We stew them, saute them, powder them, and make them into tea. But are we forgetting about an age-old mushroom preparation? Tinctures have been around for millennia. Throughout history, tinctures were used as both medicines and ways to preserve botanical and fungal compounds. So, what are they, really? This guide walks you through the basics of mushroom tinctures. Learn what they are and how to make them yourself.
What Are Mushroom Tinctures?
Mushroom tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts created by soaking fungi in a solvent—typically alcohol and/or water. These solvents separate the desired compounds from the mushrooms and leave you with a concentrated liquid that can be dosed by the drop.
Given their recent rise in popularity, you might think that tinctures are a new type of product, but tinctures have been around for thousands of years. Since ancient Egyptians first distilled alcohol, humanity has been using liquid as a solvent to produce potent herbal extracts for medicinal purposes.
It wasn’t until relatively recently that tinctures started to lose their popularity amongst consumers. Into the 1930s, for example, cannabis tinctures were still prescribed by doctors as medicine. Yet, this changed with the invention of more shelf-stable options of medicine (pills) and the rise of chemical pharmacology. However, given the recent interest in natural therapies, tinctures have started to make a comeback.
If you are interested in incorporating into your routine, it is important to understand what goes into creating a quality tincture. There are many different options available on the market, so it’s helpful to do your research to ensure that you pick a tincture that will give you all the benefits you expect from your favorite fungi.
Types of Mushroom Tinctures
Many different kinds of medicinal mushrooms out there—over 700 species are known to contain bioactive compounds, to be exact. As such, there are many different kinds of mushroom tinctures. Understandably, the nutritional and therapeutic use of mushroom tinctures will vary from species to species. Tinctures can also vary by their solvent. Traditional tinctures are made with alcohol, but water and perhaps even glycerine are also sometimes used as solvents, depending on the type of mushroom.
Magic Mushroom Tincture
Tinctures are not the most common way to consume magic mushrooms—that distinction belongs to teas, lemon tek, and foods. Still, tinctures are sometimes used as a way to preserve magic mushrooms after harvest. Magic mushroom tinctures often use alcohol as a solvent. It’s essential to keep in mind, however, that tinctures are concentrated extracts, which means that they can be quite potent and sometimes challenging to dose. The potency of individual psilocybin mushrooms can vary substantially. So, while it’s possible to know how many mushrooms were used to make the extraction, it’s often not possible to know the exact concentration of psilocybin present in the tincture without lab testing. It’s also important to remain mindful that possession of magic mushrooms is still illegal in many places.
Medicinal Mushroom Tinctures
Medicinal mushroom tinctures are far more common than magic mushroom tinctures—they’re readily sold in stores, online, and are simple to make at home. They’re used as a general wellness supplement as well as naturopathic medicine. As the name suggests, medicinal mushroom tinctures are made with medicinal mushrooms, which are mushrooms that are known to have particular therapeutic properties. The most often touted properties are immune support and overall neurological health, depending on the mushroom. Some of the most common mushrooms used in tincture include:
- Lion’s Mane
- Turkey Tail
These medicinal mushrooms may use either alcohol or water as a solvent, depending on the mushroom. In some cases, a tincture maker may use both solvents. Learn more about which solvent to use and why below.
Mushroom Tincture Benefits
There are several reasons why someone may choose tinctures over other products. Like with many things in our society, convenience is a huge selling point for tinctures. Instead of eating and cooking the sometimes large quantities of medicinal mushrooms needed to get a therapeutic dose, mushroom tinctures offer a concentrated liquid of all the good things you are trying to get from your mushrooms. A few drops of mushroom tincture mixed into coffee or a smoothie can equate to a small handful of dry mushrooms. Tinctures also mix more readily with beverages than powdered mushrooms.
Discretion is another bonus. Because of their potency, tinctures can be carried in small containers that will easily fit in a bag, or you add a few drops of your tincture to the beverage you are carrying, and you are good to go. No one is the wiser. Tinctures also give you the opportunity to avoid the pesky stomach cramps that can be the result of consuming raw mushrooms. Since you are breaking down the cell walls of the mushroom (chitin) in order to create the tincture, the goodies from the mushroom can be absorbed better and without irritating your stomach.
The biggest issue you’ll face when buying medicinal mushroom tinctures is that you will have to do some research to make sure the tincture you are buying was actually made properly. Mushrooms need to be processed in a certain way to ensure that all of the compounds from the mushroom(s) make it into the tincture. Additionally, the potency of tinctures means that small amounts are needed to achieve a therapeutic effect; little is known about potential side effects of consuming large quantities of mushroom tincture, especially over extended periods of time.
Mushroom Tincture Dosage
Medicinal mushroom tinctures are far easier to dose than magic mushroom tinctures. The former is often pre-packaged and sold in stores, which means that consumers can simply follow package directions to achieve the right dosage. Psilocybin mushroom tinctures are a different story, however. The potency of these oft homemade concoctions can range dramatically, depending on the species of mushroom used, their growing medium, and the extraction process. It’s important for those in decriminalized regions to make note of the average potency associated with their species of choice. It’s also important to make note of the amount of dry weight of the mushrooms used to make the tincture. Understanding these values will help you make an educated guess about the potency of a homemade tincture.
How to Make Mushroom Tinctures
Medicinal mushroom tinctures can be made from a single type of mushroom, or they can be made from a combination of mushrooms. The type of mushroom is going to determine the best path for the creation of a tincture, so it’s best to do some research on the mushrooms you are looking to utilize. Making a lion’s mane tincture, for example, requires a different process than a reishi tincture—more on that later.
Yet, regardless of the type of mushroom you are using, the process begins by grinding or chopping the starting material (raw or dried mushrooms) into small pieces. This improves the efficiency of the extraction process by creating more surface area between the mushrooms and the solvent. After the starting material has been broken down into smaller pieces, the next step involves soaking the mushrooms in a solvent for several weeks—making sure to agitate at least once a day until finished. This soak draws the desired compounds out of the mushrooms and into the solvent. After the soak is completed, the mushrooms are strained from the solvent, and you are left with a concentrated liquid.
Something that distinguishes mushroom tinctures from other tinctures is that they are often made using a double extraction process. In other words, two different solvents are used to create the finished product—typically alcohol and water. Manufacturers use the double extraction process because there are desirable compounds in mushrooms that are soluble in water but not in alcohol and vice-versa. To further complicate matters, not all mushrooms need a double extraction method because they only have desirable compounds that are either soluble in water or alcohol. In this case, a dual extraction process would be pointless.
Water-Based Mushroom Extractions
Water is used as a solvent for one big reason. Hot water can break down the chitin of the mushroom. It can dissolve water-soluble compounds (beta-glucans and polysaccharides) trapped behind the cell walls of fungi (chitin). Alcohol will not break down the chitin; therefore, you will miss out on the desirable compounds found therein if you skip this steeping process. It’s important to note that water-based extractions alone are technically infusions and teas, not tinctures. However, water is often used to process certain mushroom species in addition to alcohol. A water-based infusion will have a short shelf-life compared to a proper alcohol-based tincture.
Mushroom Alcohol Tinctures
Alcohol does a great job of extracting acidic and basic compounds from the mushroom. These compounds (triterpenes and sterols) do not dissolve well in water—if at all; therefore, utilizing alcohol allows for higher concentrations of these compounds. Since the tincture is designed to be ingested, food-grade alcohol is used for the extraction process.
What is Double Extraction Mushroom Tincture?
The double extraction process seems pretty straightforward; however, as I mentioned above, not all mushrooms are going to need to go through a double extraction process to get the desired compounds. For example, some mushrooms (cordyceps, lion’s mane, turkey tail, shiitake, and maitake) are only sought after for the compounds that are water-soluble. Then there are mushrooms (chaga and reishi) that require alcohol to extract the compounds (triterpenes and sterols) that have difficulty dissolving in water.
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For this reason, some people choose to process their mushrooms individually by type. This ensures that the extraction process can be dialed in for each mushroom—ensuring maximum potency and quality. The separate liquid concentrates can be mixed together later to create a blended tincture.
There is even variation in how single mushrooms are processed. Some people choose to process all the starting material through both water and alcohol. The starting material is strained and pressed before being placed in the second solvent. Others will split the starting material into two batches—processing half in water and half in alcohol.
Research from Hobbs in 1986 suggests alcohol will degrade the water-soluble polysaccharides in mushrooms; therefore, producing lower yields than if the mushroom had been processed only with water. There are also those who believe that the heat from the water extraction has a negative impact on the compounds that dissolve in alcohol.
If we are going to speak confidently on the efficiency of the tincture-making process, it is clear that more research is needed. Until that day, our only hope is that we experiment our way to finding the process of extraction that works best for us or find a tincture that has been tested and gives a breakdown on the label of the compounds found in the tincture.
Unfortunately, many labs are unable to test for compounds that are not water-soluble. So, even with test results, you may not be able to see what is actually in the tincture you are purchasing. For this reason, it is important to understand the basics of mushroom extraction. It’s also helpful to do some quick research about the mushroom you are looking to utilize. For example, we know that some beneficial mushroom compounds are only available through water extraction. Yet, a manufacturer may use only alcohol to make their tincture product. So, if you know that you’re interested in finding a tincture that contains a water-soluble compound, you may want to look for a different product. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Blending the Mushroom Tincture
Blending is the final step of the double-extraction process. After extraction, alcohol and water liquids need to be combined. Blending ensures that the tincture has the full spectrum of desirable compounds. Some people choose to incorporate an additional third step to this process as well. Instead of discarding the starting material after the extraction process, called the spagyric technique. This complicated technique deserves an article of its own. However, the basics of the process can be described as such: Thespagyric method involves burning (calcining) the remaining mushroom pieces, material that you would otherwise discard. The ash is then incorporated back into the tincture. The burn reduces the mushrooms to pure minerals, which are water-soluble.
Once the extractions are combined, the result is a simple extract rich with bioactive mushroom compounds. Most tinctures are composed of alcohol and water. However, suppose alcohol is something you are looking to avoid. In that case, it is not difficult to find an alcohol-free tincture—especially if you are using a mushroom that doesn’t require alcohol extraction.
When purchasing a tincture, you will typically see a ratio on the packaging or bottle. This ratio speaks to the concentration level of the liquid. For example, if you see a ratio that reads 1:3, you know that there is one gram of dried mushrooms for every three milliliters of liquid. The lower the number is for the liquid portion, the more potent the tincture, and the more concentrated the tincture, the less you need to use in each dose.
Read: How to Take Shrooms
Extracting the Facts on Mushroom Tinctures
Mushroom tinctures offer many different benefits for those looking to incorporate mushrooms into their routine. The extraction process unlocks the beneficial compounds trapped in the mushroom cell walls, which would otherwise not be absorbed if the mushroom were ingested raw.
Tinctures also allow the benefits of the mushrooms to be absorbed quicker; therefore, you may feel the benefits sooner. Instead of solely relying on your stomach to slowly process the mushroom—and the compounds found therein—the tincture begins to be absorbed through the membranes in your mouth before it even hits your stomach.
Tinctures also allow the beneficial compounds of the mushrooms to last longer and remain more potent, compared to just storing dried mushrooms. Light, heat, and oxygen are the enemy of all mushroom products, so be sure to store your tinctures in air-tight containers and in a place that remains cool and dark.
The primary drawback of mushroom tinctures is that potency and dosage can also be challenging in some instances—particularly for psilocybin tinctures in an era of prohibition. The flavor of mushroom tinctures can often be quite off-putting. Additionally, alcohol-based tinctures are not a great option for people looking to avoid alcohol. Thankfully, the last obstacles are easy to overcome. You can add a tincture to a beverage to mask the flavor or purchase one of the several alcohol-free options for tinctures on the market. The real question might be: Why not use tinctures?
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