Herbal Tinctures: Getting or Giving the Right Dose

tincturesHerbal tinctures are the backbone of Western herbalism.  Generally, herbal tinctures are made from herbs extracted with a combination of alcohol and water, although glycerine and vinegar can also be used.  They are widely available, economical to produce and use, compact enough to stock in considerable variety and have a good shelf life. They can be combined and are convenient to take.   Dried herbs start to loose their potency after 6 months yet tinctures can last up to 10 years or more.  As a primarily Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalist, I mostly rely on concentrated decoctions, but in some cases when I am working with aerial parts of  plants, or herbs that could benefit from the effects of alcohol, increasing circulation, tinctures are more appropriate.

This posting is based on tinctures made using the weight to volume method.

Understanding dosage rates are important in achieving therapeutic outcomes.  I find that if someone isn’t responding to an herbal formula then analyzing their dosages can be helpful.

As a starting point most commercially available herbal tinctures indicate the weight to volume ratio.  For example, if the label states that it is a 1:5 extraction, this indicates that 1 gram (weight) of herb is equivalent to 5 milliliters (volume) of liquid.

A tincture formula will state the herb and the ratio of herb (by weight) to solvent (by volume), and the % alcohol (ethanol) in water.

Having this information is crucial in understanding the amount of herb that you are recommending or taking per dose.  Furthermore, this information is required by law to appear on the label. along with the serving size suggestion, which we will discuss further on.

In trying to communicate dosage equivalencies I have developed the following chart based on weight to volume ratios.  The side column indicates the common ratios and the top row indicates the volume of tincture consumed (in milliliters).  For example, if you took 1 milliliter of liquid made at a ratio of 1:2 then you would be ingesting a half of a gram of herb.

Tincture Dosage Equivalencydosage ratioSuggested Use:  Different companies have different suggested dosage rates.   Some companies suggest taking a dropper full and others recommended taking a range of drops as a serving size, for example, 20-60 drops.  When a dropper full is suggested the amount consumed depends on the size of the bottle and dropper.  When the suggested dosage on the bottle indicates a number of drops per dose, the amount consumed depends on the viscosity of the liquid.  Since this can change from one company to the next the best we can do is to have an understanding of some equivalents  recognizing that this is an approximation:

  • 20 drops = 1 ml
  • Dropperful from a one-ounce bottle—30 drops
  • Dropperful from a two-ounce bottle—40 drops
  • 5 ml = 1 teaspoon
  • A one-ounce bottle holds approximately 30 ml, 6 teaspoons, 30 dropper full, and 1,000–1,200 drops.

For example if using the suggested serving of 40 drops, and 20 drops = 1 milliliter, then you are taking approximately 2 milliliters of a 1:5 tincture and getting approximately .4 grams of herb per dose.  Most commonly it is recommended to take the tincture two to three times a day, so using this same example you  would be consuming between .8 and 1.2 grams of herb per day. Knowing the actual amount of herb that is recommended on a daily basis will help with putting the this into context.  Below is a partial list of recommended daily dosage of some common herbs.

Examples of dosages of some common herbs*:

Herb Daily Dosage
Angelica archangelica 3-9 grams
Ashwagandha 3-12 grams
Astragalus 6-15 grams
Black Cohosh 3-9 grams
Burdock 3-10 grams
Codonopsis 9-30 grams
Dandelion 9-30 grams
Dang Gui 3-15 grams
Echinacea 3-9 grams
Grindelia 3-6 grams
Hawthorn Berry 6-12 grams
Lemon Balm ½-6 grams
Motherwort 10-30 grams
Oregon Grape Root 3-9 grams
Passion flower 3-9 grams
Skullcap 3-9 grams
St. Johns Wort 3-9 grams
Uva Ursi 3-6 grams
Valerian 3-6 grams

* Planetary Herbology, Michael Tierra

In some circles there has been a discussion that the use of alcohol potentizes the action of the herbs, therefore less herb is needed.  Furthermore, the synergistic action of herbal combinations or formulas also increases effectiveness requring less herb.  These are great discussions but I work with aspiring herbalists who are often confused as to how to determine or convert tinctures to actual grams of herbs.  I hope that this helps and would encourage you to take a moment to actually consider that you might not be taking enough herbs to be effective.

Related blog post:  https://herbalgoddessmedicinals.wordpress.com/category/herbal-preparations/

Up coming blog:  How to make tinctures using the weight to volume method.



Calamus-Smart Soup, Brain Protectant and Traditional Uses

Calamus, Sweet Flag, Acorns calamus, Vacha, Shi Chang Pu, rhizoma acori tatarinowii(石菖蒲)

Recent research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of c4f6301f8e8504f05b68c1b5d558dacdBiochemistry and Cell Biology in Shanghai found a traditional Chinese medicine known as smart soup (聰明湯) could help in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, of which calamus was one of the ingredients.  The soup, which is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) formula used for many centuries and is still prescribed by Chinese medical physicians to patients with aging-related cognitive impairment.  Smart Soup is officially documented in Gu Jin Yi Jian, a book published in 1576.  It is composed of Rhizoma Acori Tatarinowii (calamus), Poria cum Radix Pini and Radix Polygalae.  Calamus has been shown to exhibit a neuroprotective action and attenuate learning and memory deficits.  According to the research the scientists found the smart soup, or more specifically radix polygalae, could significantly reduce the generation of amyloid beta, with the levels in treated mice more than 18 per cent lower than in those untreated.  They found that the other two herbs – rhizoma acori tatarinowii (calamus) and poria cum radix pini – appeared to protect the neurons against the damaging effect of ama.

index1According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) calamus is aromatic, acrid, bitter and warm. It belongs to the category of aromatic substances that open the orifices and enters the Heart and Stomach channels. It strengthens the Spleen and Stomach, opens the sensory orifices, dislodge phlegm, transforms dampness, calms the spirit, enhances digestion, and promotes blood flow and movement of Qi. It is often used in the treatment of dizziness, dulled senses, stupor and coma.  It has been combined in many other formulas including:

1) Di Tan Tang from Ji Sheng Fang (Life-saving prescriptions). It is combined with Ban Xia (Pinellia), Tian Nan Xing (Arisaema), Ju Hong (Exocarpium Citri Erythrocarpae), etc. to treat stoke due to phlegm confusing heart, unconsciousness, and a hardened or stiff body of the tongue impeding speech.

2) Chang Pu Yu Jin Tang from Wen Bing Quan Shu (Complete Compendium of Warm Disease). It is formulated with Yu Jin (Tumeric Tuber), Pinellia, Zhu Li (Succus Bambusae), etc. to cure blocking of phlegm-heat, high fever, coma, and delirium.

3) Qing Xin Wen Dan Tang from Gu Jin Yi Jian (Mirror of Ancient and Contemporary Medicine). It is coupled with Zhi Shi (Citrus Aurantium), Zhu Ru (Bamboo Shavings), Huang Lian (Coptis Root), etc. to heal epileptic seizures caused by phlegm-heat.

4) Ru Lian Po Yin from Huo Huan Lun (Treatise on Cholera). It is matched with Coptis, Hou Po (Magnolia Bark), etc. to treat dampness forming with heat, retention of damp-heat, vomiting and diarrhea accompanied with fever, chest and epigastric fullness and distress, and yellowish glossy coating of the tongue.

5) Kai Jin San from Yi Xue Xin Wu (Medical Revelations). It works with Coptis, Fu Ling (Poria), Shi Lian Zi (Sinocrassula indica seed), etc. to cure no desire to eat and rectal tenesmus after dysentery due to the accumulation of damp turbidity and heat toxic in colon.

6) Bu Wang San from Zheng Zhi Zhun Sheng (The Level-line of Patterns and Treatment) and Kai Xin San from Qian Jin Fang (Thousand golden essential prescriptions). Both of them are equipped with Ren Shen (Ginseng), Poria, Chang Pu (Acorus calamus), etc. to heal forgetfulness.

The article on smart soup peaked my interest, in that I knew that calamus also played an extensive role in Ayurveda herbal traditions, as well as, in Native American use.

Calamus, is a tall perennial, wetland monocot in the Acoraceae family.  It index4is a strongly aromatic, semi-aquatic perennial herb with a ginger-like stem which spreads into the ground. Originating in Asia it was widely exported across the globe.  The leaves and rhizomes have been used medicinally and as a substitute for ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  The aroma of calamus essential oil is valued in the perfume industry while its, crystallized form, is called “German ginger”.

index6In Native American traditions calamus has been extensively used for a variety of conditions and is considered by some tribes as a panacea herb or cure-all.  Used by Canadian, northern and mid western tribes, its use ranged from treatment of digestive issues to blood medicine and everything in between.  The Cherokee, from which I descend, used it for headaches, diarrhea, gas, colic, colds, kidney disease, worms and urinary infections.  It was ground up and mixed with tobacco and smoked for headaches by the Blackfoot. An infusion of the roots along with chokecherry was taken for coughs by the Algonquin tribe from Quebec.  Not only used internally calamus was used in charms for keeping spirits away, to protect warriors, keep children safe and as hunting medicine by the many of these tribes.  The most common use of calamus throughout all tribes was as a carminative, tooth aches, cold remedies, and sore throats.  In a review of ethnographic records, it had limited use as a herb for improving clarity of thought , although the Rappahannock specifically used the fresh juice as a tonic for older people and several other tribes considered it a beneficial tonic.

In western pharmacology it is classified as a stimulant, emetic, nauseant, stomachic, aromatic, expectorant, carminative, antispasmodic and nervine sedative, antioxidant and antimicrobial.

acorus%20calamus%20(2)In Ayurveda calamus is known as Vacha.  It has been used in nervous system issues and for mental and emotional disorders.  It has been used to quite the mind especially in the case of disorders characterized by an impairment of concentration such as ADD and ADHD.  As in other herbal traditions it is used in digestive disturbances.  Todd Caldecott, an esteemed herbalist specializing in Ayurveda, wrote an extensive monograph about its use.  In Ayurvedic tradition, Vacha is a ‘sattvic’ herb in its action as a stimulating nerve tonic that helps support brain functioning. It is also used as a rejuvenate for the brain and nervous system, it is used to promote cerebral circulation and to help support overall brain health and functioning. It has long been used to counter the effects of drug use, as in the case of heavy marijuana use, from fatty tissues within the liver, nervous system and brain. It is often used in post-Stroke (CVA) recovery protocols in the treatment of aphasia.

There has been some concerns regarding its safety. Calamus and products derived from it (such as its oil) were banned in 1968 as food additives and medicines by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Per the FDA’s website “Food containing any added calamus, oil of calamus, or extract of calamus is deemed to be adulterated in violation of the act based upon an order published in the Federal Register of May 9, 1968 (33 FR 6967)”. 

Jim McDonald a highly respected herbalist wrote extensively on calamus and is excellent reading.  According to information from his website and through info gleaned various other internet searches the ban was the result of a laboratory study that involved supplementing the diets of rodents over a prolonged period of time with massive doses of isolated chemicals (?-asarone).  The subject animals developed malignant tumors, and the plant was thereafter labeled procarcinogenic, although it  is not clear whether the observed carcinogenic effect in rats was relevant to the human organism, particularly given the large dosages and protracted duration of the regimen. Most authorities advise against ingesting the Indian Jammu strain. (Four varieties of Acorus calamus strains exist in nature; diploid, triploid, tetraploid and hexaploid. Acorus calamus americanus is widely used and believed completely safe in appropriate therapeutic dosages). No health hazards or side effects are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages of Calamus of European or American origin (triploid strain, up to 15% beta- asarone in volatile oil)  but long-term use of this herb should be avoided and use should be intermittent.

Other sites with extensive information on calamus:



use as essential oil-http://oilhealthbenefits.com/calamus-essential-oil/

Information on Smart Soup Research


Seeds available through Horizon Herbs