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Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts made by soaking the bark, berries, leaves (dried or fresh), or roots from one or more plants in alcohol or vinegar.

The alcohol or vinegar pulls out the active ingredients in the plant parts, concentrating them as a liquid.

There’s some research and anecdotal reports that suggest some plants have medicinal properties and health benefits.

Tinctures have been around for millennia and are a key component of traditional herbal medicine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers most tinctures — with some exceptions — supplements. So, in many cases, their health effects are unclear and not well-studied.

Tinctures make it easy to consume the natural health-boosting chemicals found in some plants. They’re usually inexpensive to make and can be easily prepared at home.

The accessibility of herbal remedies like tinctures is probably a major reason why an estimated 80 percent of the world population relies on these treatments for at least some of their healthcare needs.

Here are some common plants used for tinctures that scientific studies suggests can benefit your health:

  • Chamomile (flower). Research suggests chamomile is a plant that’s effective in treating anxiety, healing wounds, and reducing inflammation
  • Feverfew (leaf). Feverfew was traditionally used to reduce fevers, but today most people use it to prevent migraines and treat arthritis. However, studies on feverfew’s effect on migraine prevention are inconclusive. Some suggest it works, and some suggest it doesn’t. There’s some developing research suggesting feverfew’s potential to treat cancer, pain, and rosacea. A study involving mice showed promising results regarding feverfew as a possible treatment for anxiety and depression.
  • Garlic (cloves, root). An analyses of several small and limited scientific studies suggests garlic is effective at making small reductions in total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, but results were inconclusive. A follow-up analyses provided results that were somewhat more conclusive. They suggested garlic was effective in reducing total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol when used for more than 2 months. Scientists are also now studying garlic’s potential use in treating cancer.
  • Ginger (root). Research suggests that ginger can reduce nausea in pregnant women, and anecdotal reports claim it’s a good remedy for motion sickness.
  • Gingko (leaf). Ginkgo is used traditionally to treat a range of conditions from asthma to tinnitus. Recently, scientists have explored its potential use in improving memory, preventing dementia, and boosting brain function. Studies show that ginkgo contains chemicals known to boost the way brain cells function. But it doesn’t explain how it affects how the brain works in an actual person.
  • Ginseng (root). Research suggests ginseng may have beneficial psychological and immune effects. It also suggests ginseng can help people with diabetes.
  • Milk thistle (fruit). Research suggests that milk thistle can heal diseases of the liver.
  • St. John’s wort (flower, leaf). A review of studies on St. John’s wort suggests it can ease the symptoms of depression.
  • Saw palmetto (fruit). While saw palmetto has been used to treat benign prostatic hypertrophy for decades, new research suggests it might not be as effective as people once believed.
  • Valerian (root). A small, limited review of studies suggest valerian root can improve sleep quality.

Using tinctures and other herbal remedies isn’t without risk. Even the plants scientifically proven to benefit health come with the risk of side effects, some of which are serious.

Here’s a list of common side effects associated with tinctures and herbal remedies:

Adverse reactions with medications

In some people, herbal remedies may interact with medications. Depending on the medication, this may cause:

Allergic reactions

Some plants carry risk of allergy. Reactions may include:

Medical Emergency

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If you or someone else has trouble breathing or swallowing after taking a tincture, call 911 and go to the nearest emergency room.

Blood sugar drop

People with diabetes need to be cautious when using tinctures and other herbal remedies. Some plants like milk thistle can cause your blood pressure to drop dangerously low.

Death

Some plants, or parts of plants, are very toxic and should be avoided.

For example, gingko leaves are a common herbal remedy. However, it’s important to avoid gingko seeds because they’re toxic. They can cause seizures and death. Goldenseal is also toxic in high doses.

Estrogenic effects

Some plants, like milk thistle may have estrogenic effects. It should not be taken by those with:

It may increase the body’s estrogen levels and worsen these issues.

Gastrointestinal issues

Some plants used for herbal remedies may cause the following gastrointestinal issues:

  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • gas
  • heartburn
  • nausea

Headache, dizziness, and light sensitivity

Some plants — such as St. John’s wort — can increase sensitivity to light when taken in large doses. Other plants — such as valerian — may cause headaches and dizziness.

Sleeplessness

Some plants with stimulating properties can cause sleeplessness.

Tincture burns under tongue

A common side effect of some plant tinctures includes burns or irritation, most commonly forming under the tongue.

Goldenseal, for example, is known to irritate the inside of the mouth and the rest of the digestive system.

Tinctures can be made at home with plants that are safe to use. The simplest way to make a tincture is to submerge herbs in alcohol in a glass jar. Here’s how:

  • Find the plant or plants you’d like to use. Make sure to take only parts of the plant that are safe to use.
  • Fill up a glass jar two-thirds to three-fourths of the way up with finely chopped fresh leaves. Fill halfway with dry leaves and roots, bark, or berries. And fill one-fourth of the way up with dried roots, bark, or berries.
  • Pour grain alcohol of 40 to 70 percent over the herbs to the top of your glass jar, covering them completely.
  • Cover the jar with parchment paper and then screw on a metal lid
  • Let it sit for 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Place a cheesecloth over a funnel and allow your tincture to drip through.

The strained liquid is your tincture. You can hold onto it for years if bottled and stored in a cool, dark place.

Not into alcohol? No problem. Swap the alcohol in your tincture with white or apple cider vinegar.

If you’re not interested in making your own tinctures, you can purchase them in most health food stores. Talk to a doctor before adding tinctures to your healthcare regimen.

Tinctures are also available to purchase online.

Many tinctures are made to be taken by mouth, using a dropper to place some liquid on the tongue.

Use only the directed dose of a tincture, which varies depending on, among other factors:

  • the tincture’s concentration
  • your gender
  • body size and age

It’s important to spend time educating yourself about tincture dosages for various plants online or on the label of tinctures you purchase. Some tinctures are for use only on the skin.

Some of the most popular plants used in herbal remedies, including tinctures, were previously discussed.

Some of the most popular tinctures today specifically include:

Tincture of arnica

Arnica tinctures are commonly used to treat inflammatory skin diseases like rosacea. Research shows limited efficacy and the potential for serious side effects such as an allergic reaction.

Tincture of benzoin

Benzoin tincture has been traditionally taken to ease inflammation of the mouth, throat, and other respiratory passages when the tincture is inhaled as steam.

But studies show limited efficacy and the potential for allergic reaction.

Tincture of iodine

Iodine tincture is a proven antiseptic. You can use it to prevent infection on:

  • external cuts
  • burns
  • scrapes

Tincture of propolis

A review of research suggests propolis has antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral properties when used on the skin.

Some people claim it can be used to boost immune function, but those claims are not well-validated by science.

Tincture of elderberry

Scientists know that elderberry contains a powerful antioxidant called anthocyanin, which can reduce inflammation in the body. It’s possible elderberry tincture may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

Tincture of turmeric

Turmeric contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Curcumin appears to reduce knee pain in people with osteoarthritis, so it’s possible turmeric tinctures have a similar anti-inflammatory effect.

Tincture of echinacea

A review of research on echinacea suggests the plant is effective at boosting the immune system.

Those practicing herbal medicine claim echinacea tincture made from the leaves, stalk, and root can treat and prevent:

  • colds
  • flus
  • infections

They also claim that it can heal wounds.

Tincture of cannabis

Cannabis tinctures are made from a chemical called cannabidiol (CBD).

Research suggests CBD may be able to treat various symptoms of illness, such as cancer and mental health disorders.

But currently the only FDA-approved CBD product is a prescription oil made to treat epilepsy called Epidiolex.

Does cannabis tincture get you high?

There’s no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance that leads to a high, in CBD.

However, most CBD oils sold today are not FDA-approved and have been found to have unreliable purity, so be cautious of what you purchase.

Plant tinctures have been used as herbal remedies for millennia. Some plants have proven health benefits, while the effects of others are less clear, and may even be harmful to your health.

Talk to a doctor before starting any type of herbal remedy regimen.