Also called: Botanicals, Phytotherapy
Side effects, Interactions and Warnings:
Herbs are plants or plant parts used for their scent, flavour, or therapeutic properties. Herbal medicines fall into a category of dietary supplements. They are sold as tablets, capsules, powders, teas, extracts, and fresh or dried plants. People use herbal medicines to try to maintain or improve their health.
Some herbs, such as comfrey and ephedra, can cause serious harm. Some herbs can interact with prescription or over-the-counter medicines - always be sure to check with your doctor, pharmacist, or healthcare practitioner. Always follow the supplement instructions and do not exceed the recommended dosage.
("Herbology" or "Herbal Medicine")
Herbalism is the use of plants for medicinal purposes, and the study of such usage. Plants have been the basis for medical treatments through much of human history, and this form of traditional medicine is still widely practiced today. Modern medicine makes use of many plant-derived compounds as the basis for evidence-tested pharmaceutical drugs, and phytotherapy works to apply modern standards of effectiveness testing to herbs and medicines that are derived from natural sources. The scope of herbal medicine is sometimes extended to include fungal and bee products, as well as minerals, shells and certain animal parts.
What is herbal medicine good for?
Herbal medicine is used to treat many conditions, such as asthma, eczema, premenstrual syndrome, low immunity, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine, menopausal symptoms, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and cancer, among others. For example, one study found that 90% of arthritic patients use alternative therapies, such as herbal medicine. Herbal supplements are best taken under the guidance of a trained health care provider. Be sure to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any herbs.
What is the history of herbal medicine?
Plants had been used for medicinal purposes long before recorded history. Ancient Chinese and Egyptian papyrus writings describe medicinal uses for plants as early as 3,000 BC. Indigenous cultures (such as African and Native American cultures) used herbs in their healing rituals, while others developed traditional medical systems (such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine) in which herbal therapies are also used. Researchers found that people in different parts of the world tended to use the same or similar plants for the same purposes.
In the early 19th century, when chemical analysis first became available, scientists began to extract and modify the active ingredients from plants. Later, chemists began making their own version of plant compounds and, over time, the use of herbal medicines declined in favour of pharmaceutical drugs. Almost a quarter of all pharmaceutical drugs are derived from botanicals.
Recently, the World Health Organization estimated that 80% of people around the world rely on herbal medicines for some part of their primary health care needs. Public dissatisfaction with the cost of prescription medications, combined with an interest in returning to natural or organic remedies, has led to an increase in herbal medicine use.
Are there experts in herbal medicine?
Herbalists, chiropractors, naturopathic physicians, pharmacists, medical doctors, and all may use herbs to treat illness. Naturopathic physicians believe that the body is continually striving for balance and that natural therapies can support this process. They are trained in 4-year, postgraduate institutions that combine courses in conventional medical science (such as pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, and surgery) with clinical training in herbal medicine, homeopathy, nutrition, and lifestyle counseling.
Herbal Extracts & Tinctures
Thousands of years ago our ancestors originally created herbal extracts by batching plant material with water. Although the techniques have evolved over time, liquid herbal extracts have found an almost permanent place to call home within our cupboards. Among the advantages of herbal extracts are their ability to preserve the active constituents, ease of use and their long shelf life. From here we can effortlessly and conveniently add herbal extracts to our water, tea, juice, or they can be taken directly. This is a great way to administer the healing power of plants to our families. If you live a time-pressured lifestyle and are unable to find leisure to make your own preparations, then liquid herbal extracts are the most practical products for you.
There are two main categories of herbal extracts:
- Single Herbal Extract Tinctures manufactured from just one herb. These are commonly used as a supplement to your daily diet.
- Combination Herbal Extract Tinctures manufactured with a combination of herbs specifically formulated to assist with particular ailments.
There are many forms in which herbs can be administered, the most common of which is in the form of a liquid that is drunk by the patient— either a herbal tea or a (possibly diluted) plant extract. Whole herb consumption is also practiced either fresh, in dried form or as fresh juice.
Several methods of standardisation are used to determine the amount of herbs used. One is the ratio of raw materials to solvent. However different specimens of even the same plant species may vary in chemical content. For this reason, thin layer chromatography is sometimes used by growers to assess the content of their products before use. Another method is standardisation on a signal chemical.
Herbal teas, or tisanes, are the resultant liquid of extracting herbs into water, though they are made in a few different ways. Infusions are hot water extracts of herbs, such as chamomile or mint, through steeping. Decoctions are the long-term boiled extracts, usually of harder substances like roots or bark.
Maceration is the cold infusion of plants with high mucilage-content, such as sage, thyme, etc. To make macerates, plants are chopped and added to cold water. They are then left to stand for 7 to 12 hours (depending on herb used). For most macerates 10 hours is used.
Tinctures are alcoholic extracts of herbs, which are generally stronger than herbal teas, usually obtained by combining 100% pure ethanol (or a mixture of 100% ethanol with water) with the herb. A completed tincture has an ethanol percentage of at least 25% (sometimes up to 90%). Herbal wine and elixirs are alcoholic extract of herbs; usually with an ethanol percentage of 12-38% Herbal wine is a maceration of herbs in wine, while an elixir is a maceration of herbs in spirits (e.g., vodka, grappa, etc.) Extracts include liquid extracts, dry extracts and nebulisates. Liquid extracts are liquids with a lower ethanol percentage than tinctures. They can (and are usually) made by vacuum distilling tinctures. Dry extracts are extracts of plant material which are evaporated into a dry mass. They can then be further refined to a capsule or tablet. A nebulisate is a dry extract created by freeze-drying. Vinegars are prepared in the same way as tinctures, except using a solution of acetic acid as the solvent. Syrups are extracts of herbs made with syrup or honey. Sixty-five parts of sugar are mixed with 35 parts of water and herb. The whole is then boiled and macerated for three weeks.
The exact composition of an herbal product is influenced by the method of extraction. A tea will be rich in polar components because water is a polar solvent. Oil on the other hand is a non-polar solvent and it will absorb non-polar compounds. Alcohol lies somewhere in between. Many herbs are applied topically to the skin in a variety of forms. Essential oil extracts can be applied to the skin, usually diluted in a carrier oil (many essential oils can burn the skin or are simply too high dose used straight – diluting in olive oil or another food grade oil such as almond oil can allow these to be used safely as a topical). Salves, oils, balms, creams and lotions are other forms of topical delivery mechanisms. Most topical applications are oil extractions of herbs. Taking a food grade oil and soaking herbs in it for anywhere from weeks to months allows certain phytochemicals to be extracted into the oil. This oil can then be made into salves, creams, lotions, or simply used as an oil for topical application. Many massage oils, antibacterial salves and wound healing compounds are made this way. One can also make a poultice or compress using whole herb (or the appropriate part of the plant) usually crushed or dried and re-hydrated with a small amount of water and then applied directly in a bandage, cloth or just as is. Inhalation as in aromatherapy can be used as a mood changing treatment to fight a sinus infection or cough, or to cleanse the skin on a deeper level (steam rather than direct inhalation here)
How to remove alcohol in a tincture
Herbal Tinctures are herb extracts suspended in an alcohol base.
If you have some concerns about alcohol consumption, please follow these instructions:
Before each dose:
1. Boil some water
2. Measure tincture dose into a glass
3. Pour 1/4 cup of boiling water into a glass with tincture
4. Allow tincture and water mixture to cool, and take dosage as usual.