Why Alcohol Is A Perfect Choice As An Extraction Medium

Posted on March 20, 2020

Herbal Extracts And Alcohol

Alcohol (also known as ethanol) is an extremely common ingredient that can be found in personal care products, food additives, beverages, industrial products and commonly found as the key solvent for herbal ingredient extraction.

Most of us are familiar with alcohol found in beverages and for those of you interested in statistics, Australia produced 186 million litres of Pure Alcohol in 2016/17.  This equates to roughly 75 Olympic size swimming pools, importantly ; Pure Alcohol is not the same as measuring beverages such as wine or beer which only contain 3% to 8% of alcohol.

Your next question is likely to be “how is alcohol made”, well in Australia Alcohol is made by fermenting a natural source of sugar with a catalyst, which is usually yeast. As it ferments, the carbohydrates (starch and sugars) in the main source turn into carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol, which is the basis for all alcohol drinks. Australia use sugar cane as the primary source ingredient since we have vast cane resources and production is well established. Other countries may use corn starch however, the end result is pretty much the same.

Alcohol has been around for quite some time, while the art of wine making reached the Hellenic peninsula by about 2000 BC, the first alcoholic beverage to obtain widespread popularity in what is now Greece was mead, a fermented beverage made from honey and water. However, by 1700 BC, wine making was commonplace.

At PPC Herbs, we are often asked why alcohol is used rather than plain old tap water to extract the essential phytochemicals from dry herbs?… Actually, we do use water, and this is used in combination with alcohol at various concentrations. The alcohol/water mix varies according to the type of botanical material we have placed in our cold percolation towers. Certain herb forms will require higher concentrations of alcohol which is outlined below.

Water is OK but not in isolation; there are so many things to consider when making high quality extracts these include;

  • What is the form of the herb – is it root, leaf or bark
  • Fibrous root or bark materials are by nature of their structure very robust, higher alcohol concertation’s are therefore required.
  • Ensuring the extract stands up against bacterial infection, ethanol is a great preservative.
  • Efficiency of the extraction solvent to draw out the entirety of the plant goodness is so important and we make sure to use the right alcohol/water mix to ensure we are collecting the herb contents.

When thinking of alcohol and its use in herbal medicinal products, there is always a need to be aware of precautions for certain individuals who may have allergic response, older age people, people with a compromised immune system and children

We searched some studies on use of Alcohol in medicinal herbal preparations and we think this study is very informative.

Ethanol in herbal medicinal products for children

Data from paediatric studies and pharmacovigilance programs

Wien Med Wochenschr. 2017; 167(7): 183–188.

Published online 2016 Jul 28. doi: 10.1007/s10354-016-0474-x


Herbal medicinal products are indispensable in children, e. g., in functional gastrointestinal diseases and coughs and colds, especially when available in liquid dosing forms for which dosing can be adapted ideally to different age groups. Despite being generally accepted as safe, the ethanol content of many of these products, necessary for Galenic reasons, has raised questions regarding their safety. Therefore, safety data from more than 50,000 children in noninterventional paediatric studies with these products, as well as data from routine clinical use in several million children, were assessed. No evidence of the involvement of the ethanol content in any adverse drug reactions was found. This allows us to conclude that these herbal medicinal products are safe in the age groups for which they are authorized or registered and that the present labelling is adequate to allow for their safe use in the paediatric population.

PPC Herbs has over 30 years of experience with herbal extraction technology. Our Australian facility is licensed and we adhere to the highest quality standards. Our extracts and herbal medicines and remedies are well known to both the practitioner and consumer community; we have a commitment to ensuring our products meet standards of safety inclusive of all processes and ingredients.

Learn more about PPC Herbs by visiting our web site www.ppcherbs.com.au

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