Contents: What forms do Herbal Medicines Take?|What results can I expect?|Do herbs really work?
Herbal medicine is the practice and use of the medicinal and therapeutic use of plants. Remedies can be made using any combination of a dried or fresh plant – leaf, root, flower, bark, stem. Certain parts of plants contain different constituents and can be extracted in a number of ways e.g. alcohol, water, vinegar, glycerin, oils, or a combination of them.
What forms do herbal medicines take?
- Teas: Anywhere from 1/4-1/4 tsp of powdered herb, to 1 tablespoon of dried herb to a cup of boiled water, covered and steeped for 2-10 minutes.
- Infusions: A specific measurement of one ounce of dried herb per quart of boiled water, let steep for 4 hours.
- Decoctions: Made of roots, leaves, berries, or barks. A decoction is a strong water extract which is simmered for 20-40 minutes.
- Syrups: Herbal extract incorporation into a thick, sweet liquid.
- Essences: The essence, usually of a flower. A flower is floated in a clear glass bowl in water, and the water is used in minute dilutions with brandy to address emotional or psychological concerns.
- Compress or Fomentation: A steamed herb applied to an affected area covered by a bandage, towel, or other such securing wrap.
- Tincture/Fluid Extract: Any alcohol percentage variance from 30%-95%. Can be blended with lower percentages of water, glycerin, or vinegar for solution retention of alkaloids, tannins, or other constituents which fall out of solution.
- Elixir: An extraction made from a specific blend of alcohol (usually brandy) and honey
- Cordial: An extraction made from a blend of alcohol, or water, with additional honey or sugar syrup. Generally used as a tonic for the heart or pleasure tasting.
Glycerin extractions are known as glycerites, and are typically more suitable for children as they have a sweet taste. It does not contain sugar, but the sweetness comes from plant fat.
- Oxymel: an acid extraction and honey mixed in a 1:1 ratio for a more pleasant taste. Generally apple cider vinegar is used. These are also more acceptable to children.
- Salve/Balm: an infused oil mixed with beeswax for stabilization
- Cream: An infused blend of water and oil.
- Oil: A liquid oil infused with herbs
Other ways to take herbal medicine
- Powders: Powders are easily added into foods, smoothies, or teas.
- Capsules: Capsules are probably the least effective way to take herbal medicine, with the exception of standardized extracts.
- Baths: These can be taken in many ways, for many reasons- full body, sitz bath, foot or hand bath, douche, or eyewashes.
- Liniment: Topical application of tincture or witch hazel extract, generally for pain or varicose veins.
- Steams: A very strong brew of herbs and water intended for inhalation
- Lozenge: A hardened extraction of herbs intended to be sucked on, generally made with powders and honey or sugar.
- Suppositories: Made of either oils or gelatin in a mold that melt at body temperature and placed into the anus or vagina.
- Succus: The pure juice of an herb, preserved with a little alcohol.
- Hydrosol: A by-product of essential oil distillation, such as rose water.
- Essential Oils: The aromatic oils are volatile, un-fixed oils (Hydrocarbons and terpenes) and are the potent ‘immune system’ of a plant. Essential oils are never taken undiluted, and only topically.
- Poultice: Chewed up or mashed plant material applied directly to an affected area.
What results can I expect?
Many people are so excited to go about the natural way, and take herbal medicines that they fall into the easy trap of thinking they work better or faster than pharmaceutical drugs. Herbal medicine is like the ‘special forces team’. They sneak into a city, and do their work silently and unnoticed; rather than tanking the city and blowing everything up in sight, only to go back later and have to clean up the damage. Taken as specified, and with the correct dosage, herbal remedies do not have side effects.
For small ailments, like nausea, headache, or colds, herbs can take seconds to a few days to take effect. A drop of peppermint tincture or a squirt of ginger syrup with generally quell an upset tummy in a few seconds.
For long term, chronic conditions, you may not see results for as much as a month. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) can reduce cortisol levels in the body by 30%, but only after a month of taking it consistently. It is generally recommended that you expect up to two months benefit per year of chronic condition.
If you’ve been taking herbs for a while, check out Happy Home Herbal’s troubleshoot quiz to help keep you on the right path.
Do herbs really work?
The short answer is yes, herbs do work. A quick trip down memory lane to Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, and to the pharmacopoeia shows that herbs are the oldest form of medicine. It is easy to look up clinical trials of herbs, and there are hundreds of herbs which are used to this day in pharmaceutical drug therapy.
Some of the main reasons why herbs ‘don’t work’ is because of improper pattern recognition, low quality of herbs, or the attempt of an untrained person to diagnose themselves.