How to use herbs
Follow these tips when buying your chosen herbal remedies:
* Make sure they’re in clearly labelled containers from reputable suppliers.
* Always check for the percentage of active ingredient on the labels. If there isn’t one listed, the supplement isn’t likely to be effective.
* Look for the words ‘standardised extract’ on the label, which guarantees the potency of the active ingredients.
Herbs can be taken in the following forms:
* Infusion – leaves or flowers steeped in water to make a herbal tea.
* Decoction – bark, twigs or roots simmered or boiled in water.
* Tincture – herb soaked in alcohol and water for a specific length of time.
* Extracts – parts of the herb dried and powdered, or oils extracted, and made into tablets or capsules.
* Creams or ointments – herb combined with oils, fats and water.
* Poultices – mixture of fresh dried or powdered herbs applied directly to a wound or problem area.
* Compress – cloth soaked in a water-based herbal preparation and applied to an affected area.
* Oils – herb infused in hot or cold oil over time.
* Essential oils – see the A to Z of aromatherapy oils.
To determine dosage, check recommended levels on the product and follow them carefully or consult a practitioner for advice. Also check to see whether the herb should be taken before or with food.
Herb effects may be altered if combined with prescription drugs. Always consult a practitioner for advice if you’re already taking medication.
Many herbs shouldn’t be taken while pregnant or breastfeeding. See the contraindications for each herb for further information.
This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Stephen Hopwood in April 2009.
First published in October 2002.