So, what exactly is a herbal tincture? Tinctures are a type of botanical extract that uses alcohol as a solvent to extract the various nutrients and minerals from plants. These minerals can have a variety of applications in our homemade skincare products.
Unlike some of the other herbal solvents, alcohol is particularly good at transferring almost all compounds from herbs and plants. This means that if you’re unsure of which solvent to use, alcohol is probably your best bet because it’ll usually always work.
If used in the correct amounts, tinctures and herbal infusions have a wide variety of applications, and I will talk about how to make and use them during this article.
But first, I just want to point out that there are a couple of issues we associate with using a herbal tincture, which means for some people a tincture might not be the best choice.
First and foremost, alcohol can be very drying on the skin. If you are at all familiar with skincare formulation, you’ll know that we always say to avoid products with excessive alcohol in them. This is why I’ll often advise using a witch hazel distillate that is alcohol free, rather than the standard variety. But there are ways to get around this.
Second, not everyone can tolerate alcohol on their skin, or perhaps their personal beliefs forbid them from doing so. An excellent example of this are practitioners of the Islamic faith. Alcohol is forbidden in their religion, and so any product with a tincture in it is not halal compliant.
While ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem in western countries, it means your products cannot be legally sold in many muslim majority countries, full stop. And in those that you can, you may not want to. If you wish to sell your products internationally (particularly in Asia and the Middle East), or if you currently live in a country with a large muslim community, try and find a more suitable option. Lets face it, nobody wants to turn away a customer!
What Are Tinctures Used For?
Now, how would we make the best use of a tincture? In skincare, they have a variety of applications. Because it is a botanical extract, it can be used in almost any product with a water phase. This includes our emulsions, water-based cleansers, and toners, and also MP soaps (although not CP or HP soap).
But they’re drying, are they not? Yup, they can be. However, with a good quality herbal tincture that you can make at home, you will only need to use a tincture in quantities of around 2%. While you probably could use more, keeping the tincture at 2% in your skincare formulations ensures that you are very unlikely to experience excessive dryness as a formulation side effect.
Nevertheless, keep in mind how people perceive alcohol. The average skin care consumer, be it an anonymous customer or a friend on their birthday, is way more informed now than they ever have been. They know that alcohol can be drying, so the addition of a tincture may put them off buying your product or using your gift. Even if it is in quantities of around 2%, the perception of this product in the public eye are not particularly good.
While herbal tinctures can be wonderfully versatile, do keep in mind that it is perhaps not always the most suitable ingredient and if you can make use of an herbal infusion, macerated oil or glycerite it might be worth doing so.
To get a better idea of the different beneficial properties of your homemade tincture, take a look at the individual properties of different plants in our guide to herbs and spices. Almost all of the plants and herbs on this list can be extracted with alcohol.
What About Internal Use?
While I use ordinary vodka as the solvent to extract my tinctures, I have almost no experience of using them internally. Thus, I cannot in all good conscience say that it is a good idea to try this.
As I only have experience with the application of tinctures in the world of skincare formulation, I would strongly advise you to seek the advice and support of a qualified herbalist or alternative medicine practitioner, with training in organic chemistry and human anatomy, before attempting to use tinctures internally.
How To Make Tinctures
The recipe for a tincture is super easy! It literally consists of filling a jar with your chosen herb or plant and then covering with alcohol. You’ll notice that I’m not talking about exact measurements. This is because it really depends on the jar that you use to macerate your herbs in.
Unless you plan on selling your products, weighing for exact measurements isn’t all that necessary. Nevertheless, it can be helpful to keep and eye on how much of your ingredients you’re using. To do this, simply place your jar onto a digital scale as you add your ingredients, taking notes as you do.
I’ve seen some places telling you to fill the jar halfway with your herbs and then fill the rest with alcohol, but honestly, I think that’s a waste. I’ve had lots of success with just covering the herb, so that’s what I do every time.
Then, it’s just a case of leaving your herbal tincture to macerate. During this process, the alcohol works as a solvent to break down the organic material of your plant, which then transfers lots of the compounds and minerals into your alcohol that are otherwise locked within.
This process usually takes about 2 weeks, but the longer the leave it the better it will be. When I make tinctures, I often leave them for at least a month.
Once you’ve left it for about 2 weeks, you can strain the liquid from the leftover plant matter.
Pinch the sides of muslin or thin cloth together and twist to extract the tincture. This leaves you with your gorgeous tincture!
Making tinctures is simple, right? Absolutely! It’s so simple that just about anyone can do this at home, saving you a massive amount of money over purchasing premade tinctures.
These tinctures can then be added to a whole host of different skincare products. Its exciting how many different recipes you can make use of this in.
So tell me, what are your favorite recipes for your tinctures? For more information on the benefits of different plants, take a look at my all about the botanicals page.