Alcohol in herbal medicines

Ethanol, also commonly called ethyl alcohol, is the alcohol used in herbal medicines and herbal tinctures.


For many years the safety of alcohol-containing herbal medicinal products for children has been questioned by experts and consumers. The Working Group of the Cooperation Phytopharmaka in Germany (where liquid herbal medicinal products for children have been available without prescription since 1926) carried out a scientific examination of the toxicological relevance of alcohol in herbal medicinal products with regard to ingested amounts, metabolism and elimination in children.

They compared the amount of alcohol ingested in the recommended dose of liquid extractions of popular herbs such as ivy, thyme and valerian to the amounts of alcohol produced by the metabolism of common carbohydrates such as bananas, fruit juice and bread. The amounts found in the bloodstream after ingestion of these foods are consistently higher than the amounts found after ingestion of the recommended dose of ethanolic tincture.

Examining reports from poison control centres, the Working Group found no published reports of intoxication with herbal medicinal products. The most common intoxicant for young children was mouthwash.

The Working Group concluded that when used at the recommended dose, the health risk of alcohol-containing herbal medicinal products is negligible.

Reference: Kelber O, et al. Pharm Ind. 70, Nr 9, 1124-1127 (2008)

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