Help! Is my tincture safe to consume?

A subscriber writes in and asks:
“ I have a bottle of Black Walnut and Wormwood extract tincture that has an expiry date of 2020. I opened the bottle about 10 months ago, and kept it in 18 degrees temperature. I wonder if it’s still safe to use? The tincture is alcohol free.”
Great question! Herbal quality & safety is such an important subject. We cannot expect our herbal medicines to be safe and efficacious if we don’t start with good quality raw materials and then process and store them in a way that preserves their potency. Most people don’t know this but significantly more St Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) finished products were for sale in the 1990’s than raw materials could have possibly supplied. So, what was in those bottled labeled St Johns Wort? We don’t know!
Quality is such an important concern of mine that I spent over 10 years working in various areas of quality control for herbal medicine companies. Here are some basic quality tips before I answer your specific question:
Know your source! Purchase your herbs from reputable suppliers (check out our previous blog posts for the various vendors we professional herbalists trust). If you can grow & dry herbs yourself, even better. One of my favorite sources for medicinal plant seeds for my garden is Strictly Medicinals.
Store your herbs properly. Herbs, in all forms, are best stored away from heat & light. Most liquid extracts come in amber non-reactive glass bottles precisely to block out light. Proper storage will prevent contamination and degradation. Refrigeration is usually not required, but doesn’t hurt.
Prevent contamination. For example, make sure all packaging is properly sealed and do not expose your product to germs by licking the dropper top or using an unclean utensil.
Consume your herbs in a timely manner. Herbs lose their quality and potency over time. Which brings us to your question. . .
Let’s look at the details of your extract:
Shelf life: your bottle has been opened for about 10 months and has an expiration date of 2020.
Storage: you stored it at 18 degrees (I assume this is 18 degrees Celsius / 65 degrees Fahrenheit). You didn’t mention light, but hopefully it was not stored in a sunny window.
Solvent: you state that it’s alcohol free but not what the solvent is – glycerine? Alcohol and glycerine are the most common solvents used to extract plant constituents into liquid extracts. Alcohol is an excellent solvent and glycerine is a mediocre solvent, however, glycerine is a common choice for those avoiding alcohol and it has other benefits including its’ sweet taste, which makes it quite palatable. Both alcohol and glycerine are decent preservatives with alcohol having a shelf life of 5+ years and glycerine 1-2 years.
So, based on what we know, assuming the product was not stored in light or contaminated, I personally would feel safe consuming it.
Thank you for writing Ask The Herbalist!
Cheers, Amy
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