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What Is the Best Herbal Preparation for Your Condition?

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herbalprep

When I first learned about herbs in the late '70s, they were usually taken as capsules, with food, or smoked! As I began to study Chinese herbs I learned that they were typically prepared as teas. Then the explosion of natural medicine occurred and a wide variety of herbal remedies became available – pills, capsules, tablets, tinctures, powders, syrups, and more.

Today there are so many different delivery methods for taking herbs. How do you know which is the best for your clients’ or your own health needs? You may actually feel that just getting herbs down people in whatever way they’ll take them is best – and there’s definitely truth and practicality to this. Yet, the delivery of herbs also does matter. It depends on knowing your herbs AND the person taking them.

I was recently reminded about this when I made a sleep tea for my elderly mother. I only had the formula she needed in “teapill” form (a Chinese patent medicine where the herbs are cooked as a tea, dehydrated and then formed into tiny pills). This was too dangerous for her to swallow as they could have become stuck in her throat so I dissolved them in hot water. When she ended up refusing the herbs, I drank the tea myself. And powerful it was! It was easy and quick to make, tasty, and most effective. But even more, this tea was much easier to digest than the concentrated dry extracts I normally take.

Some forms of herbs can actually aggravate symptoms regardless of the herbs used. Others may not be strong enough to create the desired effect. Still more might not even fully metabolize so there’s less impact from the herbs. For instance:

  • Is your client a child? That generally rules out alcoholic tinctures, pills, tablets or capsules.
  • Is your client elderly? That means small pills may be too difficult for them to handle. They might also have problems swallowing them, too, as well as tablets and capsules.
  • Does your client have Heat or Stagnation in their Liver (hypochondriac pain, sighing, hiccupping, depression, PMS, irregular or painful periods, nausea, vomiting, sour belching, splitting headaches, migraines, hard to fall asleep, or tight neck and shoulders)? Then tinctures could aggravate these symptoms.
  • Does your client have weak digestion (poor appetite, slow metabolism, gas, bloatedness, sleepiness after meals, tiredness, loose stools, fatigue, lethargy, weakness of the limbs, or acid reflux)? Then tablets, powders, pills, and concentrated dry extracts may create even more digestive sluggishness.

Your herbal delivery method is not just about patient compliance, although that is important to consider. Ideally, you find the best delivery method that extracts the most out of a particular herb AND that a person can most easily assimilate without causing other problems.

Following is a list of possible herbal delivery methods along with their uses, pros, cons, and shelf life so you can choose what best fits for your clients’ and your needs. Note that taking herbs is NOT like taking medications, quick-fix pills with lots of side effects. 

BATH

Uses: for the entire body or specific areas such as the hands, hips or feet; stimulates blood circulation; warms; treats colds, flu, chills, fever, aches, pains, cramps, spasms, headaches, some infection and inflammation; calms nerves and relaxes muscles 

Pros: fair absorption of herbal properties; especially useful and effective for treating infants and the elderly

Cons: only used topically; can be messy; takes time; person has to have a bathtub or access to one

Shelf life: none – make as needed

BOLUS/SUPPOSITORY

Uses: treats anal conditions and hemorrhoids plus vaginal infections, cysts, irritations and tumors

Pros: effectively treats localized health problems (anal/vaginal/genital)

Cons: can be messy; doesn’t travel well

Shelf life: none – make as needed; if frozen can last up to 6 months

CAPSULE

Uses: treats internal conditions

Pros: useful for taking herbs in small amounts or for herbs that taste bitter, are strong or are high in mucilage; the small "0" size is user-friendly for many children and the elderly; convenient; travels well

Cons: quickly loses potency; can be difficult to digest (avoid if there’s poor appetite, slow digestion, gas, bloatedness, sleepiness after meals, tiredness, loose stools, fatigue, lethargy, weakness of the limbs, or acid reflux); not for vegetarians since most capsules are made from animal gelatin

Shelf life: short – about 1 year

COOKED WITH FOOD

Uses: treats internal conditions

Pros: highly digestible; potent with increased biological availability; especially beneficial for the elderly, infirm or those with poor digestion

Cons: takes time; can be smelly; may not be tasty

Shelf life: short – up to 3 days

DRY CONCENTRATE EXTRACT

Uses: treats internal conditions

Pros: highly potent with increased biological availability; preserves well; 2-5 times stronger than powdered herbs, so less needs be taken; convenient; easy to take for most people (put in hot water or directly into the mouth and swallow with water, or mix with honey and eat as an electuary/paste); can take in small or large doses; travels well

Cons: expensive; can’t use with herbs high in volatile oils, as these constituents may be lost during the preparation process; may be difficult to digest for some

Shelf life: long – lasts up to 5 or more years

ELECTUARY/PASTE

Uses: treats internal conditions  

Pros: tasty; easy to take; great for children; travels well; easier to digest (from the honey) and assimilate (if ghee is added); helpful for taking strong-tasting herbs

Cons: messy; takes time

Shelf life: short from 3 days to 3 months 

FOMENTATION

Uses: treats swellings, pain, coldness, sprains, injuries, sore throats, colds, and swollen glands and organs (neck, breast, groin, kidney, liver, prostate, bladder); helps restore circulation to an area that’s been immobilized or weakened

Pros: stimulates fresh blood circulation; warms the area where placed; great for the elderly or infirm

Cons: only used topically; takes time; can be messy; can’t travel; only used topically

Shelf life: none – make only as needed

GARGLE

Uses: treats throat, gum and mouth conditions

Pros: treats localized conditions; can use strong herbs; convenient; travels well

Cons: only used topically

Shelf life: varies – can last up to 3 days if a tea; 10 years if made with alcohol

LINIMENT

Uses: treats strained muscles and ligaments, muscle spasms, bruises, arthritis, rheumatism, injuries, trauma, swelling, some inflammations; stimulates blood circulation

Pros: potent topical treatment of localized conditions; good delivery for strong or potent herbs; convenient; travels well

Cons: only used topically; can be messy; can be smelly 

Shelf life: varies – up to a year (made with oil) or 10 years (made with alcohol)

NETI

Uses: treats nasal and throat conditions, sinus infections, allergies, post nasal drip, plugged ears, poor sense of smell, colds, flu

Pros: potent treatment of localized conditions

Cons: only used topically; can be messy, smelly, and irritating

Shelf life: none – make only as needed 

OIL

Uses: for sore and aching muscles and joints, cuts, stings, swellings, and pain; calming and relaxing or stimulates blood circulation

Pros: potent topical treatment of localized conditions; convenient; travels well; good delivery for strong or potent herbs

Cons: only used topically; can be messy; can be smelly

Shelf life: short – up to a year 

PILL

Uses: treats internal conditions of all types; certain ones may be sucked to treat the throat

Pros: potent; generally good for vegetarians; generally easy to swallow (except for the elderly and some children); herbs don’t need to be as finely ground as those for capsules; can be made into a tea; can be tasty

Cons: may have to take a lot for proper dosage; can be difficult to pick up for the elderly or those with motor dysfunction; may not be tasty; may be difficult to digest for some

Shelf life: medium – from 1 to 5 years

PLASTER

Uses: muscle spasms, swelling, arthritis, rheumatism, tumors, fevers, mucous congestion in the chest, bronchitis, pneumonia, enlarged glands and organs (neck, breast, groin, kidney, liver, prostate, bladder), various eruptions (boils, abscesses); fibrous tissue

Pros: treats localized or internal conditions

Cons: potent topical treatment of localized conditions; takes time; can be messy; can be smelly; takes time; can’t travel 

Shelf life: none – make as needed

POULTICE

Uses: treats skin aliments, cuts, stings, bites, eruptions, bleeding

Pros: treats localized conditions

Cons: only used topically; can be messy; can’t travel 

Shelf life: none – make as needed

POWDER

Uses: treats internal or external conditions

Pros: can use to make any number of other delivery methods

Cons: can be difficult to digest (avoid if there’s poor appetite, slow digestion, gas, bloatedness, sleepiness after meals, tiredness, loose stools, fatigue, lethargy, weakness of the limbs, or acid reflux); messy; if not able to purchase desired herbs already powdered, need strong equipment to powder herbs and some herbs can’t be powdered fine enough or are too gummy to powder

Shelf life: short – 6 months

SALVES

Uses: reduces pain; stops itching; treats bites, stings, cuts, sores, scrapes, burns, itching, dryness and skin problems

Pros: treats localized conditions; easy to use; travels well

Cons: only used topically; can be messy

Shelf life: short – lasts 1 year

SYRUPS

Uses: treats cough, sore throat, tickling and irritation of the throat, lung conditions; loosens phlegm and helps its expectoration

Pros: potent; easy to take; can be tasty; easy to digest; great for children

Cons: can be messy

Shelf life: short – about 1 month refrigerated 

TEAS

Uses: treats internal conditions; as a wash treats certain external conditions, too

Pros: potent; highly digestible; most herbal properties are extracted in water

Cons: takes time; can be smelly; can be messy; might not be tasty; difficult to drink if using very bitter or stimulating herbs; doesn’t travel well; often teas are not made strong enough to be effective – it is necessary to use 1 oz dried herbs/1 pint water; 2-3 oz herbs fresh herbs/pint water; or 1/2 oz herbs/1 cup water

Shelf life: short – up to 3 days

TINCTURES

Uses: treats internal conditions; depending on the herbs, may be used as a liniment for external conditions

Pros: potent; highly digestible; good delivery for herbs that taste bitter, are too strong to drink in teas, are taken over a long period of time, and that don’t extract well in water but do in alcohol; easy to take; convenient; travels well

Cons: avoid with children, people with alcohol sensitivity, or those with Excess Heat or Qi Stagnation (hypochondriac pain, sighing, hiccupping, depression, PMS, irregular or painful periods, nausea, vomiting, sour belching, splitting headaches, migraines, hard to fall asleep, or tight neck and shoulders); often tinctures are not taken in high enough doses to be effective (1 teaspoon doses are frequently needed for best results, much higher than a dropperful); can be expensive if proper dose is taken

Shelf life: long – up to 3 years (vinegar or glycerin) or 10 years (alcohol)

WASH

Uses: treats swellings, pain, coldness, injuries, sore throats, colds, fever, chills,

Pros: can be potent for infants, the elderly or the infirm

Cons: only used topically; can’t travel; can be messy

Shelf life: none – make as needed

1 comment

  • Comment Link Fi Wednesday, 20 November 2013 00:58 posted by Fi

    Ty for this nice summary =)

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