Explained: Clinical Grade Tinctures (Liquid Extracts)
The Next Generation of True Dual Extracts
Tinctures—also referred to as liquid extracts—are an important method for extracting, for preserving, and for using herbs (including plants, fungi, and other substances). Tinctures produce potent extracts that have an incredibly long shelf life. Tinctures are also very easy for the body to assimilate because they do not have to be digested as whole herbs or powdered extracts need to be since the alcohol in the tincture passes directly through the epithelial cell lining of the digestive system.
Tinctures are one of the most important tools in the herbalist’s toolbox and they are indispensable in using the herbal medicine at home.
What is a Tincture?
There are two basic components used in producing tinctures: The substance being extracted and the liquid solution it is being extracted into. For example, in making a Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) tincture, one would combine Yarrow leaves with a 40/60 blend of alcohol and water. A that goes into the tincture are the herbs that are being extracted and the liquid used to extract them (while alcohol is the most common, some applications cause for other solvents to be used, such as vinegar).
Unlike powdered extracts (hot water and ethanol), where the targeted compounds in the herbs are extracted into the solids and the liquid is precipitated off, with liquid extracts, those compounds are dissolved into the liquid and the solids are removed. This is the major differentiator between liquid extracts (tinctures) and powered extracts: With tinctures, the targeted compounds become part of the solution of alcohol.
This means that the solids are discarded and that when taking the tincture, it passes through the cells of the lining of the digestive tract rather than having to pass through the stomach and into the small intestine for digestion and assimilation, as is the case with whole herbs and powdered extracts.
Alcohol passes through the cell membrane, and because the plant compounds are dissolved into the alcohol, they pass, too.
Commonly, when tincturing, the herbs and alcohol (including water) are combined, left to sit for a minimum of 2 weeks, and then the solids are pressed, discarded, and the liquid bottled (learn more below).
Crafting Clinical Grade Tinctures
RAW Forest Foods offers only Clinical Grade Tinctures, a nomenclature that refers to the quality of the ingredients used (including the herbs, alcohol, and water), the facility where the tinctures are produced, the FDA cGMP compliance of the facility where the tinctures are products, and—perhaps most importantly—the potency of the final extracts.
Gathering Herbs and Preparing for Extraction
Before the extraction process starts, the raw materials for the extraction and the documentation of the extraction begins. cGMP compliance stipulates strict documentation and record collection when producing tinctures. This includes full COA and source verification of the herbs being used in the tinctures.
Collection of inputs:
- This includes the plants, fungi, et cetera, that are to be extracted (wild-harvested, cultivation) and the alcohol and water used to extract them into;
- Sorting, selecting, and cleaning of herbs;
- Powdering herbs to increase extraction;
- Selecting an extraction ratio for the final extract.
FDA cGMP guidelines stipulate continually documentation the production of all tinctures, where measurements are taken and recorded, ensuring that each tincture contains exactly what is stated on the label.
Tincture Extraction Ratios and Concentrations
All tinctures worth purchasing should have a listed extraction ratio. This ensures the amount of herb present in the extract—both how much of the whole herb went into production and the equivalent of that whole herb in the final extract. Extraction ratios are listed in ratio form, where the first number represents the amount of herb in relation to the amount of liquid used (represented by the second number.
Here are several demonstrative examples:
- 1:10. A 1 to 10 tincture has 1 part of herbs for every 10 parts of liquid;
- 1:5. A 1 to 5 tincture has 1 part of herbs for every 5 parts of liquid;
- 1:2. A 1 to 2 tincture has 1 part of herbs for every 5 parts of liquid.
A 1:2 tincture is five times more concentrated than a 1:10 tincture. With a 1:2 tincture, there is an equivalent of ½ gram of whole herbs per dropperful (1 mL) of tincture.
Stage One: Combining and Extracting
Producing liquid extract is a practice of patience. Once the raw ingredients are combined, they must sit for a minimum of fourteen days, being agitated daily. The combination of time and agitation ensures a full extraction.
In stage one, the herbs are combined with a solvent. While different solvents may be used, a blend of ethanol (alcohol) and water is the most common. Ethanol and water are unique solvents in that they are widely accessible, effective, and relatively non-toxic, and product full spectrum extracts. RAW Forest Foods uses a blend of pharmaceutical grade (USP) ethanol (alcohol) and filtered water in tincture production.
What determines the final extraction ratio is the ratio of the weight of the herbs used to the volume of alcohol.
Once the herbs and liquid have been combined, they are stirred to allow full dispersion and are stored. The storing of the tincture is often called percolation. The combination of herbs and liquid is often called a menstruum.
Stage Two: Pressing the Tincture
Once the menstruum has been allowed to sit long enough for a full extraction to take place, the menstruum is pressed to separate the solids from the liquids. At this time, all of the targeted compounds in the herb have been dissolved into the liquid, and the solids that remain are mostly just plant cellulose and is a waste material. That waste material is called a marc.
In the professional setting, pressing is usually done by either hydraulic pressure or by vacuum. The final liquid can be further filtered after pressing, removing traces of the marc. It is a common misconception that the more sludge in a tincture the stronger the potency, but that sludge is largely just detritus of the marc and add no value to the final product.
After pressing and filtering, the liquid (containing the dissolved, targeted compounds from the herbs) is then bottled, labeled, and stored.
True Dual Extract Tinctures
The RAW Forest Foods Difference
Different compounds will be extracted from the plants using different extraction methods, and with tinctures, using different solvents (e.g. alcohol, vinegar, and glycerin). To maximize the extraction and provide a stronger, more potent product to our customers, we have taken an extra step in our tincturing process: Decoction.
Typically, when using decoction to extract herbs, the herbs are combined with water and then cooked over low heat (barely a simmer). This provides a very thorough extraction, but the resulting liquid is not shelf stable and the base of water does not pass through the epithelial cell wall lining of the digestive tract as alcohol does.
When preparing our tinctures, we take the menstruum (the combination of herbs, alcohol, and water) and decoct it. This allows us to gain the benefits of decoctions and tinctures in one product, producing a more comprehensive, more thorough extraction than simply using the traditional tincturing process or using traditional decoctions.
This is the RAW Forest Foods difference, and one of the defining characteristics of what sets our tinctures apart from others on the market. We are proud of this difference.
Tincturing: One of Several Extraction Methods
Tinctures (liquid extracts) are of of several extraction methods used in the products offered by RAW Forest Foods:
- Liquid (tincture) extracts (as discussed above);
- Ethanol/alcohol powdered extracts (learn more here);
- Hot water powdered extracts (learn more here).
Together, these three extraction methods represent those methods used to produce standardized extracts, where the exact amount of herbs used and present in the final product are known.
They are important methods both for using herbal medicines, but also in researching the medicinal potential and therapeutic uses of herbs. Research using liquid (tincture) and powdered (hot water and ethanol) extracts can be found at sites like NCBI's PubMed or Google Scholar.