After my five-year stint with hormonal birth control, I’ve recently decided to call it quits and am working to get my hormones back in check, one alternative therapy method at a time. Not only am I looking to feel better in general, but I’m also trying to avoid the hormonal acne I suffered before going on the pill. From seed cycling to spearmint tea to acupuncture, I’ve been on a mission to get my hormonal health back in check using natural, holistic methods. One thing that I've discovered in my search for healing are tinctures.
Tinctures have been around since 1000 AD—when alcohol was first distilled by the ancient Egyptians—and have been used to help alleviate a range of health concerns, from regulating hormones to easing anxiety to improving digestion and so much more. After reading through its many benefits, you, too, might be persuaded to incorporate tinctures into your routine, stat.
What are Tinctures?
Tinctures are a concentration of herbal extracts made by soaking specific plants in alcohol for a few weeks. The alcohol works to pull out the active ingredients within the plant, creating a (usually unpleasant-tasting) liquid. “The category of tinctures as a whole is part of the wellness movement to go back to plant-based medicine, and tinctures are a traditional form factor in herbalism,” explains Sarah Polansky, founder of Prismatic Plants. “They are a great way to get medicinal compounds straight into your bloodstream through the mucus glands in your mouth, thus bypassing the digestive system where the liver often filters out ingestible medicines before it enters your bloodstream.”
Tinctures have historically been widely used in Asian cultures, and they’re just now starting to gain real momentum in the West as consumers are increasingly more interested in herbal remedies and alternative medicine approaches. “We definitely owe a nod to cannabis for opening up the floodgates to the utilization of tinctures for therapeutic purposes, as cannabis tinctures have become one of the most popular forms,” explains Kate Seiberlich, Founder of Uphoric Urth.
How do Tinctures Work?
A tincture, herbal tea, and vitamin pill are not all created equal, according to Triniti Gawthrop, founder of Ami Wellness. “A tincture offers the opportunity to use fresh ingredients, which could be very difficult with a tea,” she says. “Plus, water isn’t as effective of a menstruum (extracting liquid) as alcohol, so it offers a less complete extraction.” You would have to drink five to six cups of well-steeped tea to equal the same dose as a few droppers of a tincture.
Vitamins, on the other hand, are often a very processed version of the ingredient(s) in a tincture, and after being ingested, need to be digested and absorbed before they can start to actually work. “Tinctures are minimally processed, where fresh or dried plants are put into the extraction liquid, steeped, pressed, and then bottled. They’re quickly absorbed, easy on your digestion system, and depending on the formulation, can start to work within minutes,” says Gawthrop.
How do You Take Tinctures?
If you want the tincture to work quickly (think easing a painful headache fast), then you should take the tincture neat under your tongue and swirl it around for 30 seconds to one minute to allow it time to absorb into the mucus glands in your mouth. “Personally, I always choose to take my tincture solo or on an empty stomach (depending on the herb) rather than with a heavy meal because it will get absorbed into the body more efficiently,” says Finnigan Jones, resident herbalist at Uphoric Urth. “Essentially, it’s less for your digestion to compete with.”
But, if you’ve ever tasted a tincture, you know that swallowing that foul-tasting formula straight is much, much easier said than done. “Due to the purity and strength of our tinctures, where the taste can be difficult for some, we suggest adding it to a beverage,” says Gawthrop.
Although rare, some tinctures actually taste good. Radio creates their tinctures using organic MCT oil, hemp seed oil, and fruity flavoring for a more pleasurable experience you won’t want to avoid every day. “We worked with a flavor chemist to create new flavors like cinnamon vanilla and citrus chamomile, so you won’t want to avoid taking the oil, which also helps maintain a consistent routine for optimal benefits,” explains Josh Koerber, Co-Founder of Radio.
How Does CBD Work in a Tincture?
The interest in CBD is still as high as ever, with many brands releasing CBD-infused oil-based tinctures to soothe the body and mind. “The cannabinoids and terpenes found in hemp extract oil (or CBD oil) affect the endocannabinoid system and provide balance to our body’s existing internal environment, which helps our bodies adapt to external stressors,” explains Koerber. “Since our bodies are set up to naturally receive these cannabinoids, they are extremely effective for a lot of people and are seen as a potential ‘silver bullet’ to improving people’s daily life.”
Hemp extract oil is best absorbed when blended with a carrier oil, like MCT or hemp seed oil. “The reason for this is because CBD is a fat-soluble substance, and both of these carrier oils contain high levels of fatty-oil that the cannabinoids bind themselves to,” explains Koerber. “Therefore, they will be ‘carried to’ and absorbed by your body.”
Ingredients to Look for:
Improve digestion: Not only does the turkey tail mushroom help boost immunity, but it also works to maintain a healthy digestive tract. Bitters are also well-known for their digestive properties, like fennel, bitter orange or yellow dock.
Help clear your skin: Tackling skin issues like acne is pretty complex, as there are a lot of factors that may be at play in causing those pimples to pop up. If you struggle with hormonal acne, it’s best to find a tincture that tackles hormonal imbalances. Look for ingredients like Lycium fruit (or goji berries) for its antioxidant properties, dong Quai root to help balance hormones, and/or dandelion root to cleanse the liver.
Help you sleep: CBD and CBN (or cannabinol) work wonders in helping your brain and body relax and fall into a deep sleep. Reishi, ashwagandha, and valerian root also aid in calming the mind and easing into sleep without that groggy feeling in the morning.
Ease PMS symptoms: Although you can tackle painful periods acutely, it’s best to manage PMS by working with the body to balance out your menstrual cycle. “Bupleurum and peony root together can help nourish blood, regulate menstruation and also stabilize mood swings, while Chinese licorice root (an ingredient that’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years) has anti-inflammatory benefits and helps balance the menstrual cycle,” says Gawthrop.
Ease anxiety: To help you chill out during stressful situations, look for ingredients like hemp seed oil, CBD and terpenes for instant stress-relief when you need it most.