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Forms of Herbal Supplements
The tea is where you steep a small quantity of dried herbs in boiled water for 10 to 30 minutes, then strain and drink.
The infusion is where you steep a larger quantity of herbs in boiled water for several hours to overnight, then strain and drink. Obviously, the infusion is more concentrated than the tea.
The capsules are filled with dried herbs. You swallow them like any other pill. They are generally 4 times more potent than teas.
The tinctures/extracts are where you put the herbs in a solvent base (such as alcohol) for a number of weeks and the alcohol (or other solvent) extracts the nutritive properties of the herbs into itself. Then you strain, bottle, and take by the dropperful. These are the most potent and concentrated because the alcohol is a powerful extractor.
What’s the difference between Tea and Herbal Tea?
It depends all on the plant that is used in your ‘tea’. When talking about tea, green tea and black tea tend to dominate the conversation. But what you may not realize is that herbal teas are one of the few common threads running through all the world’s traditional healing practices. So why is herbal tea not considered “real tea” and what’s the difference?
Real tea is made from the leaves of a single plant, the tea bush (Camellia sinensis). Green tea, black tea, white tea and oolong tea are all considered to be real teas, the only difference among the four is how they are processed. Read more about the differences between green tea and black tea (as well as the other two varieties).
Herbal teas, as the name implies, are produced from any number of different herbs and combination of herbs. Unlike “real tea,” which is only brewed from leaves, herbal teas can be prepared from steeping the leaves, stems, flowers, roots, bark or rhizomes of the particular herbs.
There are also two different ways of preparing your herbal teas:
Infusion: This is the most common form of herbal tea preparation, whereby you simply steep the plants in boiling water. Infusion is only used with the non-woody parts of the herb (the leaves, flowers and, in some cases, stems). When you make tea using tea bags or a tea ball, you’re using the infusion method.
Decoction: The other method of preparing herbal tea is combining the woody parts of the herb (the roots or bark) with water, bringing it to a boil and letting it simmer. Decoction is the best way to extract the nutrients from the denser parts of the herb.
Are powders better than tea pills? Or would tinctures or tea be better?
The most effective herbal treatments are the ones that real patient can realistically utilize. While growing fresh organic herbs in your personal garden and making a fresh tea or infusion from the freshest herbs would be the optimal situation, it is completely unrealistic for most. It is understandable that people want the most effective herbs, so here are some things to consider:
1st – There is a misunderstanding about the absorption rates of liquid herbs versus tablets. It is true that herbs that are decocted or tinctured are rendered in to a liquid state and the body does not have to break down the cellulose of the plant material; however, those with a normal digestive system break down plant material every day to render nutrients available from vegetables.
2nd – In Chinese medicine, decoctions are traditionally used more often than tinctures, although medicinal wines are sometimes used; tinctures are more widely used in western herbalism. Doses of medicinal tinctures are misleading; when tinctures were 4introduced to the market place at the turn of the 20th century, the public was used to homeopathic dosing from ounce bottles. Tincture manufacturers followed suit producing 1 ounce bottles with low dosages. A true dose of therapeutic quantities of 1:6 tincture is 2.5 teaspoons per day, not 20-60 drops. Tinctures might make sense for acute conditions such as a cold or flu that are treated for only a week or two with something like echinacea tincture, but for chronic health conditions that take many months to treat, they become prohibitively expensive.
3rd – Traditional methods of herbal therapy tend to prove more clinically efficacious than the ‘latest fad’ practices in herbal medicine and natural healing, so herbalists tend to respect a decoction of whole herbs over isolated herb compounds and high potency ‘pharm’ herb products; it is clear that the herb industry is being influenced by the same science babble that the food industry marketers have been feeding us over the last 40 years leading us away from real, whole foods.
There are actually more important questions that people should be asking themselves about their herbs: Are these fresh organic herbs of high quality, or are they made from the brown lifeless remnants of herb medicines that are old or stored improperly? Am I taking the correct formulas for my specific health imbalances? Do I understand how herbs work with the body to bring about positive change and are my expectations realistic? Are there binders in my tablets or herbs that may make them less absorbable or make them an allergen?
Which form of herbs offers the most therapeutic benefits?
The therapeutic benefits achieved by using herbs depend on a variety of factors. For instance, does the herbal product contain all of the active constituents in ratios found in nature, or have the constituents been altered? How fresh is the herbal product you are about to purchase or ingest? What is the shelf life of the herb? Has the herb been processed in a way to ensure that it will be effective when you are ready to take the product? Does the product require you to digest the herbs in order to get all of the benefits from these herbs? Is it convenient to take? Is it affordable? Does the product address the problem you are trying to solve? Of all the available forms of herbal products, liquid herbal extracts address (in a positive way) most of these factors. This is one of the primary reasons American herbalists recommend liquid herbal extracts the most.
Why are herbs in liquid herbal extract form preferable over dried herbs found in capsule or tablet form?
The success of herbal medicines as healing agents is dependent upon how active their constituents (ingredients) are when you ingest them. For maximum therapeutic benefits it is important to take herbs in the form that best captures and preserves their active constituents. Liquid herbal extracts achieve these goals. This is why they are one of the most therapeutically beneficial form of herbs available on the market today.
The herbs found in tablet or capsule form are ground months prior to appearing on store shelves. These products lose many of their active ingredients both when they are ground and while they are in storage. Herbal tablets also contain fillers, binders, and other materials necessary to compress the ground herbs into tablet form. Tablets must also be dissolved by the body’s digestive system before the herbs can be assimilated. Herbal capsules tend to be better than tablets because they do not contain the extra manufacturing materials and they dissolve easily in the stomach. However, if the person is not digesting and assimilating well, the potential therapeutic benefits of herbs in tablet and capsule form diminishes because it is the digestive system’s role to free the active constituents from the fiber and cellulose. Additionally, the herbs in capsule and tablet form lose potency as they are exposed to oxygen (capsules oxidize more rapidly than tablets).
Herbs in liquid extract form, on the other hand, contain no fillers, binders, or “extra” ingredients so they are immediately assimilated into the body. The plant fibers and cellulose do not have to be broken down or digested in order for the body to absorb them. In liquid form, the herbs are immediately available for assimilation into the bloodstream, glands, and organs. Even a person with poor digestion and assimilation can enjoy the full therapeutic benefits of liquid herbal extracts.
Most herbalists prefer liquid herbal extracts over other forms of herbs for four main reasons: freshness, potency, absorption and formulation.
Freshness: As detailed in the previous answer, herbs in liquid herbal extract form retain their freshness and potency over a longer period of time than ground herbs in capsule or tablet form. Also, in many instances, using fresh [undried] herbs is a unique way to deliver the specific properties and herbal constituents necessary for healing. Liquid herbal extracts are the only type of products that may start with fresh [undried] herbs that are picked and processed the same day to protect and preserve specific active constituents only found in fresh herbs. On the other hand, herbs found in capsules, tablets, teas, and loose herbs, must first be dried before being used.
Potency: Herbalists have long recognized that potency is not about isolating a single “active constituent”. Potency is the result of the interaction of many constituents within each herb. Herbal products must contain a full spectrum of bioavailable constituents to promote the maintenance of health and support the body’s own healing process. Liquid herbal extracts deliver more bioavailable constituents than any other herbal supplements.
Absorption: Liquid herbal extracts bypass the digestive process and enter the bloodstream rapidly. This makes them the most effective way for the body to absorb the medicinal principles from herbs. Once assimilated, the herbal constituents start working in your body within minutes.
Formulation: Liquid herbal extracts can effectively deliver the healing power of several herbs at once. Years of clinical experience has shown that herbal formulas, comprised of several herbs, produce better results than single herbs, this is due to the synergy of the plants. In a formula, each herb is designed to support a specific body system in a manner that complements the action of the other herbs, and the systems they support. Well-designed, time-tested formulations support the body’s healing needs.
How long do herbs in different forms retain their effectiveness?
Benefits of liquid extracts
Fast, ready absorption. Your body does not need to break down a liquid extract, allowing its health benefits to be readily absorbed. And it’s fast. It only takes about 1-4 minutes to assimilate a liquid extract while capsules or tablets can take upwards of 30.
Easy to digest. As you age, you don’t digest pills and capsules as easily. Some may pass through your system fully in tact. Individuals on acid blockers may have even more difficulty digesting due to the reduction of stomach acids making liquid extracts a good choice for them.
Greater potency. You get more pure nutrition – just the plant and its beneficial nutrients in their most potent state. Because of this, liquid extracts may cost a bit more, but the value you receive is often worth the price.
Flexible dosing. If you’re unsure how your system will react to a certain extract, you can easily cut the dosage down to a drop or half-drop and adjust from there.
Customized to your needs. Want to support your immune system, heart health plus digestion? Mix various liquid extracts to address each of those concerns into a single, customized drink.
Convenience. Its small sized bottle makes it easy to carry in a purse, pocket or suit case.
Longer shelf life. Typically liquid extracts are stable much longer than tablets and are less affected by heat and humidity. When stored out of direct sunlight or near heat, liquid extracts containing alcohol can last up to five years while those containing no alcohol can last about three.
Taste. Newer liquid extracts include pomegranate, blueberry and other fruity flavors to enhance their taste.
How Long Do Herbal Supplements Last?
The storage life depends on the base. All should be stored cool and dark (not next to the oven or a warm place). If stored properly, here’s the shelf life you can expect:
- alcohol — unlimited shelf life
- glycerin — 3 to 5 years
- apple cider vinegar — 1 year
Strategic Timing for Taking Herbal Medicine
Timing Around Meals
Herbs can be taken before meals to stimulate digestion or when a person’s symptoms occur before eating.
Herbal extract and tinctures can be taken while eating if there is a problem while ingesting food.
Generally speaking “herbal bitters” can be taken in small amount before eating to stimulate the body’s digestive secretions and one’s appetite or after meals to relieve bloating. A teaspoon or tablespoon should be a sufficient dose.
Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) is a very common complaint, answered by the huge market of antacids and pharmaceuticals with long-term negative side effects. But one of the simplest treatments is to simply go to your spice cabinet, mix together a pinch of every spice and take a teaspoon of the powder washed down with room temperature water.
Herbs that are intended to go to the liver, Kidneys, intestines or reproductive organs are taken after meals.
Often this can be too complicated for people who are on the go to follow so my basic thought is to take herbs regularly before meals. If there is any discomfort, try switching to taking them after meals.
Another simple and basic approach is to take tonic formulas before meals (when you body is most ready to digest food) and the more eliminating and detoxifying formulas after meals.
Conditions caused or aggravated by cold should be treated with hot medicines (i.e., teas and decoctions). This would include the early stages of colds as well as respiratory allergies.
If the condition is caused or aggravated by heat, or to provoke urination, give room temperature herbal preparations.
When treating low energy, the addition of a little honey or some sweet flavored substances such as jujube or other dates and a small amount of licorice will serve as a carrier for herbs like ginseng.
When treating Kidney adrenals with symptoms of lower back, knee, joint pains, low libido and urinary problems taking the appropriate formula with a pinch of salt or soya sauce will help focus and direct the action of the herbs to the intended Kidney-Adrenals.
When someone is nutritionally compromised, and weak, tonic herbs are best taken in soups.
One should never brew herbal teas in certain types of metal containers. This especially applies to iron or aluminum pots where the soluble metallic ions can alter the chemistry of the medicinal herbs. The ideal medium for preparing herb teas is a clay or glass receptacle. Good quality stainless steel is neutral and does not leach metallic and is therefore also all right to use.
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