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Why is independent advice important?

Plants are often sold as herbal or botanical products in an unregulated market and especially when provided over the internet. Information provided with these products may be of good value but sometimes is not, especially if it is part of a sales pitch.

On the other hand conventional medical advice sometimes demonstrates a lack of experience of the subject. This often means they are extra cautious and emphasise risks more than they should.

It is therefore difficult for the person who wants to try herbs to feel confident in the information provided.

The authors of PlantMedicine strike a balance between practical experience and rigorous evidence-based advice. There is also no link to the promotion of any particular product. We are completely independent of any commercial interest. We provide the best possible information we can - the same information some of us give to our patients.

 

The following is some general advice we can give to those who use plant medicines. You will find much more on other pages.

 

Tips for using plant medicines wisely

 

Find herbal medicines! In Europe, there are herbal products that have been registered or licensed as medicines. This gives them an independent assurance of quality - both of content and accompanying advice (for example in using the herb with conventional medicines). In particularl there is an exciting new category called THR's (traditional herbal registrations) that has emerged in the last year. (See this page for more information on this category and the current options available in the UK)  In Australia, New Zealand and Canada there are other herbal products available that have also been independently assured for quality. (Further details on these categories coming soon)

Converting dose measurements. Each EXTRACT plant monograph lists the suggested dosage of the plant.  However, this information is not always straight forward since dosages will change depending on the form the plant is in.  Most commonly, dosages are listed in grams, which refers to the weight of the dried plant material unless otherwise noted.  The dried plant may be used to make tea, consumed directly, or may be powdered and encapsulated.  However, not all capsules contain a simple powdered herb.  Some capsules are freeze dried, dehydrated plant extractions or concentrated plant constituents.  All these processing methods change the raw dosage and must be taken into consideration when deciding how much to take.  Check product packaging for conversion charts that indicate how much plant material is in the suggested dose. A good product will have this information clearly stated. If it is not clear on the box, this may mean that the product is inferior in other ways: consult with an expert practitioner or call the company for clarification.

Forms of plant medicine. Plants can be taken in many different forms.  Traditional preparations included teas, tinctures or topical applications such as salves or ointments, soaks and poultices.  Today, numerous other preparations are available including tablets, gel caps, and highly concentrated encapsulations.  Not all preparations are the same, and each has their respective drawbacks and advantages.  Each EXTRACT monograph includes information about suggested preparation methods for that particular plant.  Generally speaking, consider the following when picking what form of plant medicine you’d like to use.

  • Teas – Many people have tried a herbal tea as a pleasant beverage.  Therapeutic teas can also be made by simple hot infusion with boiling water, although they are often made with a larger does than what is found in a typical store bought tea bag.  Teas made from the harder parts of plants (i.e. bark, roots, and some seed pods) require boiling the plant material for 10-15 minutes.  Preparing tea daily may be easy for some, but too time consuming for others – especially if several doses a day are required.  In some circumstances, herbal teas can also be used topically as a hot compress or soak.
  • Tinctures – Tinctures are made by soaking plant material in a combination of water and alcohol.  After allowing time for the desired qualities of the plant to be extracted, the plant material is removed and the remaining liquid is administered in drop or teaspoon doses.  Tinctures have a long shelf life and are often blended to create unique therapeutic formulas for a particular person.  The alcohol content may be a problem for children or those sensitive to alcohol.  Glycerin tinctures are sometimes available as an alternative in those cases.  If the taste of the tincture is too strong, consider mixing it with some water or juice to make it more palatable.
  • Powders – Herbal powders are made by grinding the raw plant material into a fine dust.  One of the biggest advantages to taking plant material in its powdered form is that it is usually the least expensive type of preparation.  However, swallowing a teaspoon of powder isn’t easy.  One of the best methods is to dump the powder on the back of the tongue and then chase it with a beverage.  The powder can also be mixed in some foods (like apple sauce or oatmeal) or in a beverage.  Powders can be capsulated with extra effort (and extra cost). A downside of powders is that they lose their volatile constituents more easily and are prone to the deleterious effects of storage: keep carefully and not for long!
  • Marketed products – Innovations in the herbal product industry leaves no shortage of options for consumers.  While traditional methods of herbal preparation can require time and equipment to get ready, newer products are often as simple as popping a pill.  This can be a convenient option for many people; however products on the market have their share of disadvantages as well.  With few regulations monitoring the quality of commercial herb products, the consumer must assess each product carefully.  Look for clear identification of what is in the bottle, including not only the common name of the plant but also the Latin name and the part of the plant used.  Be aware that processing methods and the age of the plant material impacts its efficacy.  The EXTRACT team is working to produce a list of reputable, independently verified herbal products and companies to help consumers find appropriate quality products.  Watch this site for updates on this endeavor.

Monitoring effects of plant medicines. There was a time in history when plants were the front line therapeutic agents, relied upon in emergency situations and showing effects within seconds.  Like the pharmaceuticals that have since taken over that role, acute life-saving herbs balanced on the boundary between toxic and therapeutic effects and required a skilled hand to administer the beneficial dose.  Today, many herbs found on the market are at relatively low potencies.  In the middle ground on the food to pharmaceutical spectrum, the effect of most plants are felt on a gentler level.  Benefits are sometimes felt immediately, but might take weeks or even months to appear (especially with chronic or long standing conditions). 

If you are not satisfied with the results of your herbal remedy, first assess if you’ve given it sufficient time to have effect.  Consider also the quality and dosage of the product you are using, since both are huge factors in determining the therapeutic potential of an herbal remedy.  If the task seems daunting or confusing, consider consulting with an expert practitioner.

 

 

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contact us           Where to find us? Last Updated: 14 September 2011