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.



Consumer Beware: The Rampant Under Dosing of Herbal Products

The world of herbal supplements is often confusing and making heads or infusiontails out of dosages, etc. takes time, research and a bit of math. Many folks buy herbs from their local health food stores, through the Internet or from alternative care providers. More often than not, they follow the instructions that appear on the bottle. I have analyzed many formulas that clients have brought to me and I am always struck by the fact that what they are taking is far below the recommended daily therapeutic dosage. As an herbalist, I contend that if folks are not seeing the intended effects it is either due to under dosing or not addressing the root cause of their condition. For the purposes of this article I am going to concentrate on the issue of under dosing and although I know that this topic is potentially controversial, it nonetheless needs to be examined.

I believe that under dosing is rampant due to the following: the true cost of taking herbs therapeutically, herbal profit margins and the risk adverse nature of supplement manufactures. To illustrate my point we will look at several forms of existing herbal products in relationship to recommended daily therapeutic dosages.

Let’s start by picking an herb. An average recommended dose of Vitex (Chaste Tree) berry is 3-6 grams a day of dried ground herb, as stated in several prominent books on herbalism. For this analysis I will use this as my baseline for establishing a daily therapeutic dose. When we look at using tinctures several leading tincturesbrands provide Vitex tinctured at a 1:5 ratio (a standard ratio that many manufactures use, I believe based on profit margins). This measurement is an herb to liquid ratio, meaning that 5 milliliters of liquid equals one gram of herb. If you want to take the therapeutic dose of 3 grams of Vitex a day, you would need to take 1 teaspoon of tincture, three times a day (1 tsp is approximately 5 milliliters). When we look at the cost of this dose, a standard 1-ounce tincture bottle would last two days (1 oz equals 6 teaspoons). At an average cost of $10 a day this would cost $40 a week. If you take the upper range of the recommended dose – 6 grams, you would need to double the amount of tincture equaling an ounce of tincture a day at $10 a day this would be approximately $70 per week.

Most tincture bottles provide recommendations based on a drop dosage. In the case of Vitex a review of several manufacturers suggest an average of 30 drops (30 drops equals approximately 1 ml although this depends on the viscosity) three times a day. There are several ways to look at this, but the simplest is to remember that 5 milliliters of a 1:5 ratio equals one gram of Vitex. If this amount is taken 3 times a day you would be taking 3 milliliters of Vitex or less than 1 gram of herb which is far below the low range of the 3-6 grams a day. Some herbalists would make the case that tinctures are a more concentrated form of herbal preparation due to their bio-availability of chemical constituents thereby lower dosages are appropriate. This might indeed be true and depends on your frame of reference. Either way it behooves us to take the time to do the research and math to figure out the actual dosage that you are taking or recommending.

When we look at the comparison of therapeutic dosage in relationship to herbal capsules under dosing becomes even more apparent. For examplecapsules many leading manufactures supply Vitex at 400 mg per capsule (400 mg equals .4 gram) with a recommend daily dose of 2 to 3 capsules a day. In doing the math this translates to consuming .8 gram of Vitex at 2 capsules a day and 1.2 gram of Vitex at 3 capsules a day, far below the recommended daily therapeutic dose. In fact to get to 3 grams you would have to consume 8 capsules a day and at 6 grams a day you would have to consume 16 capsules a day.

I have done similar analysis of Traditional Chinese Medicine, medicinal mushrooms and standardized herbal supplement formulas only to find that the dosages on the bottle fall far below therapeutic recommendations. So what is the answer?

  1. Invest in a comprehensive book on herbs that lists therapeutic dosages in grams for example Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra.
  2. Determine the therapeutic dose for a given herb.
  3. Read the information in the box (Supplement Facts panel). What is the recommended serving size? What is the suggested dosage?
  4. Do the math. Compare the supplements recommended daily dose to the therapeutic dose.
  5. Look for fluid extracts which are tinctured at 1:1 or 1:2 ratio or other concentrated forms of herbal preparations.