Alcoholic extracts

Alcoholic extracts

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What is the alcoholic extract and how it is prepared

Among the techniques to obtain the active ingredients from medicinal plants, the alcohol extraction is the most widespread and used. It is obtained through a very complex and long working process.
The extract is named after the type of solvent that is used to produce it, alcohol. In addition to this type of extract there are also other types, in particular the hydroalcoholic extract, obtained with water and alcohol mixed in different percentages and the hydroglycerine extract. In the latter case, instead of ethyl alcohol, the maceration process takes place with vegetable glycerin. While the alcoholic extract does not require additions for storage, the other types of extracts, to be kept intact, must be treated with pasteurization processes or preserved with other natural or synthetic components.
The raw material from which, in order to obtain the liquid formulation, is the herbaceous plant, which to be used must have previously been dried. Only when the so-called "drug" is waterless can it be processed to extract the active ingredients it contains. The presence of water, in fact, would compromise the manufacturing process.
The drug is then added to the alcohol, which acts as a solvent, in different degrees, depending on the combination of water and alcohol that make up the compound. When the percentage of ethyl alcohol settles at around sixty or seventy degrees one speaks of hydroalcoholic extracts, with a greater percentage one speaks of a pure alcoholic extract.
The percentages are established a priori and vary from plant to plant depending on the type of extraction to be obtained, as well as the type of maceration and the amount of drug to be used is different. Usually the ratio between extract and drug is one to one, in other words the final product obtained by filtration should have the same weight as the herbaceous drug used before the procedure. From the fluid extract, subsequently, the dry extract can also be obtained. This compound is obtained through an evaporation technique that returns a very fine powder, which represents the final phytocomplex. Maceration is the most traditional extraction method, but there are others, such as pressure and ultrasound, the latter being among the extraction techniques the fastest, but at the same time most aggressive.

Maceration and homemade method

The mixture to be macerated can be obtained either from a single plant or from a mix of different drugs. It depends on the type of final product you want to obtain. In the first case the extract will contain a single phytocomplex, in the second a set of active ingredients put together to be effective and powerful, working together synergistically.
At the industrial level there are machines to regulate the manufacturing process. Measuring the temperature of the mixture is an essential part of the maceration process because alcohol is particularly sensitive to heat and a temperature that fluctuates, also changing the density of the product. The external heat must be constant as well as the stirring of the compound. Only in this way is what experts call "sweet extraction". Subsequently it passes to the tapping, which separates the extract from the drug.
To obtain a clean final product, the next step is filtration, which takes place through filters that retain any impurities that leak during tapping. It is a fast and safe method, but at the same time makes the final product less rich in active substances, which can also be blocked by filters. A filtering method that better preserves the virtues and characteristics of the herbs is the decantation, which however requires longer processing times. The product is left to mature, making sure that the heavy and impure parts fall on the bottom and then subsequently bottled.
The preservation must take place in dark containers, possibly made of glass so as not to be altered by sunlight.
If you have basic herbal knowledge and the raw materials available, it is possible to extract drugs at home, including active ingredients. The power of the extracts is not comparable to industrial treatments, but with some precautions, especially during storage, extracts can be obtained to make homemade cosmetics and homemade preparations. Once the quantitative relationship between drugs and alcohol has been established, the maceration takes place in a dark place. After a first period of time of one week, water and glycerin are added in equal parts to the mixture and the drug is left to macerate for another two or three weeks. Finally the product must be filtered using kitchen paper or gauze, better if the filtering phase is repeated twice. The conservation of this kind of extract is not very long, in fact it should be used only in the short term, always making sure that the containers in which they are placed are clean and free of water residues.


The alcoholic extracts are important because it is not always possible to obtain the active ingredients of the plants through the simple immersion in water, as happens for decoctions and infusions.
The alcoholic extract finds different forms of use not only as a final product immediately ready to use, but also as a component in other preparations. The extract produced with the maceration is better because it keeps the active ingredients contained in the plants almost unchanged. The phytocomplex obtained through alcohol makes the final product very powerful and curative. However, it must be taken into account that part of the plant's strength is lost during drying by reducing water and losing volatile components. However, it is particularly rare to find on the market empty alcoholic extracts, without active ingredients.
Knowing the properties of the plant from which the active ingredients are to be extracted it is possible to better understand which use will be most suitable for the extract. If the plant has curative properties it can be used in phytotherapeutic preparations, not only for internal use such as syrups and pastilles, but also externally in creams and ointments.

Alcoholic extracts: advantages and defects

Among the various techniques for preparing herbaceous extracts, the alcoholic one is the strongest from the point of view of concentration and also the one that is best preserved.
Since the percentage of alcohol in the final product is minimal, these extracts are particularly suitable for producing syrups and pharmaceutical preparations. It is the global pharmaceutical organizations that establish the alcohol proportions at the industrial level.
Ethyl alcohol, among the extractive methods, is the one that allows to obtain both the lipophilic component and the hydrophilic component of the plant phytocomplex. By preserving itself naturally, alcohol does not need chemical and artificial substances to preserve the extracts.
However, compared to non-alcoholic extraction it is stronger and therefore not very suitable for those who are sensitive. Another defect concerns the universality of the proceedings. Alcoholic extraction is not suitable for those plants that are particularly rich in water, which would lose their active ingredients during drying and maceration. For this reason there are also alternative extraction techniques that involve the use of fresh drugs, processed so as not to alter the internal component.