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Tinctures: from Herbal Medicine to Cocktails

As you may have read from our most recent article, The Truth About Gin, you would have learned that liquors begin as neutral alcohol that have undergone an infusion with botanicals. This unveils a little more of the story of how alcohol was used as a medicine to treat illnesses many years ago.

Tinctures for Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine has been used as the primary mode of healthcare for nearly all of human history prior to the modern world. Today, people go to doctors and are given perscription drugs that were made in a lab. Botanicals (plant products) were instead perscribed and given to patients throughout all of human history across all traditional cultures.

Someone who had anxiety might be given lavender for their condition. Another man with liver disease might have been given schisandra

Humans then came across a discovery - they could infuse the botanicals into alcohol and that could transfer over both the medical properties and the taste from the plant! The tincture was born!

Doctors specialized in herbalism, the skill to know which plants would cure which illnesses, and they created specific tinctures (neutral alcohol infused with those specific ingredients) and sold them in pharmacies.

The following photo from medieval times showcases a man recieving an elixir that is alcohol infused with botanicals to cure his illness.

Alcohol as medicine

Today, tincture-based herbal medicine is still practiced. While you cannot go to a typical pharmacy and buy branded alcohol there, one can visit a specialty health foods store or apothecary shops where they will find a large assortment of alcohol-based tinctures.

One can even connect with a practictioner of herbal medicine (herbalist) who will perscribe them and make them a specific tincture that is infused with many botanicals that suit their needs. The writer of this article actually is currently taking a tincture with infused botanicals suited for healing the liver! 

Gin and Herbal Medicine

Gin is a good example for a spirit designed to be used as a medicine. The only difference between gin and one of these tinctures is that gin will always include juniper berries infused in them. This means that many tinctures prepared today for herbal medicine patients could still be classified as gin.

Many people take tinctures that could be classified as gin, when a juniper tincture is part of the infusion! Juniper is traditionally used for the treatment of digestion, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and kidney and bladder stones.

In the mid 1700s, numerous small Dutch and Flemish distillers had popularized the re-distillation of malt spirit or malt wine with juniper, anise, caraway, coriander, etc., which were sold in pharmacies and used to treat such medical problems as kidney ailments, lumbago, stomach ailments, gallstones, and gout. These were the first mass-maket gin tinctures.

The use of Juniper as a diuretic was believed to be able to cleanse the fevers and tropical diseases that the Dutch settlers were suffering from in the newly colonized West Indies.

Many of today’s brands such as Chartreuse and Benedictine were born in the monasteries of Europe designed as stomach tonics and general elixirs. 

Tinctures for Cocktails

Now we've explored how the tincture carries the healing properties of it's components - but let's not forget that the taste is carried over too. 😉

Our friend Sam from Barprints actually made a video on this topic, check it out:

You will notice that you can prepare a tincture yourself at home for a highly concetrated form of any single botanical you want.

These cocktail tinctures are distinct from making gin for a few reasons:

  • Tinctures should be made with high-concentrations and small amounts of alcohol (gin can be made in large batches)
  • Tinctures focus on single flavours (gin infusion involves many botanicals at once)
  • Tinctures are made with botanicals that are made to accent cocktails (gin botanicals are specially focused on the base of the drink
  • Tinctures are made to be blended and balanced with other tinctures and the flavours of the base alcohol (gin is ready to be served with some simple tonic water and garnish)

Ideally, once you start producing tinctures you will have a few little bottles of strong concentrated flavours that can come into play for any future drinks!

Let's say you make a raspberry tincture like Sam did in the video. Now you have the ability to add a little raspberry shot to any cocktail. Here is a cocktail photo from our Instagram. We made a nice orange gin base and then splashed in some tincture raspberry flavour to top it off (also giving it some nice red flare to the orange color)! 

Cheers! 

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