What You Need to Know About Herbal Supplements
by Susie Cortright
We all know
how the right herb can add new life to a recipe. And research indicates that
herbs might have the same effect on us.
Today's popular herbal potions
promise better sleep, less fatigue, reduced anxiety, even help in the battle
against depression. And the herbal answers to these ailments are nothing
History of Herbal Supplements
Herbal medicine is rooted in
ancient traditions. Texts dating back to 2500 BC speak of the ability of
herbal remedies to restore harmony to an imbalanced, unhealthy
Garlic and juniper have been common medicines for about 4,000
years. Research suggests that Egyptians in the era of Ramses III used
poppy extracts to calm children.
It wasn't until the 1700s that
herbalists sought to identify the individual chemicals in the plants. Once
separated from the plant itself, these compounds took on new properties. In
the last 150 years, these compounds have been used to create pharmaceutical
Today, herbal supplements comprise an
industry all their own. According to a recent poll, about 60 million adults
take herbal supplements. Proponents say they can help with everything
from chronic illnesses to more mundane complaints, such as
insomnia, headaches, and fatigue, even the common cold.
"herb" includes any plant with culinary or medicinal value. That includes the
botanicals we associate with today's pharmaceuticals, as well as the herbal
supplements we purchase, and, of course, the herbs we use to enhance the
flavor of our food, such as garlic and sage. Today, the practice of a western
herbalist primarily draws on 150 to 200 plants.
Because herbs are
promoted as all-natural, alternative medicines, consumers tend to think of
them more as vitamins than as actual drugs. But experts say these botanical
remedies are just as—or more—potent, than their pharmaceutical counterparts,
so it's important to exercise caution.
What's more, herbal supplements
do not have to meet the same federal regulations
that other drugs do.
That means potency, purity, and safety are not necessarily consistent from
brand to brand. It's important to talk with your doctor before starting to
take any supplement.
Maggie Greenwood-Robinson, PhD., author of Kava: The
Ultimate Guide to Nature's Anti-Stress Herb, recommends buying herbal
supplements only from a well-known and trusted manufacturer.
products vary in potency due to a number of factors, one of which is the
original plant itself," she says. "It may have more or less of the active
ingredients than other members of the crop. The extraction process varies,
too, and may affect potency. A consumer interested in purchasing herbal
supplements should do so on the basis of manufacturer
According to the International Food
Information Council, the FDA has listed the following herbal supplements as
"risky": Chaparral, comfrey, DHEA, dieter's tea with senna, aloe, rhubarb
root, buckthorn, cascara, caster oil, penny royal, and
Greenwood-Robinson says some of us should stay away from herbs
altogether. "Anyone who is pregnant or nursing should avoid herbs. If there
are herbs in the home, they should be kept out of the reach of children, just
as you would keep medicines out of reach," she says. And she does not
recommend herbal remedies for children.
Mothers trying to conceive
should avoid echinacea purpura, St. John's wort, and gingko biloba. Recent
research indicates a possible connection between these herbals and
Ask your doctor for information on dosages for herbal
supplements, as well as possible interactions with other drugs. If the
manufacturer is a trusted one, follow the recommended dosages on the label,
and do not exceed them.
If the supplement you choose provides a dosage
range on the label, always begin with the smallest dose, and stop taking the
supplement immediately if you sense any sort of allergic reaction, which
can range from hives to difficulty breathing.
Common Herbs and
"For health and beauty," Greenwood-Robinson says,
"the big news in herbal supplements is a category I call cellulite-control
Greenwood-Robinson discusses the merits of this herb in
her book, The Cellulite Breakthrough. Cellasene, Greenwood-Robinson says,
contains a mixture of herbs with multiple benefits—one of which is to improve
"microcirculation" in the network of tiny vessels in the body. Poor
microcirculation is thought to contribute to the development and progression
"Sipping a cup of Echinacea tea may put cold
symptoms on the run, or even shorten the course of a cold,"
Greenwood-Robinson says. Research shows that the herb is effective in
stimulating the immune system for its fight against viruses and bacteria."
Echinacea is potent, and many experts don't recommend it for prolonged use
(some researchers caution against taking Echinacea for more than 10
Evening Primrose Oil (EPO)
Hailed as a beauty herb, this
supplement claims to help you grow healthy skin, hair, and nails. Other
studies show it can help alleviate
Research shows that garlic may help
improve cholesterol levels and protect against breast cancer. Long hailed as
a natural antibiotic, garlic can stimulate the immune system, so it's a
popular supplement among those wishing to ward of colds and bronchitis.
Research suggests garlic may help prevent bacterial or fungal infections,
including yeast infections.
Also known as HCA
(hydroxycitric acid), this supplement is found predominately in a particular
Southeast Asian fruit. The extract is similar to citric acid, and
Greenwood-Robinson says it's a good choice for dieting and appetite
suppression. "Scientific research shows it tames the appetite and may aid in
Like garlic, ginger is a culinary herb as well as
a medicinal herb, so it is considered extremely safe. Experts say this herb,
grown primarily in India, China, and Mexico, may help everything
from chemotherapy suffering to painful menstruation. But it's best
known as an aid for digestion. "It is a near-cure for nausea and
works quite fast," Greenwood-Robinson says. "It is also an
excellent anti-inflammatory herb that is effective in treating various
types of headaches, as well as joint pain."
one of the most prescribed herbals in Europe. Its popularity has surged in
the United States, as well. Experts say it improves blood circulation
throughout the body. This enhanced circulation in the brain aids
concentration and memory.
Both varieties of ginseng (Panax and
Siberian ginseng) have a solid reputation for energy enhancement. This herb
can be taken on a daily basis, but exercise caution. Possible side effects
include breast tenderness and high blood pressure.
HTP is a popular supplement in the United States for its
ability to reduce anxiety, depression and insomnia. Some experts say this
herb might help control obesity, too.
Kava is also
prescribed for everyday anxiety, as well as for painful menstrual cramps.
Experts say it can help with insomnia, too.
St. John's Wort
The flower of this plant blooms around St. John's day, and when you squeeze the flowers,
out comes a red pigment, which is associated with the blood of St. John the
Baptist. In the United States, this herb is best- known for its ability to
improve mood and diminish anxiety, and it is often prescribed in Germany for
anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.
Reminder: This article is a compilation of recent research on herbal supplements. If you think herbals
are right for you, discuss the matter with your physician.
More Information on
The best source of information on Herbal Medicine is
Medicine Infocenter where you can learn detailed information
about 2000+ herbs, their use, and safety.
You can also learn about
herbs in Holisticonline.com Aromatherapy