Seems every corner drug store, grocery and super center has herbals for sale these days. But do you know what you just purchased, where it came from, how it was stored and can you trust the labeling? Words like natural, high quality or standardized does not necessarily make it your best choice.

Making an informed choice about the herbs you use is just as important as reading and understanding the labeling information given on over the counter and prescription medications. They are after all medicines made from plants.

Instead of trusting words like all natural, high quality or organic first look to see if the source can be identified. Herbals come from three sources, wildcrafting, commercial farms or certified organic farms. Wildcrafting simply means the plant was harvested from a non-cultivated source. Hopefully it was picked from some virgin rain forest but could also have come from a drainage ditch along a roadside or some other polluted soil source. Too, since many wildcrafters are not botanist’s so proper identification and storage of the plant may have been jeopardized. If you use wildcrafted herbs know the herbalist that gave them to you. Herbs grown commercially will contain herbicide and pesticide residue –not your best choice either. Certified organic herb farms follow strict regulations allowing the end product to be the best quality herbal available on the market.

Once an herb has been harvested, it will be dried and shipped to varying companies for packaging and sale to the general public. Each individual company will do their own quality assurance and analysis. If it does not meet their standards they will send it back to the supplier who will sell it to the next lowest bidder. Therefore, choose reputable brand names rather than a generic. Remember we’re only talking about the difference of a few dollars to obtain the best available product.

Another label that smacks in the face of every naturalist/botonist/herbalist is standardization. If the plant has been raised in average to good soil without the use of chemicals why standardize? Standardized products undergo an extraction process that is many times done with toxic solvents and too, leaves behind many of the plants working co-factors. Standardized products can be labeled in milligram dosages. Therefore, I understand the reasoning behind the process given the average consumer and the mood of those in this country that oppose herb therapy. These products are more drug than herb.

Herbs are best taken as tinctures (liquid drops) or freshly dried herbs made into teas. Dried tablets and capsules are less than effective. Store dried herbs in airtight containers in a cool, dry, dark environment. Tinctures are a little more expensive but will last a very long time.

Other important dos and don’ts of herb therapy

• Take herbs at least thirty minutes before or after food

• Don’t mix high powered medicines with herbs

• Start with a single herb and then add others

• Don’t take herbs continuously without resting your body from them

Herb therapy is a wonderful alternative for relief of simple aliments where one might normally use an over the counter drug. They are safe and inexpensive when used appropriately. Always look or ask for certified organic products, as they are always your best choice.

Till next time, Rebecca.