The History of Herbal Tinctures - Of The Ancients | Master-Crafted Herbal Tinctures

The History of Herbal Tinctures

Herbal tinctures have been used for thousands of years throughout global cultures in both traditional and modern systems of medicinal application. From the ancient Egyptian physicians to Native American peoples and even 20th century pharmacies, herbal tinctures and plant preparations have accompanied the development of humankind. 

The history of herbal tinctures is not only fascinating, but illuminates the path that led to modern medicine, and reminds us that we are not so far away from the apothecaries of our ancestors. 

"The use of plants as herbs has been important to all cultures since long before history was recorded." - PennState Extension

What Makes An Herbal Tincture 

Pestle grinding herbs

Firstly, let's clarify what herbal tinctures actually are.

Herbal tinctures are created through dissolving plant material, most commonly in ethyl alcohol in order to 'pull out' the concentration of beneficial plant compounds for use. Ethyl alcohol usually constitutes at least 20% of the total preparation. 

The downside of using alcohol is that the organic plant compounds can be denatured and their effects dampened as a result. Glycerin can be used to create herbal tinctures in a process that is completely alcohol-free (we use a glycerin process in the creation of our herbal tinctures).  

The Fascinating History of Herbal Tinctures 

What we now call herbal tinctures or herbal preparations of most any kinds were once considered the primary source of healing and medicine by cultures across the world. Of course as science progressed, these plant materials were able to be further distilled down to their most sought after components (once discovered) and enhanced in potency. 

Even in our modern existence, plants were and are a huge part of our medical toolkit. As Prof. Ciddi Veeresham writes in his work 'Natural products derived from plants as a source of drugs': 

"Until recently, plants were an important source of novel pharmacologically active compounds with many blockbuster drugs being derived directly or indirectly from plants... Even at the dawn of 21st century, 11% of the 252 drugs considered as basic and essential by the WHO were exclusively of flowering plant origin"

Use By The Ancient Egyptians In 3,000 BCE

Ancient Egyptian Cairo art relief carving and painting

Long before drug synthesis, the ancient Egyptians were creating herbal tinctures and concentrated plant preparations. Details were given by discovered ancient papyri that covered not only herbal remedies, but surgeries and in-depth information on disease diagnosis and action.

Beginning with the Middle Kingdom (the date range 1800 to 3000 BCE is given on the research surrounding the papyri), there are more than 40 papyri that have been found containing these ancient methods and practices. 

Penn State Extension documents that since 3,000 BCE ancient Egyptian herbalists and scholars ascribed certain herbs to even symbolically affect various things from Borago officinalis given to those in need of courage, to Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) offered to those in search of remembrance. 

In addition to the astonishing detail in which the Egyptians used herbal remedies and other pre-modern techniques including various surgical procedures that would later inform the development of more advanced applications, it is well known that cultures around the world had their own traditional systems of healing heavily based in herbal remedies. 

Herbal Tincture & Herbal Remedy Use By Native Americans

Native American site Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Native American peoples for thousands of years utilized systems of healing based around herbs for not only physical health but spiritual and ceremonial application. 

As featured in The Westport Library, the writings of Legends of America elucidate this connection:

"For thousands of years, Native Americans have used herbs to heal the body, purify the spirit, and bring balance into their lives and surroundings. Oral traditions indicate that they learned about the healing powers of herbs and other plants by watching sick animals."

Among the plants held scared were cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco. Legends of America shares that sage was considered to be beneficial to not only the stomach, but the colon, kidneys, liver, lungs, skin, and other parts of the body. In addition, the beneficial spiritual properties of sage were understood to protect against harmful spirits and to drive them out of the body. 

Herbal Tincture & Herbal Remedy Use Across Other Global Cultures 

Research has been conducted on the historic use of herbal tinctures across a variety of other global cultures, of which there exist whole systems of traditional healing that are oftentimes intricate and quite astonishing. In cases like the one shared below, both native and imported plants were utilized as components of the pharmacopoeia. 

One such study entitled ‘Medicinal plants and their uses recorded in the Archives of Latvian Folklore from the 19th century’ was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2020, and breaks down with specificity the routine therapies utilized by traditional 19th century Latvian practitioners:

“Tinctures made from fresh birch buds, valerian roots, and wormwood stems were very convenient for treatment of respiratory and digestive system disorders because of their long shelf life. Tinctures made from fresh plants tended to contain more constituents that were present in the plant material close to harvest (Romm et al., 2010)."

Such systems can be historically found across regions including Africa via healing rituals, Indian Ayurvedic traditional medicine, Chinese traditional medicine, ancient Rome, ancient Greece, Middle Ages England, and many other areas. 

Herbal Tinctures & Medicinal Plants Use Throughout Human History

Herb on old Greek book

As Biljana Bauer Petrovska writes in ‘Historical review of medicinal plants’ usage’:

“Healing with medicinal plants is as old as mankind itself. The connection between man and his search for drugs in nature dates from the far past, of which there is ample evidence from various sources: written documents, preserved monuments, and even original plant medicines.... Contemporary science has acknowledged their active action, and it has included in modern pharmacotherapy a range of drugs of plant origin, known by ancient civilizations and used throughout the millennia.”

Traditional healing systems centered around herbs and subsequently herbal tinctures, teas, and other preparations have led us to modern applications, and many traditional techniques and remedies are still used to this day. 

After all, the wisdom of the ancient peoples is not to be underestimated; with indigenous Native Americans first using things like pain relievers, oral birth control sunscreen, and other 'new inventions' through their expertise in plant applications. 

100% human-created content. Professionally reviewed for quality and information content.

Additional Sources / Further Reading:

Colorado School of Herbalism
Herbal Academy
Natural History Museum

Photo Credit:

Photo by Tom Podmore
Photo by Tara Winstead
Photo by Cayetano Gil

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