Health: Healing Herbs - the Alternative Action Plan; One in Four People in the UK Uses Herbal Medicine. but Did You Know That the Form It Comes in and When You Take It Has a Big Impact on the Herb's Effectiveness?

The Mirror (London, England), October 26, 2002 | Go to article overview

Health: Healing Herbs - the Alternative Action Plan; One in Four People in the UK Uses Herbal Medicine. but Did You Know That the Form It Comes in and When You Take It Has a Big Impact on the Herb's Effectiveness?


Byline: Suzanne Archer

Herbal medicines are big business nowadays - they line the shelves of even the most conventional of pharmacies, and the market is estimated to be worth pounds 70 million. But while we're starting to become more au fait with the type of herb we need, more than a third of us, according to the latest research, are still confused about how and when to take it. And we'd like to be a bit more savvy about the other ingredients added in too. We thought it was high time for a bit of herbal education...

How do you take your herbs?

CAPSULES: A great way of encasing whole herbs (too bulky to put in a tablet), they usually contain fewer non-active ingredients than tablets too. But if you are taking whole herb capsules rather than a concentrated extract, you may have to take a fair number to get the same concentration.

TABLETS: These have many other ingredients in them to make them easy to swallow and digest, and often have a coating that ensures the tablet doesn't dissolve until it reaches the small intestine. But this can sometimes mean it passes completely through you without being absorbed, so look for water-based (aqueous) tablets or ones that dissolve under your tongue.

TINCTURES: `This is the most potent way to take your herbs,' says Carole Symons, medical herbalist and nutrition advisor at The Third Space holistic health clinic in London. A tincture is a mix of herbs soaked in alcohol, a process that ensures the maximum amount of compounds are yielded from the plant.

SPRAYS: The newest way to take your herbs. The efficacy of sprays is as yet unclear, but if you find it hard to swallow supplements, or have severe digestive problems, they could be a good alternative to more traditional forms. Sprayology elixirs are available from Harvey Nichols Beyond Beauty (020-7235 5000) and The Food Doctor at www.thefooddoctor.com.

DROPS: Sublingual (applied under the tongue) drops work in a similar way to sprays and can be an effective way to take a neat tincture - Bach Flower Remedies and Australian Bush Flower Essences both use this form of delivery to get ingredients into the system fast.

TEAS: `Teas are the safest method of taking herbs,' says Symons. While you can buy dried plant bits - such as leaves, flowers and roots - and steep them in boiling water for half an hour, it's easier to stick with tea bags. While not as fresh, they're fine if you store them away from heat and light, and get rid of any you haven't used after a year. `Peppermint and chamomile teas are great for the digestion, as is fennel, and nettle is a good blood tonic,' says Holland & Barrett's public relations officer Sharon Flynn. Keep the bag in your mug while you drink for added potency.

What are you getting for your money?

You may have noticed that some herbs bear the claim `standardised' on the bottle. Ever wondered what it means? Bear in mind that herbal medicines work in a different way to drugs developed in the lab in that herbs used to be living plants and therefore contain various substances - some of which have a therapeutic effect and some of which don't. So `standardised' means that the product has been manipulated so you will always get a certain amount of the healing ingredient, whatever brand or form you take.

Opinion is divided as to whether this is a good thing or not. `Often herbs are standardised to the wrong active ingredient,' says Symons. `For example, St John's wort has standardised hypericin, which is the compound thought to be responsible for easing depression, whereas recent research indicates that a different compound, hyperforin, might also be therapeutic. …

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