Ask an herbalist: When is the best time to take herbs?

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.
Continue reading “Ask an herbalist: When is the best time to take herbs?”

Ask an herbalist: What is an herbal extract?

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: What is an herbal extract?

Although herbal extracts come in many forms, they have one common feature. Extracts represent naturally occurring phytochemicals (plant produced compounds) that have been removed from the inert structural material of the plant that produced them. The main advantage of using extracts over raw herb is that once extracted from the plant matrix, the phytochemicals bypass the need for digestion and are far more readily absorbable.  Liquid extracts also offer greater convenience than consuming an herb in its raw form.

Extracts are typically categorized by the solvent used to make them and/or by their form. Some of the more common solvents that are used include water, alcohol, glycerin, and vinegar. The inherent qualities of each of these solvents will attract different phytochemicals in an herb. Watery extracts made by infusion or decoction are used as teas, rinses and the base for syrups and other products.

Tinctures are liquid extracts made with alcohol and may include other food-grade solvents. Alcohol extracts a wide range of phytochemicals and is an excellent preservative. It may also be diluted with water to adjust alcohol content and glycerin may be added to curb excessive precipitation of the finished extract.

Food-grade glycerin is a low glycemic index sweetener often used as a solvent to make alcohol-free liquid extracts. While most glycerites lack appreciable alcohol, intermediate extraction may be carried out with alcohol on occasion. In this case alcohol is used to form the initial extract, and is then removed from the finished product with glycerin added in its place.

Vinegars are not common, but are experiencing a bit of resurgence in popularity. These are made by extracting herbs directly in vinegar. Apple cider or other plant based vinegars are most desirable in this case.

Oils are fatty oils that have been infused with herbs for topical use and may be called herbal oils or infused oils. The fatty oil used as a base is commonly from olive, sesame or coconut, although many other sources may be used.

Essential oils are the volatile components that have been separated from an aromatic herb. Quality essential oils are either steam distilled or, in the case of herbs like citrus peel, pressed directly from the fresh herb. Essential oils are very strong preparations and are well diluted for internal use.

Powdered extracts are formed by drying liquid extracts including tinctures and water extracts, often under vacuum. Powdered extracts are most commonly used in capsules and tablets. Because the solvent is removed from the final product, some powdered extracts are made with solvents other than ethanol and water. Solvent labeling is not required on powdered extracts, but transparent labeling will include the solvent(s) used. Traces of solvents will remain in the extract, which should be tested.

Supercritical extracts are made by extracting herbs with a gas, usually carbon dioxide, at low temperature and high pressure to bring it into the supercritical state. These are semi-solid extracts representing the fat-soluble components of an herb that are generally seen in softgel form.

Ask an herbalist: What is an herbal tincture?

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: What is an herbal tincture?

Tinctures are liquid extracts that are made with potable alcohol as all or part of the combined extraction solvent, known as the menstruum. Following the extractive process, the tincture is then separated from the spent herb and is typically filtered. From there it is bottled as a single herb extract or blended with other tinctures to form a compound product. Tinctures are convenient and easily dosed according to labeled instructions.

The alcohol used in tinctures is the same ethanol produced by fermentation that you find in beer and wine. Alcohol acts as an excellent solvent for a wide variety of phytochemicals, especially those that have limited solubility in water. It is also an excellent preservative, so that tinctures typically last several years. Like other extracts, tinctures bypass the need to digest entire herbs in the gut and are easily absorbed. While the term “tincture” is sometimes applied to liquid extracts made without alcohol, technically only liquid extracts made with alcohol are tinctures.

The extraction menstruum can be tailored for each herb to best extract its unique phytochemical profile with an emphasis on known actives. This is done by using other components such as water to dilute the alcohol concentration. When starting with the highest concentration of naturally distilled alcohol, this gives a possible alcohol percentage range of about 20 to 95%. That range can accommodate extraction of more water-soluble polysaccharides all the way to highly alcohol-soluble resins. The menstruum can also be composed of other ingredients such as glycerin, which is used to curb precipitation. Since the menstruum becomes part of the finished extract, every component must be food grade and/or pharmaceutical grade.

Rhodiola as the “golden root,”  Chinese emperors and Scandinavian Vikings alike coveted this amazing, health-giving herb.  For centuries, Rhodiola has held a place in Asian and Scandinavian traditional medicine for enhancing strength and physical endurance, longevity and fertility. Over the past 30 years, numerous studies have been conducted in the former Soviet Union and Russia as well as Sweden, confirming these traditional uses, and more.

Rhodiola is an herb with a wide variety of uses in today’s hectic world of intense mental and physical stress. It is one of a class of herbs known as adaptogens; adaptogens these help us to adapt to non-specific mental, emotional and physical stress. A relative newcomer in the U.S. herb market, Rhodiola has begun is gaining more attention recently with features in Newsweek magazine and Herbalgram.

Rhodiola is a genus of the Crassulaceae, also known as the Sedum or Stonecrop family. The genus contains a number of species, spread throughout the northern hemisphere.  The species we use, Rhodiola rosea, is primarily (although not exclusively) native to Russia and Scandinavia.  It prefers high elevation, mountainous regions in latitudes above the Arctic Circle.  Extremely limited populations of R. rosea occur, however, in the northeastern U.S., Tennessee and North Carolina. Several other non-medicinal species occur in various regions of the U.S., including R. integrifolia in Oregon.

Common names for this herb include “golden root”, “rose root”, “rose stonecrop” and the genus name, Rhodiola. The plant itself is a small, succulent perennial from 12 to 30 inches tall when bearing its yellow flowers. The root is very thick and fleshy, smelling of rose attar when sliced. The delicious, rose-like fragrance of the root led to the specific name “rosea” as well as some of the common names.

Without painting Rhodiola as a panacea, it is important to recognize the broad application of an herb that can effectively help us to deal with non-specific stress. The stress of chronic overwork alone can have an impact on various aspects of our bodies and our lives, including sleep, appetite, mood, mental clarity and energy level.  Rhodiola is particularly well suited to deficient, stress-related states that manifest in disturbed sleep or sexual function, poor appetite or over-eating, irritability, depression, hypertension, headache, general fatigue or cardiac anomalies such as rapid heartbeat. Keep in mind that many of these conditions can be symptoms of more severe health problems, which you should discuss with your health-care practitioner.

The following bullet points highlight Rhodiola’s most important uses.

 • Adaptogenic; increases non-specific resistance (generalized adaptability) to chemical, biological and physical stressors

• Psychostimulant; increased mental ability, attention, clarity and learning

• Increased endurance and capacity for physical work or exercise

• Antioxidant; free-radical scavenging, reducing destructive reactions in the body that lead to disease

• Immune support when immunity is affected by stress

• Anti-depressive; improves gloomy moods and decreases depression

• Cardio-tonic; cardiac support and protection

• Support in fatigue, lassitude and altitude sickness

• Anti-hypoxia; increases oxygen absorption in the body

• Support in recovery from illness

• Support for stress-related reproductive syndromes

• Increased overall energy and general well being

Energetically, Rhodiola appears to be cooler than many of the better-known adaptogens such as Asian Ginseng.  It is a primary adaptogen for those who find these other herbs to be too heating or stimulating.  Rhodiola is suited to practical application in treating a number of sexually related conditions in men and women. Preliminary studies show positive effects in normalizing menstrual periods and supporting fertility in women.  It also appears to benefit long and short term memory, as well as activities requiring intense mental focus such as final exams.

Herb Pharm’s Rhodiola is a 1 : 5, weight to volume extract of wildcrafted root.  It bears a wonderfully rose-like fragrance and rather astringent taste.  Rhodiola combines well with other adaptogens and tonics such as the Ginsengs, Eleuthero, Schisandra, Maca, Ginkgo, Hawthorn and Ashwagandha.  Rhodiola is useful as a long-term tonic in the face of chronic or expected stress, or for improving overall health.  In acute stress, increase the dose for a day or two and then reduce it to a normal dosage level. We also have Rhodiola powdered extract in capsule form.

With such a broad range of application relevant to today’s stressful world, Rhodiola looks poised to become a significant adaptogen and tonic in Western herbal medicine.

Asian Ginseng Capsules

ginsengOur Asian Ginseng capsules contain 450 mg of Panax ginseng root powdered extract. Like our liquid extract, the powdered extract is made from the natural white or uncured root.
Cured root is red and the curing process makes it more warming and stimulating. Asian Ginseng, especially in its cured form, may be too heating for some people and has been implicated in causing agitation and restlessness in some predisposed individuals or in conjunction with stimulants. Using white, uncured root makes our Asian Ginseng more tolerable for those with constitutional heat and thus suitable for a broader range of constitutions.

Possibly the most quintessential tonic herb, Asian Ginseng nourishes the Qi, or underlying life force that is central to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). With periodic use, Asian Ginseng tones and reinvigorates our inherent vital energy to help restore vitality. Traditionally used more and more frequently as one grows older, to treat a host of symptoms related to aging including lower back pain, weak knees and ankles, impotence, frequent urination, poor memory, poor circulation, fatigue and general exhaustion.

As one of the primary adaptogens Asian Ginseng
 helps one adapt to non-specific stress, strengthening weak adrenals whether the cause is from chronic depletion or from acute situational depletion such as trauma or intense physical or emotional stress. Asian Ginseng is considered to be the most stimulating of the adaptogens. Like other adaptogens, it helps regulate the immune system and is useful whether there is immune excess or deficiency. Due to its Qi enhancing action, Asian Ginseng is especially of service in deep-seated immune depletion and during post-illness recovery.

Asian Ginseng enhances both mental and physical energy. It is important to note that these tonic attributes apply for prophylactic and recuperative use. General uses also include sexual debility and even hangover. While it is not a reference that I look to very often, the German Commission E sums up these uses of Asian Ginseng nicely. “As a tonic to combat feelings of lassitude and debility, lack of energy and ability to concentrate…”

Herb Pharm’s Asian Ginseng is extracted only with ethanol and water. No synthetic solvents are used. The finished powdered extract is tested to assure a therapeutic level of Ginseng’s active ginsenosides and absence of any pesticide residues or degradation compounds. The capsules can be used up to three months, followed by a break of one month.

Dandelion officinale)

Spring is a time of refreshing on many levels. It’s a time to open the windows and let cool, cleansing winds inside in place of winter’s lingering stuffiness. In folk healing, spring is associated with the liver, the major cleansing organ of the body. Traditionally, spring tonics are used to help refresh and invigorate the body by giving an extra boost to liver function. Oftentimes these tonics consist of bitter greens and freshly dug roots that are just awakening to the new season.

One perfect and common spring tonic is Dandelion. Although most people might not believe it when they look at their lawns, Dandelion is not a native of North America. Like many of our dominant weeds, it has naturalized here from Europe and Asia. It has spread so efficiently as to become one of the most widespread and easily recognized plants in the world. While Dandelion is an object of scorn for some, it is also a highly effective herbal medicine used in treatment of the liver and liver related disorders.

The name ‘Dandelion’ comes from the Latin ‘dens leonis,’ due to the fanciful resemblance of the leaf margin to a lion’s teeth. The flower, seed head and parachute-like seed tufts are familiar to us all. When cut, fresh Dandelion exudes bitter, milky latex, especially from the root. The bitter flavor is common to many liver herbs. Tasting bitter can activate the digestive system, including the liver, almost immediately. In many countries, a bitter aperitif such as Campari® is used to stimulate digestion before dinner. This practice is similar to using 15 drops of Gentian liquid extract in a little water before a meal. Regularly including ‘bitter’ flavor in our foods is a healthful practice in general and especially so for the overly sweet-oriented Western diet.

More commonly in Europe than in the U.S., Dandelion leaves (or greens) are eaten as a vegetable. Just make sure that your greens have not been sprayed or chemically fertilized. The taste is bitter, but very pleasing and a small amount of the greens in a salad can enhance digestion of an entire meal. Additionally, Dandelion greens are relatively high in beneficial nutrients. The leaf has a diuretic effect on the kidneys, increasing output of urine and elimination of metabolic wastes, including those excreted by the liver. The root has a greater effect on the liver and gall bladder, mildly stimulating liver activity and bile production. Increased bile production aids the cleansing action of the liver and in turn of the body. Combined, the whole plant has a detoxifying and alterative, or gentle, glandular corrective action. As a tonic, Dandelion is a wonderful way to rejuvenate the body and welcome spring.

Because the liver is responsible for hundreds of functions in the body, liver health is critical to our overall wellbeing. Conversely, herbs that support the liver can be used as direct or adjunct remedies in numerous conditions. Some of the most common liver related issues involve the skin, digestive system, female reproductive system and eyes. In many cases, Dandelion is used in conjunction with more system-specific herbs.

Herb Pharm’s Dandelion is cultivated on our certified organic farm and is harvested when the plants are starting to flower. Our Dandelion liquid extract is made from the fresh (undried), whole flowering plant with root. As a general spring tonic, take two 40-drop doses per day before meals. For a stronger cleansing effect, take up to 40 drops, four times per day. Start using bitterness along with the more common flavors and you’ll soon learn to enjoy it as a welcome addition to your meals.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABurdock Blend is one of a small category of Herb Pharm products called blends. These products derive their names by blending different parts of the same plant, in this case Burdock root and seed. Other blends include Hawthorn and Mullein, and although it is not labeled as a blend, Super Echinacea. The purpose of making a blend is to combine various plant parts, which may have different chemical characteristics or traditional uses. This creates an extract that represents more fully the effect of the plant. In some cases such as Dandelion this is done by harvesting the entire plant, thereby combining the root, leaf and flower in one extract. In Burdock Blend, the root and seeds are harvested in season and extracted separately. The extracts are then ‘blended’ to create the finished product.

Burdock (Arctium lappa) is native to Europe, but has become naturalized throughout the U.S. It grows in areas considered to be waste places, in other words areas where the native plants and soil have been
disturbed. The long leaves form out
of rosettes in its first year and in the second year the plant sends up a tall stalk bearing leaves and flowers. After flowering, seed heads are
covered with numerous stiff, hooked bracts
that cling stubbornly to clothes
and animals. It is said by some
that Burdock seed heads were the inspiration for Velcro™! However accurate that belief is, it is true to say that Burdock is considered a noxious weed by many of the farmers and ranchers who encounter it.

As a medicinal herb, Burdock is in a therapeutic class called alteratives, often referred to as “blood purifiers.” These herbs help to restore the normal function of the body through improving metabolism of nutrients and by increasing the elimination of wastes. Three of our main eliminatory organs are the skin, liver and kidneys, the organs that Burdock acts on most directly. Improving elimination of wastes by stimulating skin circulation and liver and kidney function reduces wastes in the blood. This is important because certain imbalances are aggravated or even caused by waste build up.

Burdock is bitter, and like other bitter herbs it stimulates liver activity. The seed has a stronger diuretic action than the root, stimulating excretion of urine. Burdock also has a mild diaphoretic effect, increasing circulation to the skin. Together, the seed and root stimulate major channels of elimination and make Burdock Blend especially effective in supporting various skin conditions.

Burdock also offers traditional support for joints and enhances immune system function. Its immune effect further aids Burdock’s ability to support the skin. The liver stimulating action exerts a very positive effect on digestion. Burdock is specifically indicated in dry, scaly skin conditions, urinary irritation and digestive complaints.

Burdock is a very safe herb. One form of Burdock root called Gobo is cultivated for use as a vegetable. The Botanical Safety Handbook 2 lists Burdock root and seed in class 1, meaning they have no known safety concerns under normal use, including use in pregnancy, nursing or with other medications. However, it would probably be advised to reserve Burdock Blend during pregnancy for reduced dosages in the last trimester only. The dose of Herb Pharm’s Burdock Blend is up to 40 drops, two to four times per day. When treating children be sure and adjust the dosage using Clark’s Rule.

Turmeric, From Ancient Dye to Modern Medicine

Turmeric is probably best known for its spicy flavor and the bold yellow color it gives to curry. Along with coloring foods, it has been used as a dye for both skin and clothing. From some of the earliest records it has also been used topically and internally as a medicinal herb. Turmeric is a quintessential example of standardization gone wrong by taking a botanical medicine to the drug-like extreme of single constituent isolation. It is also a classic example of an ancient herb that has found entirely new uses, and gained a new reputation, in the face of modern medical theory and research.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a member of the Zingiberaceae, or Ginger family, and like Ginger it too is a tropical plant. To the best of our knowledge, Turmeric originated in Southern India and this region continues as the world’s largest producer. As a seedless plant, its movement to new locations throughout the tropics has been dependent upon people. By 800 AD Turmeric had spread across much of Asia, including China, and across Africa. This is testament not only to its wide esteem as a useful plant, but also to its trade and relocation in early history. By the 18th century Turmeric made its way to Jamaica and it is now cultivated throughout the tropics, including Hawaii and Costa Rica. Continue reading “Turmeric, From Ancient Dye to Modern Medicine”

Digestive Products

oregon grape root

oregon grape root

Good digestion is one of the most crucial factors influencing our health. Together with oxygen and water, food provides all of the starting materials for building and maintaining our bodies and minds. And digestion is the body’s gateway for all of the nutrients found in food, the proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and various secondary phytochemicals that feed and heal us. This one complex process is thus linked to every other function in our body, starting at the cellular level. Poor digestion leads to poor health.

Herb Pharm carries a large selection of products that positively influence the digestive process, system and organs in various ways. In some cases, there is overlap in the effects of products, but each has its own unique features. This article gives an abbreviated overview of our digestive system products intended as a short guide to their differentiation and uses.

What might be considered the most quintessential digestive product is bitters. Bitters begin working as soon as they hit your taste buds through a reflex action on our stomach and pancreas, stimulating the production of digestive juices. Bitters also stimulate the liver and prepare the gall bladder for the release of bile. Consuming bitter flavor in our foods was always a part of eating; it is something we as a species evolved with and relied on for good digestion. Because the modern diet is skewed heavily towards sweets, the reintroduction of bitter plants like Dandelion greens and Radicchio into your diet is extremely beneficial. Using Digestive Bitters is another simple way to reintroduce this important digestion-enhancing flavor. Hold diluted  Digestive Bitters in your mouth for a minute before swallowing to ensure that the taste response is triggered.

Neutralizing Cordial has attributes shared by some of the other digestive products in that it is of service in treating digestive gas, nausea and colic. However, this formula stands apart due to its ability to alkalize the digestive system. While Rhubarb root is generally considered a laxative, it actually has a dose-dependent amphoteric function. Neutralizing Cordial is great when traveling as well as in the home medicine cabinet.

Gastro Calm™, formerly Lavender Spirits, is a warming blend of aromatics specifically formulated for use in gas, bloating and nausea. This compound relieves queasiness, including the effects of motion sickness when excess acid is not involved.

Intestinal Soother™ is a comforting compound specifically targeted for intestinal irritability. Like our Inflamma Response™ compound, Intestinal Soother contains Chamomile and Turmeric as central ingredients. It adds Fennel, Cinnamon and Peppermint to further reduce discomfort and flatulence and Wild Yam joins forces with Peppermint in controlling intestinal spasms. This compound gently calms nervous agitation associated with digestive distress. Additionally, Turmeric and Fennel offer support for the liver.

Intestinal Tract Defense™ is designed as an aid in balancing and protecting the gut. It has been formulated with thujone-free Sweet Wormwood (Sweet Annie, Artemisia annua) with children in mind. Regular Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) can be used as an adjunct in adults. It is important to keep in mind that our digestive tract relies on a large and diverse microbial population which should be maintained through the use of cultured foods and if needed, supplemental probiotics.

While many single extracts can have a positive influence on digestion, one especially worth calling out is Peppermint Spirits.. This powerful preparation is effective in reducing stomach upset and digestive gas as well as spasms such as hiccups. Peppermint Spirits also help relieve nausea and are a good alternative to Ginger for those whose digestive fire is already warm. Peppermint is cooling and relaxes sphincters, so is not appropriate in acid reflux or where there is dampened, weak digestive fire.

Bringing the theme of liver and digestion full circle is Liver Health™, our primary liver support compound. Among other herbs in this compound are bitters like Dandelion, Oregon Grape (pictured above) and one of my personal favorites, Artichoke. As with Digestive Bitters, these bitter tasting herbs improve the digestive process and systemically support liver-related digestion. Keeping the liver healthy is one of our best strategies in maintaining good digestion and overall health.

In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in various digestive, gut and food-induced disorders. The best and easiest way to avoid digestive problems is to stop them before they start. The first and probably most important step is to examine your diet and replace unhealthy foods with better options, including bitter greens. And it makes sense to begin strengthening your digestion at the same time, starting with regular use of Digestive Bitters. These simple steps can be used to significantly improve digestion and assimilation, which are truly fundamental to well being.