When should I use LIQUID herbal tinctures or herbal CAPSULES, and what’s the difference?

Which is best, taking herbal medicine in the liquid form as a tincture, or taking herbs in the powdered form in a capsule? Actually, there are pluses and minuses for both when comparing tinctures to capsules...

However, as a rule, liquid herbal tinctures, when taken properly, are better absorbed and more effective than powdered herb in capsules. There are several reasons for this, and there are some exceptions to this rule.

Tinctures are more efficiently absorbed and faster acting than capsules. The tincture is absorbed in the mouth and/or gut directly into the bloodstream with no little or no digestion. Capsules filled with powdered herb must be broken down in the stomach and then digested to be absorbed. A much higher percentage of the herb and its active ingredients is absorbed with a tincture as opposed to a capsule.

The water and alcohol extraction process used when making a tincture makes available certain constituents of the plant that are not availed when digesting the whole powdered herb, making the tincture typically a more potent medicine than the capsules. Another nice advantage to tinctures is that they virtually last forever due to the preservative quality of the alcohol in the tincture. Capsules may eventually get stale and lose their potency after a year or more.

The only real disadvantage to taking herbs in the liquid tincture form is that some of them do not taste very good. If this is an issue, then capsules work better as one will be more compliant in getting the proper dose to make the medicine effective. Most people simply do not mind the strong taste, or with time develope a taste for the tinctures. Additionally, there are ways to make the tinctures more palatable.

The main advantage to using capsules over tinctures is when a formula calls for non-herbal ingredients to be combined with the herbs. Often these non-herbal ingredients can only be mixed with herbal powders but cannot be tinctured or combined with a liquid tinctures. An examples of this is the Exodus Herbs Anti-Inflammatory Formula in capsules has Bromelain as an ingredient, but Bromelain cannot be added to the liquid formula. Also, the Exodus Herbs Grapeseed Combo Formula can only be made as a capsule because the quercetin and bromelain won’t work in a liquid formula.

To offset the lowered potency of powdered herbs when compared to liquid extracts, some herbs main metabolites have been separated from the whole herb and concentrated or standardized to a certain potency. Common examples are curcuminpowdered extract and silymarin powdered extract. Curcumin is one of the main constituents found in the herb turmeric, that makes it such a good anti-inflammatory. Silymarin is one of the active alkaloids found in the herb milk thistle making it such a good herb for the liver, especially to fight hepatitis. By separating out and concentrating these active ingredients, more of this constituent can be put into a capsule, increasing the capsules potency.

Many herbalists believe that using whole herbs rather than just separating out one active ingredient is best. The idea is that the other constituents of the herb may be working synergistically with the other active ingredients. Common sense and a review of many clinical trials, makes me give this theory credence. Therefore, some herbal practitioners will prescribe taking the whole herb milk thistle along with silymarin, or taking whole herb turmeric along with curcumin.

When taking herbal capsules, most herbs and formulas should be taken on an empty stomach, usually at least ten minutes before a meal. Curcumin and turmeric should be taken with fat or oils for best absorption, raw milk being one good way to take your turmeric or curcumin capsules.

If you are taking a liquid tincture herbal extract, in a mostly undiluted form, it will absorb rapidly into the bloodstream. However, to be safe and assure the best absorption, do not take the tinctures on a full stomach, either just before a meal or an hour or more afterwards.

Tips for taking liquid herbal tinctures:

  1. The best absorption is to use a teaspoon or dropper and put the tincture directly into the back of your mouth, remembering to have an empty stomach. If the flavor is too strong, try the next two methods:
  2. Second best absorption method is to add the juice of ½ a lemon (or another juice) to a tablespoon or more of tincture in a shot glass, then pour out or use a dropper to meter out your dose.
  3. Thirdly, add the juice of ½ a lemon to 1 -2 tablespoons of tincture and then add 6-8 ounces of hot water and sip on the concoction throughout the day between meals.