Herb tinctures are alcohol extractions of medicinal plant constituents. The quality and effectiveness of these substances depends on several factors, including preparation and storage. Choosing a good herb tincture involves inspecting the product's quality both visually and by researching the plant materials used to make it. A high-quality herb tincture will have very little sediment at the bottom and should be clear of floating particles, and sharp tastes of alcohol or sweetness may be signs of a high-quality product as well. High-quality tinctures also use high-quality plant materials; when choosing a tincture, it may be best to search for those containing organic plant matter to ensure fewer contaminants, such as pesticides.
There are two basic types of herb tinctures available for purchase: those made with grain alcohol, and those made with glycerin. Both substances are technically alcohols and interact with plant material in similar ways to extract active constituents. Grain alcohol has a strong, sharp flavor similar to vodka and is a thin, non-viscous liquid. Glycerin is slightly viscous and tastes sweet, like honey. Many parents choose glycerin tinctures, called glycerites, to use with their children because of the mild, non-alcohol-like taste. Recovering alcoholics often choose glycerites as well because of their sensitivity to alcohol.
Some herb tinctures are made with fresh plant material and others with dry plant material. Many herbs can produce an effective tincture in both fresh and dry forms, but some, such as valerian, have very different properties depending on the state of the plant material. Most herbal medicine companies understand these differences and make wise choices as to whether to use fresh or dry plant material. It is still a good idea to check in a reference book or with an herbalist about the potentially varying effects of a tincture made from fresh or dry herbs before you begin using a tincture.
The source and quality of the plant material in a tincture greatly affects the quality of the product as well. Because tinctures are extracts of plant constituents, it is important that only high-quality, responsibly-sourced plants are used to avoid contamination or ineffectiveness. Certified organic and ethically wildcrafted herbs typically are the best quality and make the most pure and effective tinctures. Herbs that are grown with pesticides often contain pesticide residues, and these harmful chemicals may also be extracted into a tincture. Whenever possible, it is important to choose herb tinctures made from Certified organic plant material.
Observable qualities of an herb tincture can also reflect the quality of the product. A well-extracted herb tincture should not only have a strong alcohol bite or a sweet glycerin taste, but also should distinctly taste like the plant or plants contained in it. These flavors may not be familiar, but it is often obvious whether a tincture tastes like a vegetable or simply like alcohol. Some herb tinctures contain minimal amounts of fine sediment, which is harmless and normal. If larger particles are present or a thick layer of sediment can be observed on the bottom of the bottle, the tincture was not filtered properly and still contains large amounts of plant material. This is also harmless, in most cases, but may be a sign of a carelessly made tincture.
As is the case with all medicines, whether natural or synthetic, it is a good idea to consult with a professional when choosing what to use in treatment. Clinical herbalists are available in many areas. Health food and natural medicine stores often have very knowledgeable staff members who are happy to answer questions as well. There are also numerous well-researched reference books about herbal medicine available in bookstores and libraries.