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ALCOHOL IN TINCTURES

Alcohol extractions (known as tinctures) are used in herbal medicines as they are the most efficient and strongest way of extracting many of the herb’s compounds, as not all of them are available in a hot water or glycerine extract. For example, clinical studies have shown that oregano is a good antimicrobial as an alcohol extract (or as an essential oil) but is very ineffective as a hot water extract. However, we do realise that some of our patients are sensitive to alcohol or chose not to use any alcohol. Where possible we will provide an alternative – herbal capsules or herbal teas. However, where these can’t be provided or will not provide enough efficacy for you to be properly treated, and tinctures really are the best option, then here are some methods - outlined below - for removing alcohol from your tincture.

How much alcohol is there anyway?

On a bottle of tincture you will always find a note of the ratio. For example: 1:3 45%. The first number always denotes how much herb has been used in comparison with the second part, which is the liquid. In this example, 1 part of herb was macerated in 3 parts of liquid before being filtered out. The liquid is a mixture of alcohol (usually sugar beet ethanol) and water. In this example, it is 45% alcohol. At a 5ml teaspoon dose this is under 00.23 of a unit of alcohol. (For comparison, if you drank a 125ml glass of white wine (Chardonnay 12%) you would be consuming 1.5 units of alcohol so a herbal medicine dose is only 15% of that amount.)

Calculating units yourself

If you need to calculate units yourself,
the formula is:
(Dose in ml times % of alcohol) divide by 1000 = units of alcohol
So to calculate a 5ml dose of 1:3 45% tincture:
5 x 45 = 125, divide by 1000 = 0.225
which rounded up is 00.23 units of alcohol.

ML of dose
% alcohol
 UNITS
5
25
00.13
10
25 00.25
5
35
00.18
10
35
00.35
5
45
00.23
10
45
00.45
5
60
00.30
10
60
00.60
5
90
00.45
10
90
00.90

 

Ways to reduce the alcohol content

1. Adding hot water

Adding hot water is fine as most herbal compounds are very resilient. Traditionally they would be simmered for 2 days! Flower tinctures are the most sensitive as they contain high amounts of volatile oils and root and bark tinctures with alkaloids and saponins tend to be the least sensitive.

Most patients who want to reduce the alcohol content of their tinctures just put their dose into a cup and add a little boiling water. This will reduce around 20% of the alcohol in just a few minutes bring the alcohol content in a 5ml dose down to 00.18 of a unit of alcohol.

 2. Slow evaporation

Evaporating the tinctures takes a little planning ahead. Some patients will put the doses for the next day into small saucers or eggcups and leave them out, uncovered, for 24 hours before taking them. It helps to put them in a warm place such as a sunny window-sill, by a radiator, or the heater cupboard. This will reduce the alcohol content by around 50% down to 00.11 of a unit of alcohol per 5ml dose.

3. AromaStone evaporation

AromaStone Plan A:

If you forgot to plan ahead and own an electric AromaStone (usually used for essential oils) then put you 5ml dose of tincture onto the AromaStone. It’s a very gentle heat but it does evaporate the alcohol off. Starting with a preheated AromaStone, after 25 minutes the 5ml dose reduces to 2ml. At 30 minutes to 1ml and starting to get sticky. The only tricky bit is pouring it off again without spilling it, as there is no spout - as on a jug. As alcohol evaporates before water does, and on the basis that there was 45% alcohol, once 5ml has become 2.5ml you will know that all the alcohol has evaporated.

AromaStone Plan B:

This requires an AromaStone and a little 100ml borosilicate lab jug that fits inside the dish. It makes the pouring off easier but takes longer to heat as the glass has to transfer the heat to the tincture. It takes about 1 hour to reduce 5ml to 1ml. You can then add a little warm water to jug and drink it straight from that. Evaporating the liquid off does make the herbs taste much stronger so some juice will help the taste.

4. Bain-Marie Evaporation

If you don’t have an AromaStone, or don’t want to prepare your medicines daily, the best way is to simmer the whole contents of the bottle in a bain marie until the liquid content is substantially reduced - this is how a soft extract is made - but this should never be done over a naked flame.

Pour your herbal tincture into a pyrex jug ensuring there is plenty of space at the top. For example, pour a 500ml bottle of tincture into a 1 litre jug.

Check that you can see any printed graduations marked on the jug clearly. If not, insert a wooden lollipop stick or the handle of a clean wooden spoon into the tincture and mark with a pen just above the level that the tincture comes to. Remove the stick and measure halfway down. Now make a tiny notch with a knife or tie a white thread around it, so that you can clearly see where the halfway mark is.

Now stand the whole jug in a saucepan of cold water.

Bring the water to the boil. You must keep an eye on it for the whole time.

If you have an electric or induction hob: Watch while the water simmers. Be very careful not to burn it. Simmer it until the tincture has reduced by half. For example, until 500ml has reached the 250ml mark. This takes some time and does require constant watching so if you don’t have the time to watch it use the gas hob method below.

If you have a gas hob: As soon as the water in the saucepan around the glass bowl containing your tincture starts to boil, turn the heat off. Do not be tempted to let it simmer for longer as evaporating alcohol fumes are flammable and can catch fire.

Remove the saucepan containing the pyrex jug from the stove and put it down on a heatn protective mat by the side of the stove. Leave the lid off.

Wait for 3 hours and check the level of evaporation against the markings or with your stick or spoon handle. It should have evaporated to the halfway mark.

If it has not reached the mark and the water has gone cold, you may need to put the saucepan back onto the heat, bring to the boil, switch off the heat as soon as it boils, and repeat the process.

Once the tincture is 50% evaporated, the alcohol will no longer be present

Once the alcohol has reached 50% you will need to top it back up again to the original mark.

For this you can use water, or warmed honey to make a syrup, depending on how you want it to taste. Decant it from the jug into the original bottle and keep it in the fridge. Use it at the original dose stated on the bottle.

If you don’t have much fridge space, reduce the alcohol to 40% of the original amount and add 60% vegetable glycerine to take it back to the original mark. Mix well and rebottle. This will not need to be kept in the fridge, as glycerine is a good preservative at this strength. Use it at the original dose stated on the bottle.

 

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