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|Choices Available||Types of Herbal Remedies||Other Choices|
Herbs can be useful for a wide range of health problems and some people will use a herb to treat a problem before trying other forms of medicine. Herbal medicine is not exclusive though, it can be used in conjunction with other forms of medicine from orthodox/conventional medicine, to acupuncture or massage. It is important to remember that while the use of many herbs are safe, there are possibilities of interactions with other forms of medicines. If you are combining two forms of medicine always inform the health practitioner of what you are doing, this will enable your health practitioner to make informed decisions about your healthcare and give you the best treatment possible.
The use of herbs for self-limiting problems is common, and many people will decide to treat themselves. For instance many people buy echinacea during the winter for immune support. It is also possible to have a consultation with a medical herbalist, who has trained for several years in the use of herbs. This is especially important if the health problem is long standing or if you are on any other medication. The advantage of treating yourself with over the counter remedies is that it is quick and the herbal products are widely available. Treatment through a medical herbalist is appropriate when an ailment is more complex, longer standing or you have other complaints or other medications you are using.
Choose the form of herb to use The decision to take a herbal medicine either as a positive step to manage your own health and wellbeing, or as a remedy to an existing ailment, opens up a range of choices. There are a plethora of choices including internal/external medicines, teas, tinctures, creams, tablets and juices. There is a lot of information available and it can often be frustrating trying to find what is right for you. We hope to help you understand the choices available through this section of our website.
|Tablets v Capsules|
For dried products the choice between capsules and tablet is often reflected by personal preference and availability. However capsules tend to be preferred by many, now that non-gelatine capsules are widely available.
|Tablets||Compressed powders or extracts, often with no additional preservatives and only natural binders. They may be coated to increase their storage life, using maize protein or vegetable cellulose.|
|Capsules||Can be used to take powders and oils, and are often used to mask the smell or taste of less pleasant herbs. Capsules may be made of gelatine (animal by-product) but are also available from non-animal sources (e.g. Vegicaps).|
|Juices||The liquid portion of a herb or other plant, extracted from fresh plants, often by pressure. They do not normally have additional preservatives and so should be refrigerated and drunk within the time stated on the bottle.|
|Oils||Essential fatty acids can be taken in the form of capsules or as the oil.|
|Floral waters||These are the residue from the production of the essential oil by distillation. They may also have the essential oil added.|
Cheaper floral waters only consist of water with drops of essential oil and are not generally recommended for internal use.
|Tinctures||These are the extract of the herb in alcohol. The alcohol is able to extract non-water soluble constituents of the plant, as well as extracting the water soluble constituents at lower alcohol concentrations. The alcohol also acts as a preservative.|
|Teas||Herbal teas may be made either as an infusion or a decoction. An infusion is made by placing the herb in hot water, similar to making a cup of tea. A decoction normally requires the herb to be simmered for ten to fifteen minutes.|
|Creams v Ointments v Lotions v Liniments|
The choice between this range of products depends on personal preference, the use the product is being put to and their availability.
|Creams||Creams are a mix of water and oil. Creams are lighter than ointments and have a cooling effect.|
|Ointments||Ointments are oil based, with no water added. They are solid at room temperature. Ointments are normally greasier than creams and can be used for very dry skin. They keep heat and moisture in.|
|Liniment||A liniment is liquid, and is often a mix of tincture and oil.|
|Lotions||Lotions are a liquid version of creams.|
|Oils||Carrier (fixed) oils are vegetable oils (e.g. sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil). They may be applied directly to the skin, or used to make other preparations.|
They may be infused with herbs (e.g. calendula/marigold) to make infused oils.
|Essential Oils||Essential oils are extracted from plants (often by distillation) and are the volatile constituents, responsible for the smell of the plant. They should be diluted before external use; in water, in creams etc.|
Organic herbs are grown without the use of artificial fertilisers or pesticides and are GMO (genetically modified organism) free. The grower uses other farming techniques to protect his crop.
Each herb is made up of hundreds of chemical constituents (phytochemicals). Scientific research often indicates the medical activity of one or two of these constituents. Plants may have varying amounts of these chemical depending on the growing season, area grown and so on, therefore some manufacturers standardise their herbal products to contain a specified amount of these medically active constituents. These are standardised products.
Products that do not have these constituent quantities controlled are non-standardised (the levels may be above or below the standardised product as naturally found in the plant). Many herbalists prefer this 'unadulterated' form of herb, because they believe that all of the chemical constituents in a herb work synergistically and that standardisation may upset the balance of this delicate relationship. In addition, standardisation requires further processing of the herb.
Other manufacturers make extracts which only contain the one or two researched and identified medically active constituents. These extracts may represent only a small fraction of the active constituents of a herb.
The old adage "you get what you pay for" is often overused, but in the case of herbal medicine we believe we have chosen our suppliers carefully. However we sometimes offer the same "product" from two suppliers to ensure that our customers have a choice of price ranges. Often the reason for a product being perceived as very good value is written in the small print, or even the large print.