Herbal Information is only intended as
educational. Any self diagnosis and use of
medicinal herbs are done so at your own risk.
There are many considerations necessary before
starting an herbal regiment and it is recommended
that anyone seeking alternative methods of
therapy should first consult with their primary
health care provider and also a qualified CAM
Forms of Herbs
The goal of the herbalist is to release the volatile oils, antibiotics, aromatics, and other healing chemicals contained by the
herb. Herbs can be prepared in a variety of forms depending on their purpose. Such techniques include:
Juice squeezed from herbs.
Mashing herbs into a paste.
Decoction or extracting the active ingredients by boiling down the herb in water.
Hot infusion (like hot tea)- Herb is steeped in hot water.
Cold infusion (like sun tea) - Herb is steeped in cold water.
Herbs ground into a powder and used as such or as compressed into a pill.
Herbal wine made by adding the herb to water and sugar and letting it ferment.
Tincture, made by combining ground herbs with alcohol, glycerin or vinegar and used internally.
Liniment - Made like a tincture except it is used externally.
Salves and ointments made by adding herbs to a medium such as petroleum jelly.
Syrups - Made by adding herb to a medium such as honey, sugar or glycerin.
Poultice - Herb is applied directly to a wound or body part and held in place with a cloth.
Herbal Oil - Usually made with common base oil, such as olive, almond, grape seed, or sesame oils. The herb is allowed to
sit in the oil for a week. It is strained and bottled.
In general, delicate leaves and flowers are best infused. Boiling may cause them to lose the volatile essential oils. Roots,
barks, and seeds are best made into decoctions.
Standardized vs. Whole Herb
As herbs are getting more and more popular, more and more manufacturers are supplying standardized herbal extracts. A
standardized extract means that the manufacturer has verified that the active ingredient believed to be present in the herb is
present in the preparation and that the potency and the amount of the active ingredient is assured in the preparation. A
problem arises in that, the action of the herb may be from a number of constituents and not from just one or two ingredients.
Thus, the standardized preparation may omit some of the ingredients and, in turn, we will lose out on the effect from the
complex combination of all the ingredients. In most cases, I advise using the whole herb.
Complementary and Alternative
Medicine of Williamsburg
For thousands of years herbal remedies have been used to treat everything from baldness to fatigue to hemorrhoids to impotence. The use of herbs is one
natural approach to health and wellness, as are other modalities such as acupuncture, hypnosis, homeopathy, aromatherapy, massage therapy and
chiropractic medicine. Today, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the fastest growing segment of the healthcare industry.
In 1995, the National Institutes of Health established a panel to describe and define complementary and alternative medicine. The panel defined it as “a
broad domain of healing resources that encompasses all health systems, modalities, and practices and their accompanying theories and beliefs, other than
those intrinsic to the politically dominant health system of a particular society or culture in a given historical period.”
Though CAM is gaining acceptance, some physicians don't include complementary therapies in their practice. CAM approaches aren’t always taught at
medical schools, and they aren’t always implemented in hospitals. And despite a growing awareness of the benefits of CAM therapies, many insurance
companies are still reluctant to reimburse for these services.
A recent article in the Washington Post asserted: “Demand for natural medicines seems insatiable: Americans now spend an estimated $20 billion annually
on herbal remedies for weight loss or to treat back pain, dementia or cancer. Because of growing demand, the number of herbal products has skyrocketed.”
There are many excellent herbal products on the market today. Local retail stores and pharmacies carry a wide variety of herbal supplements. You can save
money by ordering products online. Beware of discount brands that you are not familiar with or that have not been recommended by a professional. These
can contain sub-standard products that have little or no value. Most major herbal remedy manufacturers have internal labs that continually check the
efficacy of their products.
But similar to pharmaceutical drugs, not everyone will reap the same benefits from an herbal product, nor will everyone see results. You’ll want to first
consider many factors to get the most benefit from the herbal product you choose. Age, health, medical history, genetics, personality, lifestyle and diet are
just some of the factors that will determine the type of herb that’s best for you as well as the proper dosage needed. Most importantly, you’ll want to
make sure that the herb you intend to take won’t have adverse interactions with other medications you may currently take.
Purchase your herbal products from a reputable source. A 400-milligram (mg) capsule of Echinacea, for example, may vary between manufacturers (there
are several types of Echinacea, such as purpurea or angustifolia). The quality of a specific herb could affect the potency of the final product. A product
may be derived from the whole herb or from a standardized extract, and it may contain additional ingredients that are unnecessary or unwanted. A qualified
CAM practitioner can recommend specific types of herbs and quality sources for these supplements.
Many people who take herbal supplements regard these products as safe because they are considered “natural” and don’t consider them to be medicines.
But because they are often exempt from the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), many herbal products remain untested, their purity
unknown, and their safety uncertain.
Because the FDA classifies herbs as food products, labels can vary from brand to brand. Since there is little regulation of these product labels, there is no
guarantee of truth. Always read the label and know the source of the herb, any added ingredients, the amount of the herb in each capsule, and the number of
capsules per serving. For example, a label may say 400 mg per serving, but it may take four capsules to get that exact dosage.
Some people make the mistake of relying on herbal products. While herbal supplements can contribute to healing, they have their limits. In general, if
within two weeks of starting an herbal supplement regimen you see no results, you should consult a physician about your condition. Some conditions
require a simple herbal remedy alone: aloe for minor burns, dill for infant colic, or clove oil for fast, temporary relief of a toothache. Others require medical
attention or a combination of traditional and alternative therapies. You may wish to combine several approaches to achieve the best results.
Anyone considering a complementary or alternative medicine regimen should first visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
(www.nccam.nih.gov) sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Articles on specific herbs, advice on possible interactions with other medications
and information about different CAM modalities are all available online.
Whatever your expectations are, seek appropriate guidance and check with your primary healthcare provider before beginning any complementary or
alternative medicine program. Your best possible health should be your first concern and that of your CAM practitioner as well.
|Some additional references for continued research and education:
The Herb Lady's Handbook by Venus C. Andrecht, Ransom Hill Press 1997
The Healing Herbs by Michael Castleman, Rodale Press 1991
Complete Herbal & English Physician by Nicholas Culpeper 1826
Complementary Natural Prescriptions for Common Ailments by Carolyn Dean, M.D. Keats 1994
|Look for our article
"The Truth about Herbs" in the
July 2006 issue of:
|CAM of Williamsburg is a proud member of:
at its Best"
|This site is the sole
CAM of Williamsburg
Albert J. Rothstein
B.A., M.Ed., Ph.D., C.C.
All information contained within this site is for
educational purposes only. There is no intent
to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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