There are three main categories of herbal remedies to choose from: teas, tinctures, and capsules. Each one works a bit differently, and it’s helpful to know those differences when choosing a remedy for your condition or purpose. This guide will help you make an informed decision about which type of remedy is best for you.
Medicinal herbal teas are an effective means of preparing herbs for health or specific conditions. Although they are a popular herbal remedy in much of the world, medicinal teas are not well known in the U.S.
Teas are considered infusions by herbalists and are prepared by adding boiling water to plant materials such as leaves, flowers, and roots. The tea is allowed to steep for a specific period of time, and, as it cools, the constituents, or healing properties, are released into the water. The most common dosage is one to three cups up to three times a day.
The best medicinal teas are made from herbs with constituents that are water-soluble. Some of the most used are chamomile, lemon balm, fennel, anise, ginger, ginseng, and peppermint. Note there is a difference in mints. Peppermint, with its menthol and derivatives, is a great stomach and digestion herb. Spearmint, however, does not have the same medicinal qualities.
As medicinal teas, commercial herbal teas are not as useful as herbal teas made from fresh, organic dried herbs. Tea companies often artificially enhance the flavor of their teas with volatile oils, which are not very water-soluble. The result is a great tasting tea, but without the constituents that make medicinal teas effective.
Medicinal teas should be prepared fresh, just before consumption. As the tea sits and cools, the constituents are exposed to light and air and begin to lose their effectiveness. Always drink your medicinal teas as soon as it is steeped. This will ensure you receive the maximum benefits of the herbs.
Tinctures are an extract of herbs using a mix of alcohol and water. They are best for preparing herbs in which the main constituents are volatile oils that are not water-soluble. For these types of herbs, alcohol and water work together to extract the constituents. The most common ratio of water to alcohol is 60/40, but some herbs require more alcohol than water, and others require more water than alcohol. The best alcohol to use is ethanol, usually in the form of Everclear. The higher the proof, the more effective the tincture. Tinctures with a proof lower than 40 are not very effective, while 50 proof is most common. Always know what proof your tincture is. This can be calculated using the proof of the ethanol used and the ratio of water. Remember high school math anyone?
Some herbs are better for tincture preparation than others. Herbs with mainly water-soluble constituents are poor choices for tinctures, as their properties will degrade in alcohol. Common herbs for tinctures are angelica, fennel seed, passion flower, and golden seal.
Tinctures usually come in bottles that include droppers. The droppers administer the tincture under the tongue in order to bypass the taste buds. The usual dose for most tinctures is 30 to 90 drops, or ½ to 1 ½ teaspoons, up to three times a day. The dose may be added to a small glass of water or juice, as well. Tinctures can be kept for up to five years if placed in a dark, dry place, such as a cabinet or closet.
Herbal capsules are a preparation in which plant material, usually powdered, is encased in a gelatin capsule. The most common size is “00” and holds up to 700 mg of herb or herbal mixture. Capsules are a popular method of administering herbs because most herbs can be encapsulated when powdered, there is no taste, and they can be taken anywhere. The most common dosage of herbal capsules is one to three capsules up to three times a day.
Capsules are a great way to take a mix of herbs, also known as formulas. Some herbs work better when combined with other complimentary herbs. They support each other and effectiveness increases. Certain ailments benefit from the combination of several herbs, and when they are administered together, make a potent and effective treatment.
There are limitations to capsules that should be taken into consideration when choosing an herbal remedy or supplement. One is the shelf life of capsules is shorter than tinctures and teas. This is because most capsules use powdered herbs. This is not always the best practice, as powdered herbs lose their effectiveness faster than rubbed or crushed herbs.
Second, commercially produced supplements spend months going through the manufacturing process. From the field, to the manufacturing facility, to the store, the herbs may be close to non-effective by the time they are purchased.
Things to remember
Always start with the lowest dose, and work your way up. Many herbs need to build up in the system to be most effective, like prescription medications, but others should only be used short term. Be sure to ask.
Pregnant women and nursing mothers should be as careful with herbs as they are with prescription drugs. Never use herbs without consulting your health care professional first.
A last note
Here are some last points concerning herbal safety
- Know and trust your source
- Take care when taking herbs long-term
- Take care in pregnancy, giving herbs to children, and those with liver disease
- Never take essential oils internally
I hope this guide has been helpful. Natural remedies and herbal supplements are a great way to take control of our health and work with our bodies rather than against them. There is a natural alternative to most health issues, and the sooner they are addressed, the more successful we will be.