December 2, 2011

Image by Julian Low from Pixabay

Herbal lore maintains that you can remove virtually all alcohol from a tincture by dropping the preparation slowly into a cup of boiling water, with the idea that the alcohol will evaporate off and leave the active herbal extract behind. You’ll find this information being taught in classes across the country, and in numerous herbal books. I myself have been known to say the very same thing. It makes sense, right? Everyone says so.

Is it true? Will alcohol evaporate from a tincture when added to boiling water?

If you’ve ever actually tried this relatively tedious method (drip…drip…drip…), you may be both relieved and mildly irritated to find that it probably makes no difference at all. Check out this post on OChef.  The relevant information:

  • After adding alcohol to boiling water removed from heat, 85% of the alcohol remains.
  • Storing the preparation overnight with no heat (presumably in open air) will leave 70% of the alcohol.
  • If you stir the alcohol into the mixture and bake it, you will be left with anywhere from 40% of the alcohol (after 15 min) to 5% (after 2.5 hours)

Okay, so I’m not entirely sure how that last bit would be relevant to herbal medicine, but it does go to show that even after HOURS in the oven you’ll still have some alcohol left over.

The short answer: not so much.

Looks like it’s time to change my tune and stop perpetuating misinformation!

While the clinical/biomedical significance of the amount of alcohol found in a typical dose of tincture (on average 3-5 ml or approx. 1 tsp) is negligible in most cases, this information is still important for those who are taking larger doses, those who are sensitive to small doses, and those who choose to avoid alcohol for reasons such as addiction, religious beliefs, etc.

While the water-dropping method may help remove some alcohol, from this point forward I’d be hesitant to say that it will remove a significant amount – possibly not even enough to make it worth the effort.

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About Camille Freeman, LDN, RH (she/her)

Hi there! I'm a clinical herbalist and licensed nutritionist specializing in fertility and menstrual health. I run the Monday Mentoring community of practice and also offer continuing education programs for highly-trained herbalists and nutritionists (Check out this year's Deep Dive!). I'm also a professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, where I teach physiology, pathophysiology, and mindful eating.

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