Guide to Making Tinctures

 

Navigating the world of herbal medicine can inspire a hungry fascination. Finding wellness through herbs often leads to an experience that’s transformative and empowering. This experience can also bewilder our curious minds! We are lucky to have an incredible wealth of information about plant medicine at our fingertips today, but the beautiful complexity that comes with herbal healing makes learning the nuances a lifelong task.

A sip of herbal tea or a dropperful of tincture can easily unlock the door to herbalism. Most of us begin our studies making these simple and effective preparations. However, basic concepts sometimes become muddied when juggling Latin binomial nomenclature, formulation considerations, physiological effects, historical research, and other pursuits within the art. The most common mix-ups arise from misused terminology. One term that tends to be applied to a variety of preparations is tincture. What is a tincture and is there any difference between a tincture and an extract?

All tinctures are extracts, but not all extracts are tinctures!

Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts that have alcohol as the solvent. If you are using water, vinegar, glycerin, or any menstruum (solvent) other than alcohol, your preparation is an extract – not a tincture. Although, there are exceptions to every rule and sometimes an acetum is defined as “a vinegar tincture” in the tomes.

 

 

The Folk Method

I learned to make tinctures deep in the coniferous woods along green river banks that glitter throughout the Oregon Cascades. Unless you have some sort of handy-dandy collapsible scale contraption that fits in your processing kit, using the folk method is the way to go when making medicine in the forest! Simple, practical, and efficient, this method allows you to estimate your herb measurements by eye. Here are a few important tincturing tips I learned during those years, while apprenticing with the Columbines School of Botanical Studies

Fresh Herb
• Finely chop or grind clean herb to release juice and expose surface area.
• Fill jar 2/3 to 3/4 with herb. ~ OR ~ Fill jar 1/4 to ½ with roots.
• Pour alcohol over the herbs. Cover completely!
• Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.

Dried Herb
• Use finely cut herbal material.
• Fill jar 1/2 to 3/4 with herb ~ OR ~ Fill jar 1/4 to 1/3 with roots.
• Pour alcohol over the herbs. Cover completely!
• Roots will expand by ½ their size when reconstituted!

Alcohol Percentages

40% – 50% (80-90 proof vodka)
• “Standard” percentage range for tinctures.
• Good for most dried herbs and fresh herbs that are not juicy.
• Good for extraction of water soluble properties.

67.5% - 70% (½ 80 proof vodka + ½ 190 proof grain alcohol)
• Extracts most volatile aromatic properties.
• Good for fresh high-moisture herbs like lemon balm, berries, and aromatic roots.
• The higher alcohol percentage will draw out more of the plant juices.

85% – 95% (190 proof grain alcohol)
• Good for gums and resins.
• Extracts aromatics and essential oils that are bound in the plant and do not dissipate easily.
• The alcohol strength can produce a tincture that is not quite pleasant to take.
• Often used for drop dosage medicines.
• Will totally dehydrate herbs.

Extraction Time and Bottling

Store jar in a cool, dry, dark cabinet. Shake several times a week and check your alcohol levels. If the alcohol has evaporated a bit and the herb is not totally submerged, be sure to top off the jar with more alcohol. Herbs exposed to air can introduce mold and bacteria into your tincture. Allow the mixture to extract for 6-8 weeks.

Now it’s time to squeeze. Drape a damp cheesecloth over a funnel. Pour contents of tincture into an amber glass bottle. Allow to drip, then squeeze and twist until you can twist no more! Optional: Blend herbs into a mush and strain remaining liquid.

The last step is perhaps the most important of all! Once you’ve strained and bottled your tincture, be sure to label each bottle with as much detail as possible. You will be so happy to have this information to play with next time you tincture the same herb. Don’t plan to lean on your sense of taste or smell alone – regardless of how well honed your organpleptic skills may be. Skipping this step will surely lead to a dusty collection of unused mystery extracts.

 

 

 

That’s it!

Keep in a cool, dark place and your extracts will last for many years. Making your own tinctures is simple and rewarding. The process allows you to form an intimate relationship with both the herbs you study and the medicines they offer.

If you are interested in learning more, here are a few great books to have in your herbal library:

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook by James Green

Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth by Sharol Tilgner ND

Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech

~ Erin

67 Responses to “Guide to Making Tinctures”

  1. [...] For a great guide on making tinctures, see this article from Mountain Rose Herbs: Guide to Making Tinctures [...]

  2. [...] A great guide on how to make Tinctures… [...]

  3. [...] lemon zest, coffee beans, etc.), then cover by at least 2 inches with 100 proof Vodka. Here is a more in-depth instructional on making your own extracts and [...]

  4. avatar sue5boys says:

    Love This and just did Dried Sambucus Nigra. Can’t wait to be able to grow my own and order ones I can’t. Thank You so very much for these lessons.

  5. avatar marvbrown says:

    Would this work on dried herbs that I bought in bulk if they dried herb I have is already 200:1? I am wondering if this would work with cissus, maca, longjack, and other herbs that already come in some form of concentrated extract? I am new to this whole tincture making idea, but it intrigues me as the studies I have read on cissus being effective for bone and joint health all used an ethanol extract of cissus. Also, I have no idea how the herb extract was processed before I bought it, so it may already be an ethanol extract. Would doing the process make it better, or worse?

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hello,
      That is an interesting question! I only use fresh herb that I harvest or dried herb from Mountain Rose to make tinctures. Since alcohol draws out and concentrates the medicinal properties of plants, just using herbs in their natural state will create very potent and effective medicine. In my opinion, using an already concentrated product to make a tincture might seem like a good idea, but stronger isn’t always better or necessary for making a good formula. Herbs don’t work like pharmaceutical drugs; they help support your body’s own natural healing processes. I hope this helps and thanks for asking!

  6. avatar Conor says:

    Hey, great post. I have a question: Do Seaweeds make good tinctures? If so what is the best method for making one? Fresh/dried? Alcohol% etc..

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hi Conor,
      I have not made or used seaweed tinctures, but I think that their mucilaginous nature calls for water rather than alcohol. Water is an amazing solvent! I would prefer making a seaweed tea, broth, or adding seaweeds to my food rather than tincturing them, but you can definitely experiment. I hope that helps!

      Many thanks,
      Erin

  7. avatar Conor says:

    Thanks Erin! Just a couple of follow up question:

    How long would you suggest boiling the seaweeds for?
    Does alcohol extract the fat-soluble (hydrophobic) nutrients like betacarotein, vitamin E and Vitamin K which are in plants like Seaweeds?
    I was thinking of using muslin bags as “tea bags”, is this a good idea or am I better just straining them with a sive at the end?

    Thanks for your time :)

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hi Conor,
      You can simply soak seaweeds in water to rehydrate them, so boiling isn’t necessary unless you want to make a really thick, mucilaginous broth. I usually toss them into my soup just before eating. If you want to make a tea, you can always eat the seaweed, rather than trying to strain it out. Ryan Drum is an herbalist specializing in seaweeds. His website has tons of great info that I think would be helpful to you. You can find it here: http://www.ryandrum.com/seaweeds.htm
      Thanks again for reading!
      Erin

  8. avatar meladmin says:

    Excellent post! I have a question: what percentage of the liquid used should I expect to have with the final extract? If I use 20 ozs, approximately how much should I expect to have as the extract?

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hello Tyrika,
      That will vary depending on what herb you use, how much herb you use, and how well you squeeze the extract from the herb. I usually end up with something between 1/3 to 2/3 of the bottle volume. Hope that helps!

  9. avatar enn ren says:

    Hi Erin

    I am somewhat familiar with herbs, but am very new to essential oils. I was wondering if there is a formula available to decipher the strength of a herb to its essential oil. And if so, was wondering if it would be possible to make tinctures using essential oils rather than the fresh/dried herb?

    Thanks so much for your help.

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hi Enn,
      Essential oils are steam-distilled, so they have already been extracted and won’t need additional concentration. In fact, essential oils are much more strongly concentrated than tinctures. When it comes to herbal medicine, stronger isn’t necessarily better. Potent aromatics used internally can be very hard for the body to process. The only time I mix alcohol and essential oils together is to make room sprays or perfumes. I do not use essential oils medicinally, but if you are interested in learning more about that, I highly recommend the book Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art by Kathi Keville and Mindy Green.

      I hope this helps. Thanks so much for reading! :)

  10. avatar enn ren says:

    Thanks so much for the reply Erin. Yes this book looks like it would be a great read. It’s on my Christmas wish list!

    Thanks for taking the time to reply.

    Enn

  11. […] are some links from Wellness Mama and The Mountain Rose Blog for making your own herbal […]

  12. avatar Brit1 says:

    hope I am making my heart/blood pressure tincture correctly. I use Mt Rose dried herbs (hawthorn leaves/berries/linden/yarrow/cramp bark/motherwort add tbl cinnamon/ginger and cover with brandy and leave for as long as possible, but usually at least a month. Then I take a dropperful twice daily.

  13. avatar Vicki says:

    I made a tincture of some wild cherry bark for my hair conditioner using alcohol. Now I am almost ready to use it, but what do I do with all that alcohol. I think that it’s suppose to be really drying for hair. Your direction would be helpful. Thanks, Vicki

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hi Viki,
      Alcohol is very drying, so I wouldn’t recommend it for a conditioner. I’m not sure what hair conditioner recipe you are using, but there won’t be a way to remove the alcohol from the tincture you’ve made. It might be okay in small amounts if mixed into a formula with conditioning ingredients like coconut oil or vinegar, but without more info I can’t tell for sure. Thank you!

  14. avatar Megan says:

    What would be the ratio for ground/ powdered herbs? I have tons left over that I want to make into tinctures.

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Megan~It is really going to depend on the herbs you are using. With ground herbs, you will still want to fill your jar 1/2 to 2/3 and then cover over with alcohol. Depending on how much they expand and soak up the liquid, you may need to add more alcohol as they age. You’ll also want to make sure you strain them well since there are such small particles. Thanks so much! ~Kori

  15. avatar Benny says:

    Hi, I’ve been boiling fresh rosemary with water and using the end result to rinse my scalp after each shampoo. But the rosemary water tends to go bad after a few days.

    I’m interested to use rosemary to make something like a commercial hair tonic which I can just apply onto my scalp. I believe the commercial hair tonics have some degree of alcohol as they have a ‘drying/cooling’ feeling when applied onto the scalp. Can you please advise me whether what I should be using ‘tincture making’ method?

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Benny~Thank you for your question. As you may know, alcohol can be extremely drying, so if you were to use this in a hair rinse, you might want to use just a little and see how it works for you. You might also consider keeping your rosemary rinse refrigerated or making just enough to last for one or two uses so it stays fresh. Thanks so much for reading the blog and good luck! ~Kori

  16. avatar Linda says:

    Hi Erin, I am making tinctures for the first time. After they are made and stored I am unclear how to use them. Do I dilute 1:1 with water into a smaller bottle and keep “mother tincture” in storage. Or do I use straight out of main bottle into a drink or straight onto tongue. I have read a number of articles but still not clear

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Linda~You have several options for how to take a tincture. My preferred method is to simply use a dropper and take a dropperful by mouth (dropping the liquid into the mouth.) You can also dilute your tincture in tea, juice, coffee, or whatever beverage you’d like. Unless you have a very large bottle of tincture or plan to share with other folks, you do not really need to separate it out into smaller bottles. I hope this makes things a bit more clear for you. Wishing you the best! ~Kori

  17. […] last for years. A great post to go further in depth with tinctures is one of my favorite blogs: The Mountain Rose Blog. Now, on to the Bug Bite Relief!!!   Bug Bite Relief Ingredients 4 tsp. witch hazel 1 tsp. […]

  18. Mountain Rose Blog,

    I would like to republish this article (about how to make tinctures) in an online digital magazine that I edit. I will credit your website for the article.

    Please advise,

    Donna Hancock
    Producer – Declare Your Independence with Ernest Hancock Radio Show
    Editor-In-Chief – Freedom’s Phoenix Digital Magazine
    Email: Producer@DeclareYourIndependenceWithErnestHancock.com
    Phone: 602-828-1819
    Webpage: http://www.FreedomsPhoenix.com
    Radio Call-In Number/Studio Line: 602-264-2800

  19. avatar Megan says:

    Also wanted to put my comment here in case you don’t see it:
    So I am using ground herbs and am making 4oz of tinctures and I am wondering if I put the herbs and the alcohol in an 8 oz container do I have to fill the 8 oz container up to the top or can I just fill the container with 4 oz of alcohol? So can I fill up the container half way? For some of the herbs they needs a lot more room and area to shake. 4 oz of alcohol and herbs in a 4 oz container makes it very difficult to shake them. – See more at: http://mountainroseblog.com/guide-tinctures-extracts/#comment-33658

  20. avatar Marcella says:

    Hello, I was told when making Keishi, Chaga, and Turkey tail (hard woody) mushroom tincture to use 180 proof vodka. I’ve read on other sites to use 80 proof. I want to take this for medicinal purposes and it is very important, I want to get the full benefit, which one should I use?

  21. avatar Marcella says:

    Just to add, I am grinding up the Reishi slices into dried powder, along with doing the same with the Turkey Tail and very hard Chaga. I plan to mix 1/2 dried powder (separate containers) and 1/2 alcohol and store for 2-4 months. I want to do the dual tincture, so when I strain out the herb, I plan to then water extract for a couple hours. Is the 180 proof the best to use?

  22. avatar Marcella says:

    One more question, sorry, I also plan to make Lion’s Mane dual tincture, but was told that since it is a softer herb (using the dried powdered Lion’s Mane) that I can use the 80 proof with it, is that correct? thanks

    • avatar Alieta says:

      Hi there Marcella, Let’s see if I can answer all of these questions :) The most important part regarding your final product is that it is 40% (80 proof) or above in order to be shelf stable. In the case that you are double extracting; first with alcohol and second with water — the highest proof alcohol is best so in the end when you mix it with the water it still remains 40% or higher alcohol content. You could use 80 proof alcohol with Lion’s Mane but not if you want to mix it with a water extraction afterwards, you would again want to go with the highest percentage possible since you will be reducing it later on with your water extraction. We have a couple of good mushroom books on our website if you want to learn more! Medicinal Mushroom’s by Christopher Hobbs is a great reference! https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/catalog/education/herbal-medicine Thank you so much for stopping by, I hope this information helps you along the way! ~ Alieta

  23. avatar zorb says:

    Can I boil of alcohol till I’m left with thick oil and then encapsulate. Will I lose vitamins and minerals when I boil off alcohol.
    Thank You

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Zorb~Thank you for your question. If you cook or boil the alcohol, you will lose herbal properties, as well as some of the preservation qualities of the alcohol. If you are wanting to encapsulate the herbs, you are better off simply using the dried, powdered version of your herb of choice. Thanks so much and good luck! ~Kori

  24. avatar Rick says:

    How would you suggest straining tinctures made from fine powder like pine pollen?

    I have tried a coffee filter, but it breaks when I squeeze and pollen paste fouls my end product.

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Rick~Thank you for your question! You might try using several layers of cheesecloth as this will have more flexibility (for squeezing) than paper. It is difficult to get all the particles out when using fine powders and you may want to allow it to settle on the bottom if you don’t want to consume your tincture with the small particles in it. I hope this helps a bit and good luck! ~Kori

  25. avatar Meghan says:

    what great info! I am curious about a fresh lemon balm tincture that I’ve been steeping in 80 proof vodka, it seems to be turning browner than I expected. in the first week I think the leaves absorbed more than I anticipated, and some of them were exposed to the air. does this mean that I should start over? is there any way to tell if bacteria formed? thanks so much!

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Meghan~Thank you for your question and for checking in with us. The leaves will absorb bacteria if exposed to the air and some herbs are best tinctured from a dry state (the ones that are full of a lot of moisture). However, it may just be taking on a hue as part of the extraction. You could give it a taste and see how it tastes to you–if it doesn’t taste off or have an odd smell, it may be just fine. You could also start another batch for comparison (if you’ll have use for all that lemon balm tincture!) Thanks again and good luck! ~Kori

  26. avatar Jessika says:

    This may sound like a silly question but where does one buy grain alcohol? I’m really new to this.

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Jessika~You can purchase it at your local liquor store. Thanks so much for reading the blog. Cheers! ~Kori

  27. avatar Tabitha says:

    I started a tincture 3 weeks ago; I grated fresh Ginger and Turmeric in Quart sized mason jars and used 190 alcohol. What kind if strength should I expect from these tinctures?
    I don’t know how to figure out strength in order to know how much to take. Please help, thanks.
    Also, it’s my first time tincturing, should there be sediment in the jars?
    -TD

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Tabitha~How exciting! The strength of your tincture will depend on the strength of the herbs you used, so my best suggestion is to try a little when it is done and decide how much you’d like to take. Every batch is different! Also, since you grated all those fresh herbs into your jar, there will, indeed, be sediment in the jars. You can strain it well using cheesecloth and/or a strainer, but there will likely still be a bit of sediment or tiny bits of herb in the tincture and that is completely normal. Just think of it as more herbal goodness. Thanks so much for reading the blog! ~Kori

  28. avatar Tina says:

    I’m very new at growing herbs and making tinctures, but I’m hooked! I have two questions and can’t seem to find the answer anywhere. If you are mixing herbs for a tincture, how do you determine how much of each to use? I’m trying to mix Meadowsweet, Devil Claw, and sarsaparilla root for a gout tincture. Can you put too much of an herb in a mix? – Tina

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Tina~Thank you for your question and, like many things in the world of herbalism, it all depends on your needs, your own physiology, the quality of the herbs you are using. and other individual details. The amount of herb you use in a tincture is dictated by how big your jar is and most home herbalists make tinctures in smaller quantities–say a pint or half-pint at a time–so there is little danger of using too much. As for creating mixes, I generally tincture individual herbs and then combine them, but you can certainly experiment and see what works best for you. I know this does not give you an exact answer, but you might want to consult an herbalist if you are looking for a specific recipe to suit a specific purpose. We wish you the very best! ~Kori

  29. avatar jil andrew says:

    kori:I am wondering what percentage of the alcohol is left after the process is done? I want to make some tincture for pain but am afraid to take this at work or whereever is it is going to get e drunk…. if you are using vodka… probably silly question… but I want to be sure….may make for gifts also….thx for your reply.

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Jil~Thanks for checking in about this. The percentage/potency of the alcohol does not change during the tincturing process, but it does help to extract and preserve the properties of the herbs. Since you won’t be drinking this tincture by the tumbler-full :), but taking it by a dropper, you shouldn’t be able to get intoxicated. Of course, we all have different sensitivities to alcohol and the properties of the herbs may have an effect on you as well. When I take a tincture, I am taking approximately a teaspoon at a time. I do hope this answers you question and we so appreciate you reading the blog! ~Kori

  30. avatar Kim says:

    How finely do I chop the herbs for tincturing? Can I use my food processor?

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Kim~It will really depend on your preference and the size of the herbs you are using for your extract. You could definitely use a food process or you could chop with knife, or, if the herbs are already in pieces, you don’t need to chop them at all. It is just up to you as to what works best for your project. Thank you so much for reading the blog and good luck! ~Kori

  31. avatar Kim says:

    I started my various tinctures 2 days ago and I think I may not have chopped the fresh herbs up fine enough. I had to use more alcohol than I had anticipated just to cover them. Can I open the jar, chop the herbs more finely, and re-use the excessive alcohol that is left for another tincture? I am assuming the essential oils have not been extracted by the alcohol very much in this short time.

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Kim~ Thank you for your question. You really should not need to chop your herbs up any more now that they are extracting. Sometimes, herbs are so fluffy that they absorb the alcohol and you will need to add a bit more during the process, but that doesn’t mean you need to remove the herbs. The herbs have already begun extracting into the alcohol, so reusing it is really not a good idea. I do hope this helps a bit and thanks again for checking in with us! ~Kori

  32. avatar Karrie says:

    Hello. I am so excited to try tinctures. I have read that you can blend the herbs and alcohol in a Vitamix first. Does the tincture still steep for 6 weeks or will the extraction happen quicker since the herb is broken down? Thank you

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Karrie~Thank you for your question. I have never blended the herbs with alcohol prior to tincturing as I prefer to process the herbs as little as possible and avoid pureeing for cleaner straining, but I could see how putting them through a blender or food processor could make for finer chopped materials. It will still take a while to fully extract the properties, but you could try it after a few weeks and see if it is satisfactory for you. Good luck! ~Kori

  33. avatar DeeDee says:

    I want to make onion and garlic seed tincture(oil) but can’t find any onion seeds or garlic seeds.Can someone give me advise on this.

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi DeeDee~Thank you for reading the blog and checking in with us. As far as I know, if you are not going to harvest your own, you can find onion seeds from the same places you can buy other vegetable seeds. The seeds are harvested from 2-year-old onions (the plants flower and then those round Allium heads are where the seeds develop.) While garlic is normally grown from the cloves of the bulb, you can also harvest seeds from the flower head (after it produces seed.) Since most folks grow garlic from cloves, it may be harder to find the seeds. I hope this helps a bit and good luck on your project! ~Kori

  34. avatar Alexander says:

    Hi, I’m new to working with herbs and making tinctures, I use for daily home remedies, relaxation, meditation, and of course work lol. One question I’ve come across I haven’t fully been able to get answered, is working with powdered herbs. I can buy then bulk or grind them down myself, but from my research many people have said powder is the best to work with. My question is, is this true, and if it is how should fraction out my alcohol to herb quantity. Since powder is much denser and contains more leafs than chopped ones, should I fill half way or almost fully? I know not to much so the herbs don’t shake around and clump to much, but I like to be quite certain. Thank you :)

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Alexander~Thank you for reading the blog and for checking in with us. Let’s see, you can use either chopped or powdered herbs for your tincture. It can be a little challenging to filter out all of the herbal sediment when you are using a fine powder, but with extra diligence and straining, you should be able to that with little problem. I would fill the jar up half way and then cover over completely with the alcohol. You may need to adjust the amount of alcohol (add more), depending on whether or not the herbs expand. I do hope this answers your questions and we wish you the best of luck! ~Kori

  35. avatar kate says:

    What alcohol percentage would you use for dried green tea leaves?

    • avatar Alieta says:

      Hey there Kate, I think a 40% alcohol extraction would be just fine, you could go higher if you wanted or if you have a higher proof on hand but 80 proof will do the job! Hope that helps! ~Alieta

  36. avatar Jeanie Stubblefield says:

    Thank you so much for the info. I have a question about ratio. The article I read to make a tincture stated 5:1. How do I determine the ratio when I make the tincture. Thanks for your time!

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hi Jeanie,
      I use the folk method, which is detailed in the blog post. This method is nice because you can eyeball the amount of herb to solvent, rather than measuring it all out. I hope that helps! Thank you so much!

  37. avatar Lisa VanMee says:

    Hi, Im making a tincture of linden right now. I opened the bottle about a week after I started, not thinking about exposing it to air or potential bacteria. Did I ruin my tincture? Thanks!!

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Lisa~Thank you for your question. If you opened the jar to take a peek, you most likely did not ruin your tincture. If you opened the jar and then left it exposed to the air, you may want to start over as it would have received significant exposure and may have introduced bacterial. The less air exposure the better :) Good luck! ~Kori

  38. […] can make your own individual herb tinctures and mix them according to the ratio above, or blend our pre-made tinctures in a glass dropper […]

  39. […] ~ Make a lavender tincture (here’s how to make a tincture) […]

  40. avatar Jessika says:

    I’m pretty new to all of this. Where exactly does one fine 100 proof/ grain alcohol?

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  • ErinErin (350)
    Erin is the Marketing Director at Mountain Rose and studied herbalism, botany, and ethical wildcrafting at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies. She spends her days making botanical illustrations, playing in the garden, creating culinary gems, and formulating medicine in the magnificent Oregon Cascades.
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