How to Take Tinctures

Most of us didn’t grow up taking our medicine as a tincture – I know that I grew up taking pills and capsules. These tinctures, or strictly speaking “hydro-ethanolic extracts” (a fancy way of saying the plants are extracted in water and alcohol) are one of the most effective and convenient ways to take herbal medicine. Making tea is another great option, and there are a dozen ways of making medicinal tea that we’ll cover in a different article.

But what is the best way to take these extracts? And how much do you take? These are the most common questions we get here at Pine’s Herbals, so I’m going to answer these two questions in today’s article.

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Let me first say how NOT to take them: Don’t put them underneath your tongue. Most extracts use a high percentage of alcohol and putting them in that sensitive place causes an unpleasant burning sensation. This may be the way to take homeopathic remedies or flower essences, but those are different types of medicine than herbal liquid extracts.

I recommend my clients and customers to put their dosage into a couple ounces of water and drink it down. This helps dilute the alcohol some and also helps with the flavor, which to be perfectly frank isn’t always the most appealing. You can also add it to boiling water and let it sit a few minutes to evaporate off some (not all) of the alcohol in there.

And so the next question is how much do you use at one time. Although different practitioners use different dosing strategies and to be sure, some herbs have to be used at lower doses than others, here is a good general guide.

If you buy a typical one-ounce bottle of tincture, it comes with a dropper top and a glass pipette inside. A standard dose is one to two squirts, three times a day. By “squirt” I mean one pump of the bulb, which usually fills the dropper about halfway. For most formulas and many single herbs, this works fine. The dosage is often listed in drops, and there about 25-30 drops per squirt. So if a label lists dosage as “30-60 drops” you can just take 1-2 squirts of the tincture.

There are different dosing strategies for different stages of illness, too. For acute problems (something you have right now – a headache, can’t sleep, got the flu), generally dosage can be higher if you know you have the right herb for the problem. When I catch a cold, for example, I might use 5 squirts of Echinacea every couple hours, or when I can’t sleep I take 3 squirts of Passionflower. Now if you are taking something every day for a while then the standard dose of 1-2 squirts is more applicable.

If you are using a single herb tincture then it’s a good idea to check the dosage listed on the bottle. Some herbs are considered “low-dose botanicals” and work best at doses of 1-5 drops, such as Lobelia or Anemone. Some strong herbs can have side effects at higher doses, though you won’t find potentially toxic herbs sold on the shelves. Taking too much Lobelia or Poke root is not a fun experience, but usually ends in vomiting or diarrhea as opposed to a hospital trip. So don’t take too much of an herb unless you know that herb well; just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe.

The reason that dosage is usually given as a range (30-60 drops, or 1-2 squirts) is because the dose needs to be adjusted for the individual. If you weigh much more or less than 150 pounds, you might need to adjust the dosage accordingly up or down. And someone who tends to be sensitive to herbs or medicines in general will probably need less of an herb to have an effect.

It might take some experimentation to get just the right dose for you, so if you’re not getting the effects you want then use a higher dose or try a different herb. The good thing is that most herbs are relatively safe and almost all that are commercially available have a wide margin of error. But above all, always listen to your body.