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WTH Is That? #1: Tincture edition

mu healing tincture illustration by tiffany wang

A couple of weeks ago, we launched three herbal tinctures. One with CBD. Two without.

We were very excited about these tinctures. We vended at an event (here in New York City) with these tinctures. We hung out. People came by. They asked questions. Namely, what’s a tincture?

Oh boy.

Mind you, they didn’t ask us what kind of tinctures we were selling. People generally didn’t know what a tincture even is.

What’s it do?

What does it taste like?

What’s in it?

Does it work…?

I’ve spent the last few days intermittently researching tinctures. Its origin, its functions, various methods of preparation. Does it have to taste so gnarly? Why is it made with alcohol? Can I get drunk? about a buzz?

To answer the last two questions: probably. If you really wanted to.

While we can hop down the same rabbit hole I did, let’s keep it light for now and discuss some base details and history:

  1. WTH is a tincture?

    A tincture is traditionally made of two main components: alcohol and herbs. Fresh or dry herbs are steeped in alcohol for at least two weeks while the alcohol extracts the plants’ bioactive compounds. After 4-6 weeks of steeping, the mixture is pressed, the herbs are discarded, and the infused liquid is the final product. 

  2. Alcohol is not the enemy.

    One of my first concerns with tinctures was that it’s alcohol-based.

    But we’re trying to make people healthier. We’re a WELLNESS line. Healthy people won’t want ALCOHOL.

    That being said, alcohol is derived from fruits and plants and was historically intended for spiritual and medicinal purposes. Suffice to say, we’ve ruined it. We ruined alcohol by letting alcohol ruin us and thereby we’re burning alcohol at the stake.

    Without straying too far off the point of tinctures, it turns out that while you can certainly make tinctures with a glycerin or vinegar, alcohol is by far the most effective extractant.

    My takeaway is that since alcohol is made from plants, its biology naturally attracts the compounds from the herbs introduced to it. Basically game recognize game and that’s a tough one to argue. (Disclaimer: I am not a scientist.)

    (If you want a very in-depth explanation, Botana has a great post on alcohol tinctures vs alternative solvents.)

  3. Tinctures go waaaaaay back.

    For as long as distilled alcohol has existed, it’s theorized that so too has tinctures. Though details are fuzzy as to exactly when alcohol was invented, NatGeo references some 9,000 years ago so we’re just gonna go with that.

    The earliest evidence archaeologists have found thus far was from the tomb of Scorpio I, one of Egypt’s first rulers 5,100 years ago, whose tomb included 700 jars with traces of wine with herbs and tree resins (tree resins are used for myriad medicinal purposes). These findings resonated with later Egyptian pharmacology texts describing medicinal alcohol containing eastern Mediterranean herbs like coriander, balm, mint, sage, senna, germander, savory, and thyme.

  4. Our drugstore pills came from plants and bacteria.

    Herbal tinctures can be strong or mild depending on the formula (recipe of herbs) and its intended effect. Some are meant to treat symptoms, some to prevent illness, some to maintain balance, some can uplift mood, some will help you relax. Plants and its healing properties are far-ranging and endless.

    Pharmaceuticals, for instance, did not arrive out of thin air. Some of our most potent modern medications came from plants. To list a few:

    • Morphine, a powerful painkiller, comes from the opium poppy.

    • Aspirin’s main component, salicylic acid, is found in plants like white willow, birch, and wintergreens.

    • Digoxin, used to slow the heart rate for patients with arrhythmia, enlists the active ingredient digitalis from a flower called the foxglove.

    • Penicillin came from mold.

  5. Herbal medicine works.

    But like anything that currently exists on earth, herbal medicine is not a miracle cure (although some would argue otherwise!) Unlike manufactured pharmaceuticals, plants’ healing properties need time to sync with your body. By consistently eating well and introducing herbs into your lifestyle, your body becomes a fortress.

As Sun Simiao* once said

Do not take good health for granted. Just as one should not forget danger in times of peace, try to prevent the coming of disease beforehand.

*Sun Simiao was a a physician and writer from 7th century China during the Sui and Tang dynasty. He was dubbed China’s King of Medicine for his contributions to Chinese medicine.

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