A liquid herbal extract is a concentrated solution made by extracting (pulling or "washing") the herb's chemical constituents out of the inert herb fiber (cellulose) with a solution of alcohol and water or glycerin and water. A good liquid herbal extract should optimally preserve the aroma, taste and biological activity of the herb from which it is made. Vanilla extract is a commonly known liquid herbal extract.
Many people assume that a fresh herb extract is superior to a dry herb extract, but this is not necessarily true; it really depends upon the unique biochemical, biophysical and energetic properties of the specific herb being extracted. While some herbs do indeed make a superior extract when extracted while still fresh and succulent (e.g., Shepherd's Purse, Corn Silk), there are also many herbs which make a superior extract when extracted after the herb is dried (e.g., Hops, Grindelia). Also, some herbs are best extracted when semi-dried (e.g., Saw Palmetto), or fermented (e.g., Wild Cherry, Sweet Clover). Some are overly active when fresh and must be dried and aged one year before use (e.g., Buckthorn, Cascara Sagrada). For thousands of years people have been using thousands of different herbs. While some of these herbs are used fresh, the vast majority are used in their dry form. Remember that each herb has its own unique properties and therefore must be treated accordingly. There are no universals when it comes to herbal handling and extraction.
Alcohol is the best food-grade solvent for extracting and preserving many of the naturally occurring herb constituents that are poorly soluble in water.
The pharmaceutical-grade organic alcohol used to prepare our liquid extracts serves three specific functions. First, alcohol is the only edible solvent that will extract and preserve many of the naturally occurring herb constituents that are poorly soluble in water, such as essential oils, resins, balsams and many alkaloids. Second, alcohol is an excellent natural preservative, which maximizes the shelf life of the extracts. Third, alcohol is a great carrying agent, which facilitates the absorption of the herb's constituents into the bloodstream.
The amount of alcohol in individual liquid extracts can vary from 20% to 90% depending on the herb being extracted and its content of alcohol and water-soluble constituents. For example, to fully extract Cayenne's pungent resins and orange-red pigments require at least 80%. A Cayenne extract made with a lower amount of alcohol will contain smaller amounts of Cayenne's resins and pigments, and therefore will be of lower quality than the higher alcohol extract. The amount of alcohol you consume in a dose of liquid extract is actually very small. For example, taking 30 drops of Echinacea liquid extract (alcohol content of 45% to 50%) amounts to consuming 1/65th of a can of beer or 1/85th of an 8-ounce glass of wine. Also, if you mix those 30 drops of Echinacea liquid extract into 2 ounces of water, that mixture would contain only 0.59% alcohol.