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Herbal Extracts: What They Are and How To Use Them
By Jill York - September 09, 2015

Herbal Extracts: What They Are and How To Use Them

An "herbal extract" is a very concentrated liquid in which a solvent is used to extract the herbal properties out of plant material. The typical solvents used for extracts are alcohol, vinegar, or vegetable glycerin. Herbal extracts are very simple to make and convenient to take. Instead of having to drink a whole cup of tea, you can take a dropperful or 2 of a highly concentrated dose of an herbal extract. Herbal extracts are very convenient for acute situations that require hourly doses. It's easier to take a few droppers of medicine hourly than it is to drink 1/2-1 cup of tea hourly, especially if a person is not feeling well.

Choosing a Solvent

As I mentioned earlier, alcohol, vinegar, and vegetable glycerin are used as a solvent in extracting and preserving the properties of the herbs. Many people refer to all 3 solvents (alcohol, glycerin, vinegar) as being tinctures, but by definition a tincture is made using alcohol. Sometimes people will choose glycerin or vinegar as a substitute, and I'll explain why in a minute. So how do you choose which one to use for your extract?  Let me briefly explain each one.


Alcohol is the most effective menstruum in extracting herbal properties. It's very potent and does the best job at breaking down hard herbs like bark and berries, though it is used for the other parts of the plants too, like leaves and flowers. Alcohol extracts fats, waxes, resins, most of the alkaloids, and some of the volatile oils from the herb. When making tinctures, different percentages of alcohol can be used. I'm not going to go into that in today's post, but we will be highlighting this topic in a later post this month. For those that are sensitive to alcohol or do not wish to use alcohol, there are a few alternatives.


Vegetable glycerin is an alternative to alcohol when making extracts. A glycerin tincture is called a glycerite. Glycerin has a sweet taste but does not metabolize in the body the way sugar does, and it doesn't contribute to tooth decay, making it safe for diabetics and good health  Many people prefer glycerites for children, and as a way to make their medicine taste better. While glycerites are not as potent as an alcohol tincture, it will still do good. Glycerin extracts tannins, alkaloids, some minerals, and acids from the plant. Be sure to use only food-grade vegetable glycerin when making medicine for internal purposes.

Herbal Vinegars

When an extract is made using vinegar, it's called an herbal vinegar.  Raw apple cider vinegar is the #1 choice in making herbal vinegars.  Raw apple cider vinegar contains living enzymes and nutrients that make the vinegar even better for you! Apple cider vinegar extracts alkaloids and minerals from the herbs.


I'm going to briefly mention liniments. Liniments are made the same as way as a tincture, but rubbing alcohol or witch hazel is used as the solvent. Liniments are for external use only, and they are considered herbal extracts. Dr. Kloss's Disinfecting Liniment This is a liniment recipe handed down by Dr. Jethro Kloss.  This liniment works great to disinfect wounds! Recipe: 1 oz. echinacea root powder 1 oz. goldenseal root powder 1 oz. myrrh gum resin powder 1/4 oz. cayenne powder Rubbing alcohol Directions:
  • Place herbal powders in a pint sized jar and pour rubbing alcohol over the herbs, filling the jar.  Be sure to leave a 2 inch head-space.
  • Cover with a lid and let sit for 4 weeks, shaking every day or at least once a week.
  • Strain the herbs and store in a glass jar.
  • Be sure to label "External Use Only".

How To Use Herbal Extracts

Glycerites are the yummiest of the herbal extracts.  Whether I make a children's multi-vitamins glycerite, or a lemon balm glycerite to help us wind down in the evenings, my girls always ask for more than the normal 2 dropperfuls that I give them.  Glycerin just makes the herbs taste yummy enough to want more!  With glycerites, we always put them directly in the mouth with a medicine dropper or spoon. Alcohol extracts are the most potent, but not typically nice tasting.  I put alcohol extracts directly in my mouth or under the tongue so they can go directly into the bloodstream.  I can handle bitter medicine though without a problem.  For children or those who just cannot handle the taste of directly taking them, place the drops of tincture in juice or water to help cover up the taste.  It works like a charm! Vinegar extracts are not pleasant tasting to many people either.  I use vinegar extracts both internally and externally.  When using internally, you can dilute it in water or juice as well to help mask the taste if needed.  You can also add honey to the vinegar extracts to make a zesty, sweet medicine!  I add honey to my fire cider recipe (similar to the one listed below), and it is yummy enough to use as a salad dressing! Here's a couple examples of herbal vinegar recipes:
What is your favorite method for making tinctures?
  • Healing Herbal Tinctures. (n.d.). Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  • Herbal Extracts Tinctures : How To Make. (n.d.). Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  • Visser, M. (2015, April 1). Using Herbs: Herbal Tinctures, Glycerites, And Vinegars | Growing Up Herbal. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  • Wolansky, I. (n.d.). Herbal Liniments. Retrieved September 14, 2015.


  1. M.
    I like using alcohol to make a tincture. I've tried with vinegar and found the herbal tincture to be less potent.

    I have made an effective pain-relieving liniment, with rubbing alcohol. I have the container of liniment clearly marked for external use only.
    1. Jill York
      Vinegar tends to be less appealing taste wise too, but I do love it for my Fire Cider! I add honey to make it taste better. :-) Thanks for sharing!
  2. leslie
    I have made an elderberry syrup with honey and was wondering if honey could be used in place of glycerin or maybe simple syrup?? My son does like the taste of the glycerin but he loves the syrup. Maybe the glycerin method with either of them?
    1. Jill York
      Sure, Leslie! You can use honey or glycerin with elderberries! Let me know if you need any detailed instructions, and I'd be glad to help!