Ask an herbalist: Why extract herbs, why not just chew them?

You’re not the first person to have questions about herbs and herbalism. So, we brought in one of our experts to help answer some of the most common questions and concerns. David Bunting, Herb Pharm’s VP of Botanical Affairs, began studying herbalism in 1979 and has been making herbal medicines professionally since 1982.

Question: Why extract herbs, why not just chew them?

Some herbs can be and often are eaten directly. Most commonly, these are the herbs and spices used in cooking. These can help recipes taste great, but many of the phytochemicals in them have reduced absorption due to the matrix of the plant they are part of and the food they are eaten with. Powdered herbs are also used in smoothies and preparations like golden milk made with turmeric.

Extraction essentially predigests the herb, separating the desired phytochemicals from the structural matrix of the plant that produced them. This allows the phytochemicals to be thoroughly and easily absorbed without further extraction of the herbal material in the gut.

Extracts are also much more convenient for regular use. Many medicinal herbs have extremely strong tastes and may be tough or woody, making their direct consumption unpleasant and even impractical.