Every now and then we get a customer who asks, “Why is there alcohol in your tinctures?” That is a great question! In this blog we’ll discuss every frequently asked question about the alcohol in our tinctures, including; what a tincture is, why tinctures use alcohol, what a dual-extract tincture is and much more!
What Is A Tincture?
A tincture is defined as, “a solution of a medicinal substance in an alcoholic solvent,” however, many different products are colloquially known as tinctures, even if they don’t fit the definition. For example, some people mistakenly refer to glycerites, “a medicinal preparation made by mixing or dissolving a substance in glycerin,” as tinctures, simply because they are also sold in an amber dropper bottle. In order for a product to be a tincture, by definition, the product must contain alcohol. Usually tinctures have alcohol concentrations ranging from 20% (the minimum needed for preservation) all the way up to 90%, depending on the product and brand. Birch Boys Tinctures contain 22% alcohol and the remaining 78% is a concentrated hot-water extract.
So why use alcohol at all? Because some compounds need to be extracted by alcohol in order to become available for the body to use. In fungal preparations, the alcohol’s purpose is to break down the chitinous cell wall of the fungus. This allows the beneficial compounds that are locked inside the mushroom cell to be dissolved into the overall mixture and become bioavailable (able to be used by your body). Some beneficial compounds, like antioxidants or polysaccharides, don’t need alcohol to become bioavailable and can be extracted with hot water. Not all compounds are water-soluble though. Some of the most interesting health-boosting compounds found in mushrooms are only soluble in alcohol. These compounds are Triterpenes, Sterols, Lignin and more. When you brew a mushroom tea (AKA: hot water extraction), you leave the alcohol-soluble compounds behind in the mushroom mass itself. Using a tincture ensures that your body gets access to the alcohol soluble compounds. Without alcohol extraction, many valuable compounds would be wasted. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating alcohol or hot water extracts, they are both very valuable to your body!
What Is A Double-Extract Tincture?
A double-extract (or dual-extract) tincture is a tincture that contains both hot-water extract as well as alcohol extract. Dual-extraction is our preferred production method when we make our mushroom tinctures. With a dual-extract tincture, both water-soluble and alcohol soluble compounds are made bioavailable. This means that your body will have access to the water-soluble compounds (antioxidants, polysaccharides, fungal melanin, essential amino acids and more) as well as the alcohol-soluble compounds (triterpenoids, sterols and lignin). Not only is this the best way to get ALL of the benefits from fungi, it also prevents valuable compounds from being discarded with the mushroom mass.
Can Tinctures Make You Drunk?
The simple answer is no, if tinctures are used properly, they will not get you drunk. The amount of alcohol in tinctures is typically very low, especially when you abide by the recommended serving size. For example, a shot of alcohol is typically 1.5 oz. In comparison, an entire 4oz bottle of any Birch Boys Tincture only contains .88 oz of alcohol, just a bit more than half of a shot total. A single, 4mL, serving of Birch Boys Tinctures contains only .029 oz of alcohol, which is not enough to make you inebriated. What if you use the Mushroom Tincture Bundle each day? Don’t worry, if you take 4mL of each of our 6 tinctures daily, that is only .17 oz of alcohol total (or 1/8 of a shot). This means that you will not become inebriated by taking mushroom tinctures individually or otherwise. However, if you or a loved on is in recovery from addiction, please read on to the next paragraph.
Can People in Recovery Use Tinctures?
It is generally recommended that those who are in recovery from alcohol addiction avoid true tinctures that contain alcohol. This is because any amount of alcohol may retrigger addictive pathways in the body. That doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from mushrooms! Instead of tinctures, opt for mushroom teas or our super-concentrated ChagaNOW (instant chaga tea) instead.
Can Gluten-Free People Use Tinctures?
This answer depends on the exact product itself. At Birch Boys, we are proud to use organic cane alcohol in our tincture formulations. Cane alcohol is a high proof ethanol derived from sugar cane, which is naturally gluten-free. However, not all tinctures are made gluten-free, some brands use myceliated-grain (mycelium) or other ingredients that may contain gluten. If you are using a different brand than Birch Boys, make sure to read the ingredient label and follow up with the company itself regarding gluten content. The best way to check is to contact the company, any reputable company will be happy to answer this question for you.
Why Doesn’t Birch Boys Use Glycerin?
If you really know your herbalism, you’re probably wondering why we haven’t mentioned glycerin yet. Some preparations use glycerin in place of alcohol. While glycerin can make an alcohol-free product, there are a few reasons that glycerin is not ideal for what we make here at Birch Boys.
Firstly, remember that plants(herbs) and fungi are completely different kingdoms of life. The primary fiber found in plants is cellulose, wheras the primary fiber in fungi is chitin. Chitin is much tougher to break down than cellulose. To illustrate this difference, imagine ripping a piece of paper (cellulose), then imagine trying to rip the shell of a crab (chitin). Those materials weren't chosen arbitrarily, paper is literally composed of cellulose and crab shells are literally composed of chitin. As you can see, that which breaks down cellulose is not going to have the same effect on chitin. All said, this means that glycerin simply does not extract anything from fungi very well, much less the particular healing compounds that we're looking for.
Secondly, glycerin at its best is simply not as good at extracting beneficial compounds as alcohol is. This holds true for herbs as well, but even more so for fungi. In addition, glycerin-extracted products (glycerites) have a shorter shelf life than tinctures. Alcohol also keeps the beneficial compounds more stable than glycerin does and alcohol prevents those compounds from changing/decomposing over time.
That’s not to say that glycerin is useless in herbalism, it is actually very ideal for products that require a lower concentration, such as products specifically for children. We are loud and proud about our product’s concentration and efficacy, so glycerin simply doesn’t make sense for our goals. For mushroom enthusiasts who are alcohol-free, we recommend using teas (hot water extracts) rather than glycerites as even hot water extracts have been shown to be more concentrated in beneficial compounds.
I hope this blog has provided you with a well-rounded view as to why we use alcohol in our tinctures. If you have any more questions, reach out or comment below!
About The Author
Born and raised amidst the breathtaking landscapes of the Adirondack Mountains, Kaitlin Lawless developed a profound appreciation for the natural world from an early age. She is passionate about ecological preservation and permaculture, employing such practices on her homestead. Since childhood, she has studied and been taught about herbalism by the wise women in her life, field guides, and accredited scientific literature. Her expertise in the field of mycology stems from her invaluable training under the tutelage of Garrett Kopp, a licensed NYS mushroom identification expert. Kaitlin is an integral part of the Birch Boys team, as the Assistant to the President, she manages Birch Boys' customer service, B2B, copy, social media and more. This role has afforded her a deep and expansive knowledge of the effects and applications of healing mushrooms. With her broad expertise, Kaitlin has become a trusted source of information for those seeking to harness the power of nature's medicinal offerings.
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Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Glycerite definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/glycerite
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Tincture definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tincture
Noveille, A. (2018, May 21). Glycerin vs alcohol for the best herbal extracts. indie herbalist. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://blog.indieherbalist.com/which-is-better-glycerin-vs-alcohol-for-the-best-extracts/
Posted by WISHGARDEN HERBS · June 10. (2021). Why herbalists use alcohol in tinctures: Curiosities & concerns answered. WishGarden Herbs. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://www.wishgardenherbs.com/blogs/wishgarden/why-herbalists-use-alcohol-in-tinctures-curiosities-concerns answered#:~:text=We%20do%20not%20recommend%20that,any%20vulnerable%20or%20addictive%20pathways.