Purchasing and Using Herbs



Cheryl & Jeff Hoard




Knowledge is vital in the successful use of herbs for health and well-being. It is best to consult your health practitioner first before using herbs. It wouldn’t be wise, for instance to take Saw Palmetto Berry (respected by the mainstream medical community) for treating enlarged prostate when in fact one might have a more serious problem.


Quality is everything with herbs. How the herb has been grown, dried, stored and processed determines quality to a large extent. Air, light, heat and plastic reduce the potency of herbs. Dried bulk herbs have at best two years of potency. Herbs displayed in clear glass jars in bright store light lose their potency quite rapidly. Each herb’s botanical name should be listed on the label. There are too many common names shared by many herbs and different species have different actions.


Before purchasing, one needs to have a realistic expectation of the result. One can’t expect a cup of tea to reverse a long standing condition of 15 years. Herbs can have dramatic immediate effects but in some circumstances need to be taken for long periods of time. It is necessary to know that some herbs should be avoided with conditions such as high blood pressure, pregnancy and epilepsy, or others.


Dried herbs come in whole, cut or powdered form. Powdered herbs lose their potency fastest. Liquid extracts or tinctures are basically the same thing. Extracts generally have less alcohol content than tinctures. Extracts are very convenient and have years of shelf life. They are concentrated forms of herbs and one only uses a dropperful or less. Powdered extracts are concentrated instant powders. When put in capsules taste is not an issue and one still gets the concentrated strength. Another advantage to extracts, as well as teas, is they require little digestion and are easily absorbed. The use of essential oils is aromatherapy. Essential oils are mostly produced by distillation of the plant matter. They are the strongest form of herbs available today. Essential oils must be diluted before applying to the skin and are not generally recommended for internal use. Some essential oils are irritating to the skin, should be avoided in pregnancy, and are toxic or cause sensitization. Some basic knowledge should be gained before using an essential oil.


Herbs are generally subtle in their effect so one doesn’t want to be too subtle in the approach. Exceptions to this would be essential oils, stimulating herbs like Ma Huang (Ephedra), Yohimbe and Ginseng and laxative herbs such as Cascara Sagrada and Senna. Generally the doses on labels are very conservative. When symptoms are very acute, take more frequent and larger doses for a short period of time until the crises has passed and when dealing with chronic conditions take low, less frequent doses for a longer period of time.


Please remember, herbs are not the total answer. Herbalism always works better with a holistic approach which views the body as a whole: mind, body and spirit. Plants have been the medicine since the beginning of man. With modern techniques and technology we have the best of both worlds.



– From The Healthy Planet, Vol. 1, No. 12, April, 1999

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