Many parents want to use herbs to better their child’s health, but questions about safety come to mind, especially when it comes to giving their child an herbal tincture that’s been extracted in alcohol.
Most parents new to herbs wonder whether alcohol tinctures are bad for children. I mean, alcohol is bad for anyone if too much is used too often, right? And, because children are much smaller in weight and their bodies don’t metabolize toxins the way an adult’s body does, wouldn’t it make sense that there should be some worry around giving alcohol to them… even if it’s in the form of a natural, herbal medicine?
So here’s the big question.
“Are alcohol tinctures bad for children?”
Will the amount of alcohol a child would receive in several doses of an alcohol-based herbal tincture several times a day harm them? Are these forms of herbal medicine okay for children to take when needed?
Now, I’m not here to convince you one way or the other. This decision is up to you as the parent of your child, but I do want to share some basic information I’ve found in order to help you come to a better decision… or at least an easier one. We all want to sleep well at night knowing that we’ve done what’s best for our child, right?
Below, you’ll find some reasons why alcohol is a great solvent for herbs as well as a few innocent, everyday places one might consume alcohol without even realizing it. I’ll also be showing you just how much alcohol your kiddo is actually ingesting from that tincture they’re taking, and we’ll look at how much alcohol is required to have a negative impact on their body. We’ll hear what Dr. Aviva Romm, an experienced herbalist, midwife, and medical doctor, thinks about giving alcohol tinctures to children, and lastly, I’ll share some alternatives to alcohol tinctures that you can use with your children if you choose to skip alcohol extracts entirely.
3 Reasons Alcohol Is A Great Solvent For Herbs
1. Alcohol Extracts More Compounds From Herbs
Herbs and foods contain both fat soluble and water soluble compounds, and alcohol is unique in that it can extract both of these compounds from the herb, therefore, giving you a very well-rounded end product.
2. Alcohol Is Fast-Acting
Alcohol is also one of the fastest ways to deliver herbal nutrition into the body. Tinctures made from alcohol are absorbed directly into the bloodstream via the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, and stomach lining. Even placing it under the tongue will get it quickly into the bloodstream, bypassing digestion altogether.
3. Alcohol Extends The Shelf-Life
Alcohol also gives tinctures a longer shelf-life than other preservation methods, and it helps to preserve the potency of the active constituents for a longer period of time. I love making herbal tea, and we drink it frequently even though it only lasts a few days. Compare that to an alcohol-based tincture that will last two years or more!
Everyday Foods That Contain Alcohol
Did you know that small amounts of alcohol can be consumed via eating everyday foods?
It sure can!
Fermented foods, ripe fruits, and some drinks are just a few examples of foods that contain small amounts of alcohol. Let’s look at these a bit closer.
Home-brewed kombucha is a healthy and delicious way to increase digestion and get some healthy fermented foods into the diet. Kombucha contains about .5-1% of naturally occurring alcohol from the fermentation process, and I’ve heard different varieties of kombucha (such as Jun kombucha) can have even more. Even store-bought kombucha has small amounts of alcohol in it.
Sure, kombucha contains a small amount of alcohol from the natural fermentation process, but so do other fermented foods like traditional sauerkraut, fermented fruits, and fermented veggies. Fermented foods are very healthy for the body as they not only increase the foods nutritional value but its probiotic and enzyme content too!
Ripe bananas off-gas a large amount of ethanol due to their natural alcohol content. This is why it’s recommended to store bananas separately from other fruits, or they’ll cause them to ripen too quickly and spoil. The amount of alcohol per dose of tincture is less than what’s found in a ripe banana. I don’t know about you, but my little guy can down a lot of bananas!
Even beverages like orange juice have been found to have levels of alcohol worth mentioning. And you may not drink soda, but back in 2012, popular cola brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi were found to have trace amounts of alcohol in them as well.
As you can see, alcohol is a natural part of the fermentation and ripening processes that go on in many of our foods. With this being said, you can see how easy it is to consume small amounts of alcohol on a daily basis.
How Much Alcohol Is A Child Ingesting From A Tincture?
The amount of alcohol a child consumes from a tincture is very small.
For example, when it comes to tinctures made via the folk method, 100-proof alcohol is what is often used. This means that your alcohol will contain 50% water and 50% alcohol.
One dosing method that people often follow for folk tinctures suggests 1 drop of a 50% tincture per 2 pounds of body weight.
Since the average 5-year-old weighs 40 pounds, they’ll get 20 drops of tincture. Keep in mind though that this is at least half water, so let’s say that’s 10 drops total of alcohol. If these 10 drops are diluted in half of a cup of juice, this would end up being .5% worth of alcohol. Now .5% really isn’t that much, especially when you consider that it’s about the same as you’d find in kombucha or a ripe banana.
How Much Alcohol Will Negatively Effect My Child?
Most of the information out there on alcohol and children is about how bad it is for them, and rightly so. However, much of the information is referring to whole drinks of alcohol, not drops of an herbal tincture made with alcohol.
To get some perspective, though, the United Kingdom health service recommends that adolescents (15-17 years old) don’t exceed 350 milileters of hard liquor a day. That 350 milliliters is roughly 5,397 drops, give or take a few.
But what about young children? How does this information apply to your little ones?
There are several dosing equations that can help us out.
The first, called Fried’s Rule of dosing takes the child’s age in months, divided by 150, then multiplied by the adult dose. Clark’s Rule is similar and requires the child’s weight in pounds, divided by 150, then multiplied by the adult dose.
So for example, the upper limit for an average sized, 70 pound 10-year-old would be 3,340 drops of alcohol. Using Clark’s Rule dosing formula and the average adult’s 60 drop tincture dosage, the child’s dosage would end up at 28 drops of tincture, that puts them at less than 1% of what would be considered the absolute max for their body.
And just for the record, if you run this example through both dosing formulas, you’ll notice that you get very different dosages. This is why many herbalists prefer weight-based dosages over age-based, especially for herbs that need to be exact. No matter, both formulas are great!
What Do Experienced Herbalist Say About Giving Children Alcohol Tinctures?
Now, I know a lot of herbalists who use alcohol tinctures with children without hesitation, but I remember being new to herbs and worrying about giving my little one tinctures made with alcohol. So, I decided that it would be nice to hear what someone in the medical industry had to say on this topic.
Dr. Aviva Romm is well-known in the natural health community as well as the modern medical community. Not only is she an herbalist and midwife who’s raised four children using herbs, but she’s a Yale-trained medical doctor too. She has a lot of experience working with children, and I was curious to see what her thoughts were on this topic. Here’s what she had to say.
“Used appropriately, liquid herbal extracts—tinctures — are among the most valuable and effective botanical tools for treating children’s health concerns. They are very concentrated so only small doses are required, and they can easily be hidden in water or a tiny amount of juice with practically no taste for most herbs that you’d use with kids. The amount of alcohol in a dose of tincture is extremely small; however if you are concerned, many herbs are available in glycerites. IF you do use alcohol tinctures with your kids, dilute the tincture in 2 TBSP. water — alcohol shouldn’t be put directly in the mouth due to risks of damage over time to the delicate oral mucosa. Warmly, Aviva”
3 Ways To Decrease The Amount Of Alcohol In Tinctures
At this point, you’re probably feeling okay about giving your child alcohol-based tinctures, but if you’re still hesitant, no problem. No one is forcing you to be okay with it, and the good news is that you don’t have to skip using liquid herbal extracts just because you want to stay away from alcohol. There are some other great options for getting these herbal preparations into your children, minus the alcohol.
1. Evaporate It Out
First, you can try to evaporate some (around 15%) of the alcohol out of the tincture by putting the recommended tincture dose into a hot cup of tea and give it to your child after the tea has cooled. The hot tea will cause some of the alcohol to evaporate out with the steam (USDA, 2007).
2. Change The Route
Next, you can skip the internal route all-together and use the tincture externally. Alcohol-based tinctures can be rubbed onto the skin or on the bottoms of the feet instead of taken internally. Just remember, you would need to increase the amount you use when applying it topically instead of internally.
3. Change The Type of Preparations
Lastly, herbal tinctures can be prepared in other forms using honey, glycerin, or vinegar. These work a bit differently in the body, and they don’t extract the nutrients in the same way that alcohol does. None-the-less, it’s still a good option.
- Herbal honeys – herbs steeped in honey.
- Herbal glycerites – made with a blend of glycerin and water.
- Herbal vinegars – extracted with vinegar, good for extracting minerals.
You can read more about tinctures, herbal vinegars, and glycerites here.
All Things Considered
- Alcohol-based tinctures are an effective and time-tested way to deliver herbal remedies to children of all ages.
- The dosage of a tincture is the same or less than the alcohol found in common foods, and a small fraction of what’s considered to be the harmful maximum.
- Many well-known herbalists and doctors do not have a problem giving their young patients alcohol-based tinctures.
- There are other great herbal preparations that can be used if you choose to forgo alcohol in your herbal medicine cabinet.
So what do you think? Are alcohol tinctures bad for children? Whatever you choose, the decision is up to you to do what you feel is best for your family. The “right’ choice will depend on different factors and whatever you decide is the right choice for your kids is okay.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Share your comments in the comment section below!
USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors. (2007). Retrieved April 5, 2015, from http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/80400525/Data/retn/retn06.pdf