Promoting Vitality: Herbal Diuretics & Healing

cornsilkThe urinary system plays an important role in the human body’s need to eliminate metabolic wastes from the blood, and therefore the greater body. Anatomically, the urinary system includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and the urethra. The kidneys remove the water-soluble waste products of metabolism from the blood, as well as help regulate the body’s pH, blood pressure, water volume, red blood cell formation, and electrolyte balance outside of the cell. The bladder receives the mix of metabolic wastes and water from the kidneys via the ureters (as urine) and stores it until it is called on to relax and release the urine into the urethra and out of the body. This life-giving process of making and excreting urine is the primary function of the urinary system.

From a naturopathic perspective, correct nutrition and adequate elimination are keystones to promoting vitality and what is known as the vis medicatrix naturae or the healing power of Nature. If the body’s “toxic encumbrances” and “obstacles to cure” can be eliminated, then the vital force will heal. This is witnessed by the fact that many of the naturopathic and vitalist healing practices employed across the centuries have promoted elimination as a way to achieve wellness and vitality.

Given the hydrophilic or water-loving nature of many herbal compounds and/or their metabolites, and the knowledge their excretion will likely take place through the urinary system, medicinal herbs are naturally well-suited to influence the urinary tissues and support urinary system function. In addition to promoting the removal of fluid from the body when used correctly, diuretics can also work to shift the deeper metabolic environment toward a state of greater health. By promoting the removal of wastes they exert an alterative or depurative affect, which often goes underutilizied. A quick word to the wise before we look at a few common herbal diuretics, drink plenty of water! Water is Nature’s best diuretic. When there is adequate water in the blood, its filtration is enhanced, promoting the removal of its metabolic wastes.

Along with Yarrow, and Stinging Nettle, Cleavers (Galium aparine) is one of the more tonic urinary herbs, working to support overall function and nourishment of the urinary tissues. Native to Europe, it is a useful alterative and a cool, soothing diuretic, with a particular reputation for supporting skin and lymphatic tissue.* The Juniper berry (Juniperus communis) is a stimulating diuretic and also stimulates digestion.* However, the volatile oils in Juniper can sometimes be a little too stimulating to the kidneys for anything other than short-term use. Therefore, it is best used in small quantities or as a part of a well-balanced urinary formula. Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is another good example of a soothing diuretic that is known to possess antiseptic activity. Combined with its respected soothing action, it is used for minor inflammation and irritation of the urinary system.* Corn Silk (Zea mays) is a tonic diuretic with cooling and soothing activity.* As such, it is used wherever there is urinary irritation.

Like any category of herbs, the diuretics are a diverse set of characters. Knowing how best to apply them often comes from looking at their overall therapeutic influence and making decisions based on what peripheral or secondary benefits they bring to the table. By their very nature, the diuretics are an interesting approach to alterative therapy and a traditionally established doorway to enhanced vitality.

 

*This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Originally Published in Fall 2005

 

Maca (Lepidium meyenii)

macaMaca is an herb that has been cultivated in the high Andes Mountains of Peru for over 2000 years. It is renowned amongst indigenous people of the region as an energy enhancing food with aphrodisiacal properties, and is now quickly growing in popularity around the world as an herbal sexual enhancer. Herb Pharm Maca is made from the root (botanically known as the hypocotyl) of Maca (Lepidium meyenii), a member of the Brassicaceae or Mustard family. Some sources call this plant Lepidium peruvianum, but leading taxonomic authorities consider this is a synonym for the officially recognized botanical name, which remains Lepidium meyenii.

Inappropriately referred to as a “rainforest” herb, Maca actually comes from a rather desolate habitat that is devoid of trees. Maca grows at elevations of 12,000 feet or more, where the sun’s unfiltered ultra-violet radiation is very intense and the pounding winds and numbing nighttime cold allow few plants to grow. These harsh localized growing conditions rather than color differences in the roots have been shown to be responsible for most activity differences in Maca.

Maca was a crop of the ancient Inca and has been in cultivation for at least 2000 years, primarily in the Lake Junin region in the central highlands of Peru. Chronicles of the Spanish conquistadors tell how the Spaniards’ horses became infertile in the extreme high altitudes of the Andes (a natural phenomenon). The Incan farmers recommended feeding the horses Maca because they knew of its powers to increase sexual activity and fertility in the breeding of their llamas and guinea pigs. The Spaniards were astounded by the positive results and began demanding Maca as payment for taxes and tribute.

Some physicians are now using Maca to enhance fertility and increase libido for both women and men. These uses are well known by the native people of the high Andes. One legend tells how Inca warriors were fed Maca to increase their energy before going into battle. After a city was conquered, Maca was prohibited in order to protect women from the heightened sexual desires induced by Maca consumption.

Today, research and interest in Maca is steadily increasing. Studies are being carried out in Peru and other countries to determine the mechanism(s) by which Maca supports fertility and libido. Researchers are examining various sexual parameters including erectile function, sexual appetite, performance, frequency of copulation, ejaculatory volume, sperm motility and fertility. Maca is also used in Peruvian folk medicine to treat symptoms of menopause.

Agronomists are studying the plant’s adaptability to other high altitude regions as a potential crop. Patents have been awarded to several companies for preparations and use of Maca, much to the dismay of Peruvian farmers and indigenous people, who have raised protests in Peru’s capital, Lima. We expect the popularity and economic potential of Maca to continue to grow as more people become aware of its healthful qualities. It is critical, especially during this period of growth, to preserve the rights of the indigenous people whose knowledge, traditions and work have given us access to this wonderful plant. Herb Pharm is happy to support these family farmers by purchasing only genuine Peruvian Maca from the high Andes.

Herb Pharm founders Ed Smith and Sara Katz have both visited our Maca growers in the Peruvian highlands. There they witnessed first-hand how Maca is grown, harvested, dried and processed for market. Our Maca tincture (liquid extract) is made from certified organic raw Maca root. We also provide certified organic gelatinized Maca root in capsules and a 7-ounce bulk Maca powder. Gelatinization is a process whereby the roots are steamed to allow Maca’s phytochemicals and nutrients to be more readily absorbed when consumed directly (i.e., not pre-extracted as in a tincture). This makes our Maca powder ideal for “liquidos” or traditional-style smoothies with honey, milk and cinnamon. It’s also great in pre-workout smoothies, homemade energy bars and baked treats.

 

Originally published March 2003 

Herbal Alteratives, Depuratives and Blood Purifiers: The Balanced Detoxifiers

lymph-systemAlteratives and depuratives, which are known in traditional folk medicine as blood purifiers, are a very important class of herbs in botanical medicine. These herbs generally act through the lymphatic, glandular and mucous membrane systems, and to a lesser degree through the skin. Their primary action is to favorably alter disordered metabolic and catabolic processes, especially those associated with the breakdown and elimination of metabolic waste. Their related secondary action is to enhance better overall absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Collectively these metabolic and catabolic activities serve to balance and normalize overall physiological chemistry and thereby restore vital health.

Here I will detail a few of my favorite alterative/depurative herbs, which are Echinacea, Burdock, Wild Indigo, Dandelion and Turmeric, and I will list others for further study.

Alteratives and depuratives are indicated in cases of retrograde metabolism, which are constitutional disorders associated with tardy breakdown and excretion of metabolic waste, deterioration of normally healthy tissues and slow reconstruction of new tissues. These indications are sometimes associated with loss of vitality and strength, loss of appetite, weight loss and general debility. Alteratives and depuratives are also indicated in a similar condition, which was traditionally described as a depraved state of the humors and a morbid condition, especially one that involves imbalance of component elements.

Although Echinacea is stereotyped as an “immune system herb,” it is also an excellent alterative and depurative and is especially associated with lymphatic glands and what traditional folk medicine refers to as “bad blood.”

Another great herb in this category is Burdock, of which I use a 50/50 combination of the root and the seed. Burdock is an excellent restorative cleanser/ detoxifier for the liver and kidneys. Burdock also soothes and cleanses the lymphatic vessels, serous membranes, and mucous membranes

Wild Indigo fresh root is another great alterative/depurative, but it must be used with caution and in moderation because of its strong action. Wild Indigo is useful in treating deep-seated, chronic and sub-acute issues. Wild Indigo is best taken in smaller doses and along with doses of Echinacea and plenty of water.

One of my all time favorite alterative/depurative herbs is Dandelion, of which I prefer using the whole fresh plant with its root, leaves and flowers. Dandelion is an effective but gentle-acting detoxifier of the liver and kidneys, and thereby is also useful in the treatment of various conditions of the skin. Dandelion is also a mild stimulant of bowel elimination and is especially indicated in constipation of the elderly.

Turmeric rhizome, the spice that gives mustard and curry powders their bright yellow color, is also an excellent liver alterative/depurative, which stimulates the production and flow of liver bile. However, Turmeric tends to act more strongly than Dandelion and therefore should be used in somewhat smaller doses. This herb/spice is indicated in congested liver and gallbladder. Also, new scientific research is justifying Turmeric’s uses in Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine in inflammation.

Some other alterative/depurative herbs of interest are Chickweed, Cleavers, Gotu Kola, Holy Basil, Prickly Ash, Myrrh, Celery seed, Spilanthes, Blue Flag and Yellow Dock.

Remember that a true alterative/depurative herb is one that not only cleanses and detoxifies, but also facilitates proper nutrient assimilation and which has a normalizing action on overall physiology.

Originally Published Spring 2006

Herbal Spotlight: Umckaloabo

umckaThe genus of Pelargonium brings to us a large and diverse number of horticultural and perfumery plants, together with a handful of traditional medicinal herbs. Made up of about 270 species, the largest variety and diversity of Pelargoniums occur in the Cape Provinces of South Africa. Of these 270, one species is conspicuous for its sordid history, promising medicinal potential and now, its renewed accessibility by the people of South Africa and the world. This herb is popularly known by the strange name of Umckaloabo.

Locally known as Rabas or Rooirabas, Umckaloabo is endemic to South Africa and Lesotho, a smaller country entirely surrounded by South Africa. Umckaloabo and several similar species have been long used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhea and dysentery. Today, Umckaloabo has become an extremely popular herbal medicine in Europe for the treatment of variety of respiratory ailments.

In 1897, an Englishman named Charles Henry Stevens was diagnosed with a lung condition and his doctor advised Stevens to travel to South Africa to recover. While in South Africa Stevens was treated with a root decoction by local healer Mike Kijitse and in a relatively short time Stevens was well enough to return to England, where he was now pronounced healthy. By 1908, Stevens was successfully marketing a secret patent medicine in England called Steven’s Cure. He called the active ingredient “Umckaloabo,” a name reputedly derived from a combination of Zulu words. More likely, however, this name was just made up by Stevens based on sounds he had heard in South African native languages. One of Stevens’ primary objectives throughout his venture was to protect the identity of his herbal ingredient. And what better way to ensure secrecy than to concoct a fictitious name. Regardless of the etymology, the name “Umckaloabo” stuck.

Stevens came under the scrutiny of the British Medical Association (BMA), brought about not only by jealousies of the BMA but also by Stevens’ exaggerated claims, his unsupported marketing guarantee and his refusal to disclose the active ingredient in his product. During his time of troubles with the BMA, a purported employee of Stevens opened the short-lived Umckaloabo Chemical Company in New York. Nothing more than a footnote now, it is interesting in that the company’s marketing created the basis for Umckaloabo to qualify as an old dietary ingredient under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). After Stevens’ death in 1942, his son sold the product rights, which clearly belonged to the indigenous people of South Africa, to a German drug manufacturer.

Amazingly, Stevens’ protection of the actual identity of Umckaloabo lasted until 1974 when a chemist, due to taxonomic discrepancies, mistakenly identified it as Pelargonium reniforme. This error was later resolved based on phytochemical differences between closely related species and the true identity of Umckaloabo was finally revealed publicly as Pelargonium sidoides. With the identity mystery solved, research on Umckaloabo was renewed in earnest. Especially in the last two decades, numerous papers with positive findings have been published for Umckaloabo’s effectiveness in treating a range of respiratory conditions. These studies support Herb Pharm’s Umckaloabo structure/function statement, “Supports Healthy Sinus, Nasal & Bronchial Function.”

Claiming a special extraction method and special uses of the extracts, German drug manufacturer Schwabe Pharmaceuticals acquired several European patents for Umckaloabo. With their patents in hand and a South African subsidiary able to supply vast amounts of wild Umckaloabo, Schwabe developed a highly popular German drug under patent protection. Because of the patents, Schwabe effectively had a monopoly on international Umckaloabo trade and even on the name “Umckaloabo” itself, which was their registered mark. This led some U.S. supplement manufacturers to avoid the name Umckaloabo and simply label their products as “Pelargonium.” Today, Schwabe’s U.S. subsidiary, Nature’s Way, continues to maintain a registration for the abbreviated name Umcka®, which they use on their Umcka Cold Care® line of homeopathic cold and cough remedies.

Schwabe’s patents were highly contested by other European manufacturers and by native communities of South Africa, who claimed that their traditional knowledge had been stolen. Pressure on Schwabe grew and in 2010 the company relented and withdrew the patents, freeing other companies to freely manufacture and market Umckaloabo products. Withdrawal of the patents also allowed the South African people to reclaim this herb as their own after more than 100 years.

As demand for the German preparations escalated, so did the pressure on the wild South African populations of Umckaloabo, prompting numerous cultivation projects to help meet demand. Some of these projects were moved overseas, pulling potential income out of South Africa and further upsetting the native communities. Fortunately, the development of cultivation has been so successful that much of the Umckaloabo supply today is from cultivated material, thus protecting wild populations. Herb Pharm is proud to offer Umckaloabo that is not only cultivated, but is Certified Organically Grown in its native South African habitat.

Among a complex array of phytochemicals, Umckaloabo is very rich in coumarins (all without anticoagulant activity), including one novel coumarin compound. This unique-to-Umckaloabo coumarin is used as part of Herb Pharm’s Umckaloabo raw material identity verification. We use phytochemical fingerprinting as a final step in our process to identity every lot of our Umckaloabo as genuine Pelargonium sidoides.

The convoluted journey this plant took during its introduction from South Africa to the rest of the world seems rather extraordinary. But in fact, many plants carry with them similarly remarkable stories. While at times questionable, such accounts are testaments to the intertwined and complex destiny humans and plants share. From food to medicine to environmental stability and even the air we breathe, our lives are inextricably linked to the green world of plants.

*This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

An Herbal Myth Challenged

echinacea

Does Echinacea’s immune system activity diminish with continuous use?

I am on a mission to dispel the modern herbal myth that people should not take the herb Echinacea for long periods of time because its immune-enhancing activity diminishes with repeated and continuous dosing. Unfortunately this misinformation has now become “common knowledge,” although it has never been scientifically or clinically proven. This myth evolved from the misinterpretation of a single, translated study in the 1980’s and as a myth has endured as a part of modern herbal misinformation.

Extensive medical and pharmacological research on Echinacea has revealed multiple immuno-modulating actions (e.g., increases phagocytic action of immune cells, enhances properdin/complement system, enhances production of alpha-1 & -2 gamma globulins, inhibits hyaluronidase enzyme activity and enhances polymerization of hyaluronic acid, enhances wound healing by augmenting growth of healthy new connective tissue, increases killer T-cell production, is anti-inflammatory, increases interferon levels and  more). However, all this research has never shown any evidence that indicates that any of these immuno-modulating actions are decreased by continued use of Echinacea.

But let’s set science aside for a moment and look at Echinacea’s clinical use by the Eclectic physicians who practiced medicine from the mid-1880s until the 1930s. Tens of thousands of Eclectic physicians prescribed hundreds of millions of doses of Echinacea for many decades and yet in their voluminous medical texts and journals they never once mentioned anything about diminished success with Echinacea (for any reason). If they did indeed see such, one would assume it would have been mentioned in their literature at least once, if not scores of times. And while their empirical evidence cannot be considered scientific proof, I have much confidence in the bedside experience of these physicians who “saw it all.”

I have offered a friendly challenge to several prominent herbalists and herbal authors who claim Echinacea’s immuno-activity diminishes with continuous use. I’ve asked them to supply at least one reference that supports their claim — either from modern medical research, or from the Eclectic or Physiomedicalist literature, or from traditional folk medicine sources. So far no one has been able to supply even one reference. For me, I have to have something in order to believe — either modern scientific evidence or historical references, and definitely more than theory and conjecture alone. What I do know for sure is that Echinacea “works” — and does its immunomodulating job dose, after dose, after dose, after …

Originally Published Spring 2007

Herbal Remedy Company Grows

redcloverHerb Pharm Featured on Oregon Business.com

“Sourcing material from medicine women in the Amazon jungle or spice merchants in Marrakech is not only good for quality control, it also helps sell your goods. ‘People love stories,’ says Herb Pharm co-founder Ed Smith of his frequent trips abroad in search of rare herbs for the three-decade-old natural medicine company.”…

To read the whole article, please visit: OregonBusiness.com

 

Anxiety Soother™

albiziaMild anxiety is an ordinary human emotion that everyone experiences at some time in his or her life. Anxiety is often associated with everyday external factors such as finances, relationships and work, or what is probably the most common of all anxiety-inducing events, public speaking. Anxiety can also be associated with internal states such as chronic stress, which affects the endocrine system’s regulation of stress hormones and with depression, which itself appears to be linked to stress hormones. Whatever the cause, there are options for dealing with mild anxiety. Herb Pharm’s new Anxiety Soother™ compound can be a helpful addition during those times when you are experiencing mild anxiety.

As the name implies, this formula is specifically designed to lend soothing support in occasional and mild anxiety.* This formula brings together five important herbs, each from a different world region and each with roots in different herbal traditions:

Kava (Piper methysticum) is one of our most effective herbal allies in treating anxiety. It reduces mild anxiety and associated states such as stress and frustration,* inducing a state of calm in the user. This newfound tranquility brings perspective to one’s surroundings rather than spiraling into anxiety-driven reaction. As the lead ingredient of Anxiety Soother, Kava imparts a fast and profound psychological effect to the user.

Our Kava is grown in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. Here, Kava has been cultivated and consumed by the native people, or Ni-Vanuatu, for over 3,000 years. It is grown according to ancient tradition in small, chemical-free village gardens. We use only the root and rhizome, never stem or leaf. And we always use noble varieties of Kava with their telltale kavalactone ratios, never two-day kava or other inferior cultivars. Kava has been associated with very rare cases of liver toxicity. However, despite the continuing efforts of researchers, no causative factor or toxic mechanism has been identified in Kava to date. Because of the association, the standard cautions for Kava apply to Anxiety Soother. In part, the formula should not be used by pregnant women, individuals under the age of 18, in impaired liver function or disease or in conjunction with alcoholic beverages or pharmaceutical drugs. See the label peel-out panel for the full caution.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is the certified organic flowering herb from this showy vine, often cultivated for its strikingly beautiful flowers. Passionflower is native from the southeastern United States through Mexico and into South America. The renowned Eclectic Prof. Ellingwood included these in his specific indications for Passionflower, “…disturbed sleep from mental worry, and exhaustion from cerebral fullness and from excitement…” A 2008 study confirmed this old use, showing that Passionflower reduces anxiety in pre-operative patients. Today, the herb has a well-deserved and widespread reputation as a calmative, sedative and antispasmodic as well as anxiolytic.*

Our Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri ) consists of the certified organic aerial parts of this diminutive Indian plant. Bacopa is in the category of medicines known as “nootropics” (pronounced no-tropics). These are medicinal agents that increase cognitive function and cerebral circulation and improve memory. Highly esteemed in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, Bacopa has been in use as a brain and nerve tonic for over a millennium. As a traditional remedy, Bacopa is used in Anxiety Soother to reduce anxiety, depression and the negative effects of chronic stress.*

Albizia (Albizia julibrissin), also known as Silk Tree, Mimosa and Happiness Bark, comes to us from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Our Albizia is sourced primarily from the southern U.S., where it has become an invasive plant. In Chinese medicine it is incorporated in the class of herbs that “nourish the heart and calm the spirit.” We employ the stem bark to assist in alleviating nervous system disorders such as mental stress and anxiety, irritability, depression, anger, mood swings, grief, sadness and heartache.*

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is native to the Mediterranean region and comes to us from European herbal tradition. Our Lavender tincture is made from certified organic flowers grown in Provence, France. We use only the flowers, without superfluous stem. Lavender’s reputation for calming and lifting the spirit as well as alleviating worry and anxiety is well established. Thornton’s 1814 Family Herbal says of Lavender that it is, “…used in hysteria, lowness, and other nervous affections.” Recently, oral Lavender essential oil is being used in European phytotherapy for treatment of sub-syndromal anxiety, a use confirmed by clinical trials.* To our Lavender flower tincture we add a steam-distilled (solvent-free) essential oil of Lavender flower to further increase the essential oil content.

Combating mild anxiety is best achieved through a multifaceted approach. As with all natural healing, a healthy lifestyle is paramount in minimizing anxiety. This includes the basics of good diet, proper exercise and adequate rest. Herbally, Anxiety Soother can be a helpful tool in managing this common problem. And, Stress Manager™ may be a beneficial adjunct to Anxiety Soother, helping to address the effects of stress that may exacerbate anxiety.* If you experience anxiety that is interfering with your daily life or involves attacks of anxiety or panic, consult your healthcare practitioner.

 

* This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Herbal Spotlight: American Ginseng

ginseng

For nearly 300 years, the small perennial known as American Ginseng has been a healer, magic talisman, and major U.S. botanical export. Hunted to the point of exhausting wild stands, it has become more mystical as it has grown more elusive. Still, fetching hundreds of dollars per pound in the Orient and offering the promise of a long life and sexual vitality, this plant continues to stir desire in those who know it.

The common name “Ginseng” is most accurately applied only to plants in the genus Panax. The most well known Ginsengs are Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Because the name Ginseng carries such authority and reverence in herbal medicine, many other plants have been given common names that contain “Ginseng,” often in association with the name of the country of their origin. Today, it is against U.S. law to market any plant outside of the genus Panax as Ginseng. Ginseng, meaning “man-root” due to its similarity to the human form, as it often possesses branched ‘arms,” “legs” and in some cases a center root reminiscent of a male appendage. The root and the plant are attributed with mystical powers due to the root’s appearance. The plant has been attributed with volition and the ability to hide from unworthy or mean-spirited Ginseng hunters. Interestingly, the Iroquois name for the plant, Garentoguen, also refers to the humanoid shape of the root.

A species native to eastern North America from Quebec to Manitoba and south to northern Florida, Alabama and Oklahoma, American Ginseng has long been an export commodity, sold primarily to China. Due to its immense popularity, it has been severely over-picked, leading to a drastic decline in wild populations. Because of this exploitation, it is listed by United Plant Savers as “At Risk” and exportation of the raw root is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Cultivation in the western hemisphere began in earnest at the turn of the twentieth century and has grown into an important agricultural business. It is commercially cultivated in Canada and the U.S., with heavy cultivation in Wisconsin. Herb Pharm’s American Ginseng liquid extract is prepared from fresh Panax quinquefolius root that has been certified organically grown in the Pacific Northwest.

In Native medicine, various North American Indian tribes used American Ginseng for both physical medicine and magic. It is reported that the Chippewa people used the root internally to treat stomach ailments and prolong the life of a dying person. Both uses are found for Ginseng in Chinese medicine. Creek Indians used it to treat excessive heat conditions and the lungs, uses also seen in Chinese medicine. They also reportedly carried the root to ward off evil spirits; a common cause of disease in many parts of the world.

American Ginseng became a popular and important herb in Chinese medicine starting in the 1700s. Most historical accounts attribute the first movement of American Ginseng eastward to a Jesuit missionary. Father Lafitau, a priest who had served in China and knew Chinese Ginseng from his time spent there, traveled to Canada to live with and convert the Iroquois. There he found a plant resembling Chinese Ginseng and sent samples back to China for evaluation. The samples were well received and a booming trade in American Ginseng soon began.

With China willing to buy all of the roots that could be supplied out of North America, the practice of Ginseng hunting grew wildly. Trappers and hunters, men, women and children all joined in the trade, supplying untold thousands of pounds annually to the Chinese. It is said that barges on the Ohio River were loaded with so much Ginseng root in addition to their normal furs and Goldenseal that they could barely float. Numerous Indian tribes also became involved in providing Ginseng for export, with Sioux-gathered Ginseng earning particular esteem for its quality.

Early botanists considered American Ginseng to be identical to Chinese or Asian Ginseng. Even the renowned botanist William Woodville, in his classic 1792 work Medical Botany, claims that the North American species has been found to “correspond exactly” to the Chinese species. Although hoping for a new source of their traditional Ginseng, Chinese herbalists quickly recognized that while this American root did have qualities in common with its Asian counterpart, it also had unique properties that made it a distinct therapeutic agent.

Rather than the warming, drier energy of Asian Ginseng, American Ginseng is a cooler, moisturizing tonic. While Chinese Ginseng is usually reserved for recuperation and building, American Ginseng can be used in hotter conditions to allay thirst, moisten, and revitalize the body. In Chinese medicine, American Ginseng is used to benefit the vital essence or Qi (pronounced “chee”), generate fluids and nourish Yin or the fluid, feminine and building aspects of our constitution. It is also used during recovery with symptoms such as weakness, thirst and irritability.

American Ginseng was not widely valued in mainstream American botanic medicine during the 1800s and early 1900s, although it was official as a secondary medicine in the U.S. from 1842 through 1882. The eminent Eclectic physician Finley Ellingwood recommended it as a nerve tonic, improving tone of the nerve centers and increasing cerebral capillary circulation. He prescribed it in failure of digestion associated with nervous prostration and general nerve irritation. The cornerstone Eclectic text, King’s American Dispensatory, calls American Ginseng an important remedy in nervous indigestion and mental exhaustion from overwork. Although not as stimulating as Asian Ginseng, American Ginseng does serve as an effective energizer and sexual tonic more suited to use in summer.

American Ginseng is classified as an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens help the body to cope with non-specific, chronic stress, the type we commonly associate with modern life. Among these modern stressors are environmental pollution in the form of reduced air, water and food quality, chemical exposure and noise pollution, work and even the mental burden caused by the overabundance of information provided by the media. Chronic stress has a number of negative health effects including exhaustion, depression and impaired immunity. The effects of chronic stress are rather insidious, gradually weakening us at a foundational level, increasing our susceptibility and decreasing our vitality.

As the generic name Panax suggests, many have considered Ginseng to be a panacea or cure-all. While there is no true panacea, Ginseng is an important adaptogen and wonderful tonic that can have a positive impact on a wide range of health problems, serve in maintaining health and increasing vitality. It is a perfect tonic herb for the summer months and can be taken with other adaptogens and tonics or added to cooling drinks to help alleviate thirst and other effects of hot summer days.

Originally Published Summer 2004

Capsules From Herb Pharm?

One of Herb Pharm's original capsule products

Herb Pharm has been committed to providing the highest quality therapeutic herbal products for over 30 years. During that time, many people have come to think of us only as a tincture company. And while tinctures or liquid extracts have been our primary focus, they are not our only focus. After all, any herbalist’s medicine chest contains far more than one single type of preparation.

Each type of botanical preparation in turn has multiple applications and uses. For example, something as simple as a tea can, depending on the herbs and therapeutic need, be consumed orally, used as a gargle, a mouth rinse, an external wash, soak or bath, a compress and more. Access to various product types and applications are a critical aspect of herbal medicine.

We proudly craft a number of other herbal products in addition to oral liquid extracts. These include glycerites (glycerin extracts), olive oil extracts, salve, succi (preserved fresh juices), an essential oil, a liniment, several spirits (tinctures with essential oil added), an herb juice concentrate, a pure tree sap and tinctures designed for topical application in a spray or dropper.  Over the years we have also offered teas, whole and powdered herbs, suppositories and solid herb juice concentrates. All of these intended to provide the herbalist and consumer with a range of therapeutic applications and benefits.

Recently, we have introduced a number of premium vegetarian capsule and softgel products, leading some to question our herbal philosophy. In truth, we have offered two capsules for many years. So, these new capsules are really not a departure from our core, which has been and remains providing the highest quality herbal products available. Our Kava capsule (formerly Pharma Kava) was launched about 10 years ago and our Super Echinacea® was changed from a tablet to its present form as a capsule around the same time. Both products were inspired by the distinctive quality of the extracts used to make them and the desire to provide a non-liquid alternative for those who prefer capsules.

Part of our continued inspiration in expanding our capsule line is the outstanding quality of these dried extracts. Like any other extract, dried extracts can be bad or good, depending on a number of factors. As always, the starting herbs must be impeccable. The extraction and especially the concentration and drying must be performed carefully. Concentration, whether producing a concentrated liquid or solid, is an art.

And one of our most important features is the absence of harsh chemical solvents used in extraction. Unlike many other dried extract manufacturers, Herb Pharm is committed to using only pure, food-grade solvents like purified water and alcohol (ethanol) in our extracts. You can rest assured that we will never use toxic chemical solvents like hexane, acetone, methanol, petroleum ether or ethyl acetate. It makes no sense to take high quality herbs and extract them with toxic solvents that are bad for the environment and leave trace residues in the finished extract.

Herb Pharm capsules also contain the minimum quantity and highest quality of other ingredients necessary for encapsulation. In many cases, this means no excipients are added. When an ingredient such as maltodextrin is needed it is always from a non-GMO source.

Probably the most frequently asked question we get about capsules is, which is better, capsules or liquid? That depends on your preference. Liquids can be dosed at varying levels and are more quickly absorbed. You can taste the herbs; something that many herbalists believe contributes to their overall medicinal virtue. And liquids are the simplest types of extracts, a fact that many people appreciate. On the other hand, some people really do not like tasting herbs and fail to take liquids because of this. Where compliance with regular dosing is an issue, capsules may be your best option. Some consumers also find capsules easier to use, especially at work or when traveling. And in come cases consumers are looking for assurance that a known active is present at a recommended level, is the case with herbs like Milk Thistle or Ginkgo. So really, the choice is yours. Either way, you can be confident in the quality of Herb Pharm.