Everything You Need to Know About Tinctures

Photo: Julia Wu for Well+Good
When your allergies start acting up or you feel an inkling of a cold coming on, it's second nature to pop some Claritin or Tylenol. But there just might be a more effective way to heal yourself—and to keep your body balanced.

Enter tinctures. You may know them as the medicinal-looking bottles and droppers showing up in shelfies posted by in-the-know social media mavens, but they're a far cry from the teatoxes filling up your feed. Instead, tinctures are an all-natural way to manage everything from stress and sleeping problems to digestion and immunity.

What makes them so powerful? For one thing, they're super-concentrated. "A tincture is the most medicinal way of extracting the most important compounds [from natural sources] using alcohol," explains Lianna Sugarman, founder of LuliTonix and self-described "green smoothie mad scientist." Roots, herbs, or plants are covered with high-proof alcohol for about a month, and what's left is a potent liquid packed with the active ingredients. "This mode of extraction is the best and more concentrated way of getting the benefits of different kinds of roots," Sugarman says. (There is a very small dose of alcohol left over, so those avoiding alcohol can look for tinctures made with glycerin or apple cider vinegar.)

Putting a couple droppers under your tongue is the most effective way to get maximum benefits, but since the taste isn't exactly great, adding a dash to your morning smoothie or juice works too. (If that sounds like one step too many, good news: Sugarman believes in the medicinal concentrate's benefits so much that LuliTonix is launching its own tincture line this fall.) And while the elixir impresario says most are safe to take every day, there are certain ingredients that have a more immediate effect. And yes, she's sharing.

Originally posted July 6, 2016. Updated June 30, 2017.

Here are the eight health-boosting tinctures everyone should own.

Photo: Thinkstock/lunglee; Collage by Julia Wu for Well+Good

1. For athletic performance, try cordyceps

If you're training for a marathon or going hard at HIIT class, Sugarman says there's nothing better than cordyceps, a type of mushroom that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine. "It's great for oxygen synthesis, stamina, and recovery," she says. Having a mushroom mixture every day can get you to the top of your game. Her picks for other power players: reishi, turkey tail, and chaga (all of which you might already be taking in powder form).

Tincture to check out: HawaiiPharm Cordyceps Extract Tincture

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2. For digestion, try dandelion

If things are funky with your digestive track, Sugarman says bitters like dandelion, orange peel, and milk thistle are good catch-alls. "They stimulate your liver to produce bile, which helps break down what you eat," she says. Dandelion in particular relaxes stomach muscles while speeding up gut absorption. Bye, bloating!

Tincture to check out: Dr. Adam Dandelion & Burdock Bitters

Photo: Thinkstock/fotomem; Collage by Julia Wu for Well+Good

3. If you're getting sick, try echinacea

Before antibiotics existed, people relied on echinacea (which is extracted from eastern purple coneflower) to cure everything from colds to UTIs. It's a natural anti-inflammatory and fights viruses. In fact, one study found that people who used an echinacea tincture weren't sick as long as people who didn't—they were back to normal almost 30 percent faster. If you're looking to diversify your herbs, Sugarman says goldenseal and elderberry are all-star natural immunity boosters too.

Tincture to check out: Herb Pharm Super Echinacea

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4. For allergies, try nettle leaf

This root has been an allergy cure since the medieval times, and it's just as powerful today. A Penn State University College of Medicine study found that it's not just good for taming allergies, but can help get rid of joint pain and UTIs too. (Talk about a multitasker!) It works by reducing inflammatory chemicals in the body and easing discomfort by interacting with pain signals.

Tincture to check out: Herb Pharm Stinging Nettle Leaf Blend

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5. For focus, try ashwagandha

"Ashwagandha is good for women because it's hormone balancing, but it also helps with memory and focus," Sugarman says of the adaptogen. So if you're stuck in a creativity rut or are tackling a big project at work, adding a few drops of ashwagandha to your morning smoothie will help you get the job done. It's also a mood lifter, so your coworkers and friends will, ahem, appreciate you taking it as well.

Tincture to check out: Herb Pharm Ashwagandha Extract

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6. For beauty, try horsetail

Horsetail is an herbal anti-inflammatory that was traditionally (read: circa Roman times) used to treat burns. It naturally contains silicon, that wondrous ingredient that makes skin dewy and taut. An added beauty bonus: It's good for your hair and nails, too.

Tincture to check out: Nature's Answer Horsetail Herb

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7. For sleep, try holy basil

Sugarman says holy basil is a natural remedy for the busy person's trifecta—sleep problems, anxiety, and stress—by lowering cortisol hormones (aka "the stress hormone"). A study in The Indian Journal of Pharmacology found that participants who consumed holy basil regularly for six weeks slept better than participants given a placebo. An ancient herb that combats modern stress? Is it sold in bulk?

Tincture to check out: Stockade Holy Basil Tincture

Photo: Thinkstock/Lisur; Collage by Julia Wu for Well+Good

8. To get in the mood, try damiana

"Damiana is a really potent aphrodisiac—for men and women," Sugarman says. Since it doesn't taste great on its own, Sugarman suggests mixing it with cinnamon and vanilla bean, two other amatory options. The overall effect is anxiety-lifting and relaxing—obvious pluses when you're looking for an extra dose of confidence in or out of the bedroom.

Tincture to check out: HawaiiPharm Damiana Extract

Something else buzzing in the holistic community: adrenal fatigue. Find out what it is and if you have it. Plus, here are more ideas for treating stress the natural way.

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