicine has been an instrumental component in my practice with Integrative Wellness.

Within the field of ethnobotany, the brewing of plant remedies becomes more accessible! Ever tried a tincture? Ever tried a glycerite? Ever wondered the difference?

By definition, a tincture is, “a liquid herbal extract made by soaking herbs in solvents such as pure grain alcohol, which helps extract the active ingredients from the herbs. The liquid is strained out and the herbs are discarded. A tincture can be made of one herb or a combination of herbs.”[i] Alcohol based tinctures are most common; however, glycerites are made from vegetable glycerin to keep the tincture alcohol-free. The benefits of having a glycerite vs. an alcohol-based tincture are increasing. One of the major benefits is that glycerites do not negatively harm people who have any issue with alcohol. People in rehabilitation and detox centers can benefit tremendously from tinctures without harming their well-beings.

Glycerites are made from vegetable glycerin. Herbal extractions, however can also be made by soaking the plant matter in vinegar or honey. When stored properly, (in a dark, cool and dry place), glycerites can last up to a year. Vegetable glycerine is actually a form of alcohol, but doesn’t taste anything like it. It’s very sweet in flavor, and doesn’t affect your blood sugar levels.[ii] Glycerites are also suitable for breast feeding mamas, pregnant women, children, and pets!

Glycerol is considered to be a weaker solvent than ethanol. This is because the same intermolecular forces that cause the glycerol to be dense, viscous, and thick are the same forces that decrease its ability to extract the medicinal properties from plant material. [iii]

When considering whether to make a glycerine tincture or an alcoholic extraction, it is important to consider the solubility of the material being extracted. Glycerine will extract sugars, diluted enzymes, glucosides, bitter compounds, diluted saponins as well as tannins. Alcohol will extract some alkaloids, glycosides, volatile oils, waxes, resins, fats, some tannins, balsams, sugars and vitamins. [iv]

Another important consideration is the absorbance ability of the extraction method. Alcohol has a quicker access to the liver. Glycerine, on the other hand, is absorbed by the digestive tract 30% slower than alcohol. Additionally, glycerine is utilized through a “secondary pathway in the liver, ( known as the gluconeogenic pathway). “ This results in a lower glycemic load on the body than happens with alcohol.v

The denaturing of a material in tinctures is a reality. How much the plant material is denatured is dependent upon the solvent. A benefit of using glycerites vs. alcoholic extractions is that the ethanol will denature the plant’s material far more than a glycerite will. v For this reason, glycerites are recommended in dealing with plants that are more complex in molecular structure, like polysaccharides for example. Another example would be a plant that is an aromatic. If the desire in making the tincture is to retain the original taste and aroma, a glycerite should be employed.

Alcohol based tinctures are also known as an extract. It is considered to be one of the most effective tinctures because the alcohol itself extracts the medicinal properties of the plant better than any other solvent. This is explained due to the preservative properties of the alcohol. And when stored properly, alcohol-based tinctures can be kept for up to 2 years!

Happy tincture brewing!

[i] Tinctures. Wong, Cathy. August 2, 2013. http://altmedicine.about.com/od/herbsherbalmedicine/g/tinctures.htm

[ii] “Growing Up Herbal: Teaching parents how to take charge of their children’s health…naturally.” August 2013. http://www.growingupherbal.com/using-herbs/making-a-tincture-glycerite/

[iii] Glycerin and the Glycols – Production, Properties and Analysis, by J. W. Lawrie, Ph.D., © 1928 American Chemical Society

[iv] “Glycerite.”Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia. 14 August 2013. file:///C:/Users/Galadrielio/Desktop/Glycerite%20-%20Wikipedia,%20the%20free%20encyclopedia.htm.

 

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for this interesting article! I have wondered about the difference. Can you suggest some common herb that are good candidates for a glycerite extraction? Lavender?

    • It depends on the kind of extraction you’re looking to concoct!

      Lavender, yes…and any plants that easily break down in solution.
      Yarrow is a great one– if you’re looking for an anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic or cramp-relieving extraction
      Yerba Santa is good as well– if you’re looking for upper respiratory health
      Kava Kava is also a great glycerite– which is employed as a sedative and relaxant

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