How To Use Medicinal Herbs

There are many ways in which herbs can be used. The effectiveness of herbs is greatest when the plants are fresh, ideally they should be eaten raw. However, many medicinal herbs have an unpleasant taste.

Commercial herbal preparations are available in several different forms: teas, tinctures, capsules, tablets, bulk herbs, fluid extracts and freeze-dried herbs. Prepared medicines are more practical to take but usually are less effective than loose herbal teas. The following types of preparations are those most commonly used in herbal medicine.

Infusion

The soft part of the plant, which are the leaves, flowers, and the whole herb, is used most often for infusions.

They are made in the manner of tea. Boiling water is poured over the plant in a deep container, covered with a tight lid and allowed to steep for five to twenty minutes. Strain and drink the infusion.

Infusions can be taken in small cups over a period of days. The cumulative daily dose ranges from 1 to 4 cups, depending on potency of plant and also severity of condition.

For drinking, strain the infusion into a cup or glass. If the herb is unpleasant tasting, honey may be added to improve the taste. The infusion should be taken warm. However, if infusion is taken for a cough or cold, or to induce sweating, then it should be taken hot.

Advantages

  • It is simple and almost everyone can do it
  • The short exposure to heat minimizes loss of volatile elements so that the benefits of the herb are not destroyed.

Disadvantages

  • If the active compound (s) is not water soluble, you will not be getting them with infusions.

Decoction

The tough part of the plant, which is the bark, root, twig, stem, seed, or berry of a plant is usually used for decoctions. Decoctions should not be boiled; they should be simmered for about twenty to thirty minutes to bring out the active ingredients, unless the product says otherwise… The mixture is then allowed to steep in the covered pot for a further 15 minutes in a closed container. Strain before using decoction.

Directions for drinking decoctions are the same as for infusions.

Advantages

  • If you want primarily the mineral salts and the bitter principles of the plant, then decoction is your choice of preparation.

Disadvantages:

  • This method is not suitable if you want the therapeutic effects of the volatile oils or vitamins of the plant.

Juice

The fresh plant is chopped into small pieces and pressed or squeezed for the juice. A little water may be added to the pressed material and squeezed a second time to extract whatever remains. The juice must be taken within a short time after pressing, since the vitamin contents decline rapidly.

Infusion, decoction and juice preparations are called aqueous end products.

Alcoholic extracts keep longer and are easily absorbed by the human body. Therefore, herbalists tend to favor them. They are also more appropriate, from a manufacturer’s point of view, as they do not have to worry about shelf life of these products.

The extracts are generally made, by choosing an appropriate alcohol/water percentage and soaking the herb in the mixture. This method is able to extract the water-soluble ingredients as well as some non-water soluble ingredients of the plant.

Advantages

  • This method is excellent for getting vitamins, minerals and water-soluble active ingredients that are sensitive to heat.

Disadvantages:

  • The shelf life of these products is very short because the aqueous environment allows microorganisms to grow quickly
  • They are not suitable for manufacturing purpose, as the product will usually spoil before it gets to the market. (If the preparation is put into airtight vials immediately after manufacturing, it can have a longer shelf life.)

Tinctures

Tinctures are a well-preserved form of previously fresh herbs. The herb is either soaked or percolated in an alcohol and water mixture, for a specified amount of time. This soaking lasts usually from several hours to days.

The solution is then pressed out, resulting in the tincture. There are some new alcohol-free extracts on the market that may be preferable in certain instances, especially for diabetics, pregnant women, children, and people who ought to avoid alcohol.

The concentration of the product is labeled according to part herb used in relation to part menstruum (the alcohol/water mixture). The standard strength being 10 percent for powerful drugs and 20 percent for less powerful drugs.

Fluidextracts

Extracts are the most effective form of herbs. They are similar to tinctures but are more concentrated. An extract is a concentrated form of the herb, obtained by mixing the crude herb with an appropriate solvent (such as alcohol and/or water). The alcohol mixture is called the extraction agent or menstruum.

The ratio of the preparation is usually 1:1 or 1:2. Each millimeter represents 1 gram of the drug. Cold percolation is used by high quality fluidextracts. Heat is not used in the preparation; therefore there is minimal damage to all active parts of the plant. The concentration of alcohol/water ratio of the menstruum is important.

It takes a good manufacturer to be able to choose the right aqueous alcohol mixture according to the chemical makeup of each plant. Alcohol-free extracts, if available, are usually best. Herbal extracts should generally be diluted in a small amount of water before being ingested.

Tablet

The dry herb is powdered then mixed with binding agents, flowing agents and disintegration agents and finally pressed into tablet form.

Advantages

  • it is a convenient dosage form, especially when travelling
  • convenient to package
  • easy to swallow
  • They fit well into small containers, handbag or pocket.

Disadvantages

  • Presence of binding agents increases the possibility of allergies in sensitive individuals
  • Assimilation of active ingredients by the body may not be as high as liquid forms

Capsule

The dry herb is powdered and put in-between two hard gelatin capsules.

Disadvantages

  • Dry, powdered herbs are not easily assimilated by the body. It may help to take the herbal tablets and capsules with warm water.

Compresses

A compress is a cloth soaked in a warm or cool herb solution is applied directly on the injured area.

Essential Oils

Essential oils come from herbs through steam distillation or cold pressing. They are usually mixed with water or a vegetable oil. Essential oils are used as a mouth, ear, or eyewash, or as an inhaler, tea, or douche. They also can be used externally.

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