When you feel a cold or a headache coming on, it’s probably a Tylenol bottle you reach for. But tinctures might actually be a more effective treatment! So why not give them a try?
Maybe you’ve heard the word “tinctures”. But you don’t know exactly what they are, how to take them, or why you might want to take them. You may have even seen and been tempted to buy the little medicinal-looking bottles with dropper caps. But they make you a bit nervous because you’re unsure what’s in them. We are here to help!
What are tinctures?
Tinctures are an all-natural way to manage everything from headaches and insomnia to allergies and concentration issues. Tinctures are highly concentrated, liquid extracts of an herb or combination of herbs. Most often made with unflavoured, food-grade alcohol (topical tinctures are made with alcohol that is often burned off). They can also be made with glycerine or apple cider vinegar. Because oral tinctures are taken by droplet directly under the tongue, they get into the bloodstream quickly. Which means their action will usually be quicker than other herbal treatments. On the other hand, herbs in pill or capsule form need to be broken down by the digestive system so absorption is less and happens much slower.
Some tinctures will have a more immediate effect. Such as valerian and chamomile – they are great for helping you to relax. Other herbs like nettle leaf and maca are more nutritive. They may take several weeks of use before their individual results are seen, kind of like a vitamin supplement.
What makes them so powerful?
For one thing, they’re super-concentrated. Tinctures are the only way to get fresh plant medicine (unless you harvest herbs every day). Preserving them in a tincture also lengthens their shelf life, allowing them to last up to five years or more.
A tincture is the most medicinal way of extracting the most important compounds from a source. Roots, herbs, or plants are covered with high-proof alcohol for about a month, and what’s left is a potent liquid packed with the plants, herbs or roots active ingredients.
How do you take tinctures?
Tinctures are extremely simple to use and very convenient to take. As well, they are often an easy way to dose children as they have to take only very small amounts of a tincture in order for it to have an effect, and there is no capsule or pill to swallow.
Putting a couple of droppers full under the tongue is the most effective way to get maximum benefits, but since they don’t exactly taste like chocolate or marshmallows, adding a dash to your morning smoothie or juice works too. You could also drop it in sparkling water or tea—in fact, many people find tinctures more palatable in tea, as the hot water will “burn off” the alcohol content (the effectiveness of the herbs is not changed through this process). They’re often best processed on an empty stomach but this is not a hard-and-fast rule—consult an herbalist or read the label before proceeding.
Because consuming tinctures doesn’t require medical supervision, and because they’re plant-based, there’s a tendency for patients to “up” the dosage. Don’t! Try to treat a condition with as small a dose as possible while still maintaining efficacy. Taking a dozen Tylenol won’t multiply the benefits experienced from taking 2, so in the same vein, don’t chow down on maca by the scoop because you heard it’s good for your libido. Trust us.
Bottled tinctures come with suggested dosages (a dropperful, or 30-40 drops, 2-3 times a day, usually), and if you have any concerns or questions about what amount is best for you, seek out the advice of a trained professional like a naturopath or homeopath.
If your joints feel tight and inflamed, try turmeric. Research has shown that it works on joint pain in the same way that anti-inflammatory drugs do but without the side effects. There is a long-standing tradition in India of using turmeric to prevent and treat inflammatory conditions of the joints.
Valerian is the ultimate calming and sedating herb. It soothes the nerves and helps you slip sleep restfully. It is also an effective pain reliever when pain is caused by anxiety and tension. But: use caution if operating heavy machinery, driving a motor vehicle, or if you are involved in activities requiring mental alertness within 2 hours of consumption.
Astragalus is typically used to treat colds and upper respiratory infections, and to strengthen and regulate the immune system. It’s also reported to be an antibacterial, antiviral tonic; liver protectant; anti-inflammatory; and antioxidant.
Use ginger to relieve nausea and vomiting associated with motion or sea sickness. It’s even favoured among herbalists as a digestive aid, as it soothes digestive spasms and colicky tummies and helps to settle indigestion.
Lemon balm has traditionally been used in Western herbalism as a sedative for the relief of restlessness or nervousness, and as a calming agent to soothe some digestive disorders.
Before antibiotics existed, people relied on echinacea to deal with lots of different types of infections. Because it’s naturally anti-inflammatory, it will help your body fight off a virus. In fact, a study done in Europe found that people who used an echinacea weren’t sick for as long as people who didn’t—they were back to normal almost 30% faster.
Stinging Nettle Herb Root:
This root has been an allergy treatment since the medieval times, and it’s just as powerful today. Apparently, stinging nettle works by reducing inflammatory chemicals in the body and easing discomfort by interacting with pain signals. It’s also a natural diuretic so if you use this herb regularly, be sure to strike a balance by eating foods high in potassium like bananas and avocados.
St. John’s Wort:
St. John’s wort is like liquid calm in a bottle. It has been used for centuries to provide relief to those who are feeling anxious, restless or nervous. The herb is also well known for its pain-relieving effects. As calming as it is, is not suitable for those suffering from serious depression or those already taking antidepressants.