Glycerites vs Tinctures: A Comparison

Herbal extracts have been used for centuries to promote health and wellbeing. Two of the most common forms of herbal extracts are tinctures and glycerites. But what is the difference between the two? This comprehensive guide examines glycerites and tinctures, including how they are made, their potency, uses, shelf life, taste, and more.

What is a Tincture?

A tincture is an alcohol-based herbal extract. To make a tincture, dried or fresh herbs are soaked in alcohol, usually vodka, brandy, or rum, for several weeks. This allows the medicinal compounds in the herbs to dissolve into the alcohol. Tinctures are highly concentrated herbal extracts that preserve the therapeutic properties of herbs for long-term use.

Tinctures have an alcohol concentration that ranges from 25-60%. A typical tincture ratio is 1:5, meaning 1 part dried herbs to 5 parts menstruum (the liquid used to extract herbs). The alcohol acts as a preservative, allowing tinctures to last for many years when properly stored away from heat and light.

What is a Glycerite?

A glycerite is an herbal extract that uses glycerin rather than alcohol as the extraction medium. Glycerin is a clear, odorless liquid made from plant oils. It has a sweet taste and syrup-like consistency.

To make a glycerite, dried or fresh herbs are soaked in vegetable glycerin for 4-6 weeks. The glycerin gently extracts the water-soluble constituents from the plant material over time. This results in a highly concentrated, glycerin-based herbal extract.

Glycerites do not contain any alcohol. They have an approximate glycerin concentration of 60% or higher. A common glycerite ratio is 1:5 or 1:8, using 1 part herbs to 5-8 parts glycerin.

How Glycerites Differ from Tinctures

While both tinctures and glycerites produce concentrated liquid herbal extracts, there are some key differences between the two:

Extraction Medium: The main difference lies in the solvent used to extract the herbs. Tinctures use alcohol while glycerites use glycerin.

Potency: Tinctures are generally more potent and concentrated than glycerites. Alcohol is able to extract a wider range of medicinal compounds from herbs, including those not soluble in water or glycerin.

Shelf Life: Tinctures have a longer shelf life than glycerites, often lasting 5+ years compared to 1-3 years for glycerites when properly stored. The alcohol acts as a very effective preservative.

Taste: Glycerites have a naturally sweet, pleasant flavor due to the glycerin. Tinctures often have a strong bitter, alcohol-like taste.

Alcohol Content: Glycerites contain no alcohol, making them preferable for children, animals, those sensitive to alcohol, or situations where alcohol is unsuitable.

Viscosity: Glycerin is thicker and more syrupy than alcohol-based tinctures. Glycerites have a smooth, silky texture.

How to Take Tinctures vs Glycerites

Both tinctures and glycerites are taken by mouth, usually diluted in water or juice. The typical adult dosage is 1-2 mL taken 2-3 times per day. For glycerites, 1 teaspoon is a common dosage. Always follow the recommended dosage on any herbal product.

Due to the high concentration of herbs, tinctures and glycerites should be taken in small doses throughout the day. Start with a minimal dose and gradually increase over several days if needed to achieve the desired effects and avoid side effects.

Tinctures are droppered directly under the tongue and held for 30-60 seconds before swallowing. This allows faster absorption. Glycerites can also be taken sublingually or diluted in a small amount of liquid.

For children, glycerites are often preferred due to the lack of alcohol and sweeter flavor. However, alcohol-free tinctures are also available. Be sure to adjust the dosage appropriately for your child’s age and weight.

Benefits of Tinctures

Tinctures offer several advantages:

  • Highly concentrated: More potent and fast-acting than teas or capsules
  • Rapid absorption: Alcohol enhances swift absorption through the mucous membranes in the mouth
  • Long shelf life: Alcohol preserves tinctures for many years when stored properly
  • Easy to use: Simple to take by drops from a dropper bottle
  • Versatile: Alcohol effectively extracts a wide range of plant compounds
  • Cost-effective: A little goes a long way compared to other herbal preparations

Benefits of Glycerites

Glycerites also have some unique benefits:

  • Alcohol-free: Suitable for those who cannot or prefer not to ingest alcohol
  • Kid/pet friendly: Safe for children and animals due to no alcohol content
  • Pleasant taste: Naturally sweet and fruity flavor; easier to take than alcohol-based tinctures
  • Gentle extraction: Does not extract tannins or increase the bitterness of herbs
  • Smooth texture: Viscous, syrupy consistency slides easily down the throat
  • Cost-friendly: Glycerin is affordable and accessible for DIY herbal projects

Common Uses for Tinctures and Glycerites

Here are some popular uses for herbal tinctures and glycerites:

  • Anxiety – Chamomile, passionflower, lemon balm
  • Colds & Flu – Elderberry, echinacea, cinnamon
  • Pain Relief – Arnica, Jamaican dogwood, kava kava
  • Digestive Support – Ginger, fennel, peppermint
  • Women’s Health – Dong quai, cramp bark, black cohosh
  • Heart Health – Hawthorn, garlic, cayenne
  • Sleep Aid – Valerian, hops, California poppy
  • Mood Support – St. John’s wort, oatstraw, damiana
  • Allergies – Nettle, eyebright, goldenseal

Both tinctures and glycerites can be used for most health applications. However, tinctures may be preferred when a stronger extraction is needed. Glycerites work well for children and pets when the taste of alcohol is undesirable.

How to Make DIY Tinctures and Glycerites

One of the great benefits of tinctures and glycerites is that they are very easy to make at home. You just need a few simple ingredients and supplies. Here is an overview of the DIY process:

Tincture Recipe

  • Step 1: Fill a mason jar 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 full with dried herbs or 2⁄3 to 3⁄4 full with fresh herbs.
  • Step 2: Pour vodka, brandy or rum over the herbs until jar is full, leaving at least 1 inch of headspace.
  • Step 3: Seal lid tightly and shake well to combine. Store in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks, shaking daily at first then weekly.
  • Step 4: Strain and transfer finished tincture to dark dropper bottles for storage. Be sure to label with the ingredients and date.

Glycerite Recipe

  • Step 1: Fill jar 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 full with dried herbs or 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 full with fresh herbs.
  • Step 2: Pour food-grade vegetable glycerin over herbs until jar is full, leaving 1 inch headspace.
  • Step 3: Seal and store 4-6 weeks, shaking daily at first then weekly.
  • Step 4: Strain and transfer glycerite to storage bottles. Label with ingredients and date.

Be sure to use fresh, high-quality herbs for both recipes. Optimally store tinctures and glycerites in cool, dark places for up to several years.

Choosing Between Alcohol and Glycerin Extraction

So when should you choose an alcohol tincture or glycerin glycerite? Here are some guidelines:

  • Use alcohol tinctures when you want a potent, concentrated extract with a long shelf life. Alcohol can fully extract a wide range of plant compounds.
  • Choose glycerites if you need to avoid alcohol, have small children who need an herbal remedy, are making a remedy for pets, or want a milder, sweeter-tasting extract.
  • For herbs that are high in essential oils, resins or plant acids, alcohol is the best solvent. The alcohol preserves the aroma and captures the oils.
  • For leaves, flowers or stems high in flavonoids, antioxidants and mucilages, either alcohol or glycerin will work well.
  • Roots and barks are often high in tannins, causing a bitter taste. Glycerin helps moderate tannins for a better flavor.
  • Glycerin is not an ideal solvent for mushrooms, due to their high polysaccharide content. Stick with alcohol for most mushrooms.

As you can see, both glycerin and alcohol have their merits as herbal extraction mediums. Consider what herbs you are working with and what your intended use is to decide which is right for you. Be sure to always follow the recommended dosages. With a little experimentation, you can discover your favorite tinctures and glycerites for health and wellness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is glycerite a tincture?

Glycerites are not technically considered a true tincture since they do not contain alcohol. However, glycerites are made and used in a similar way to tinctures. The terms glycerite and glycerin tincture are sometimes used interchangeably.

How long do glycerite tinctures last?

The shelf life of properly stored glycerites is around 1-3 years. Tinctures last significantly longer – up to 5 years or more. Keep both glycerites and tinctures in cool, dark places to maximize their shelf life.

What are the benefits of glycerite?

Glycerites offer an alcohol-free herbal extract alternative. They are safe for all ages, need no special precautions, and have a pleasant, sweet taste. Glycerin also gently extracts herbs, moderating tannins that cause bitterness.

What is stronger than tincture?

Alcohol-based tinctures are the strongest form of liquid herbal extract. However, powdered herbal extracts standardized for certain constituents can test higher in potency than tinctures. But tinctures made properly with high-proof alcohol overall produce the most potent liquid herbal remedy.

What is glycerite?

A glycerite is an herbal extract made with glycerin as the solvent. Glycerin has a sweet flavor and syrupy texture. It does not have the preserving effects of alcohol, so glycerites have a shorter shelf life, but offer an alcohol-free alternative.

How are glycerin tinctures different than alcohol tinctures?

Glycerites lack the potency, absorption, and longevity of alcohol tinctures. But they compensate with a much more pleasant flavor, no alcohol, and gentler extraction. Glycerin and alcohol dissolve different components of herbs, so each has its niche.

Is there alcohol in tinctures?

By definition, tinctures are herbal extracts made using alcohol as the solvent. Vodka, rum, brandy and other spirits are used to extract and preserve herbs. There are, however, alcohol-free tincture alternatives available, including glycerites, vinegar or acetic acid extracts.

Can you take tinctures long term?

When used appropriately, most tinctures can be safely taken long term for chronic health issues. However, some herbs have cumulative effects and are best taken in shorter courses. As with any supplement, periodic breaks are a good idea. Work with an herbalist or naturopath for guidance.

What is the difference between glycerin and glycerite?

Glycerin is the liquid solvent derived from plants oils used to make glycerites. A glycerite is the finished herbal extract product made by soaking herbs in glycerin. Glycerite is often used interchangeably with glycerin tincture.

Final Thoughts

Both tinctures and glycerites produce highly concentrated herbal extracts with a wide range of therapeutic uses. Tinctures rely on alcohol while glycerites use food-grade glycerin. Consider when you need maximum potency, the convenience of alcohol, or wish to avoid alcohol when choosing between these two excellent options for herbal remedies.