How To Choose the Best Herbal Supplements For Your Health

Herbs are among life’s simple pleasures. If you’re like most people, you enjoy the fragrance and flavors of fresh or dried herbs. You might also be interested in the nutritional value, medicinal value or general health benefits associated with the consumption of different herbs. You could also be a little confused.

Because of today’s global marketplace, you have lots of different choices. Having different choices is a good thing but it can be confusing. When it comes to herbs, your choices include fresh and dried varieties. You can choose different herb parts. You can buy tinctures, teas, powders or concentrated extracts. Many herbs are available in the form of capsules to be taken as general health supplements. What’s the difference between all of these forms? Is one type that much better than any other?

The purpose of this web page is to take some of the confusion out of shopping for herbs. Here, you can learn about the advantages and disadvantages of the various forms of herbs on today’s market. You’ll learn what to look for when comparing herbal products, how to find the highest quality products and which form of the herb to choose for your main purpose, whether your purpose is creating a flavorful meal or improving your health.

There really is an herb for every purpose and there’s usually more than one purpose for every herb. Volumes have been written about the unique properties of different herbs. These are some basic guidelines that apply to herbs in general. Let’s start by looking at the different parts of the herb.

The Importance of the Part: Seeds, Leaves, etc.

Plants have many different parts. Each part may be useful for different purposes. For example, the leaves of most herbs can be eaten raw, as a part of a salad. The individual part of a plant might not have any medicinal value but all parts of the plant have at least some nutritional value.

If the herb is to be used as a flavoring or a fragrance, a different part may be used. Well-trained herbalists are aware of which part of the plant to use for a specific purpose. The better supplement manufacturers usually consult with or have an herbalist on staff to guide their decisions when they are buying bulk herbs. That the manufacturer chooses the correct part for a tincture, powder or supplement is a measure of quality.

The table below lists some popular herbal remedies, their uses and the active part of the plant for that particular herb. Both the common and the botanical names are given because common names sometimes refer to many different plants.

Herb-Common Name Botanical Name Uses Active Part
Lesser Periwinkle Vinca Minor Stress Relief Leaves
Green Tea Camellia Sinensis Support heart health Leaves and stems
Turmeric or Curcumin Curcuma Longa Anti-aging Tuber
Ginseng Panax Ginseng Energy tonic Root
Chasteberry Vitex agnus-castus Hormone balance Berry/fruit
Milk Thistle Silybum Marianum Liver tonic Seed
Red Clover Trifolium pratense Digestive health All above ground parts

As you may be able to see from this chart, an herbalist or supplement manufacturer must be very knowledgeable if they want to provide a safe and effective herbal product and those are just a few of the herbs they need to know about! As a consumer, you need to be able to have confidence and trust in the herb supplier. We’ll talk more about suppliers you can trust later. First, let’s settle the fresh vs. dried debate.

Fresh vs. Dried Herbs - Which is Better?

Most of the different parts listed above can be purchased in fresh or dried form. The parts are also used to make tinctures, teas, powders and single-ingredient or multi-ingredient capsules. Concentrated extracts are derived from the different parts. A tincture, powder or capsule may contain a concentrated extract, although that is not always the case.

There is a little controversy about whether fresh or dried is best. There are proponents on both sides. In truth, having some fresh herbs to add to a salad or cooked dish is nice, but dried herbs can provide the same flavor, aroma and health benefits, as long as they are not stale. The main advantages or disadvantages of dried and fresh herbs are summarized in the table below.

Fresh Herbs Dried Herbs
Only fresh for a few days after harvesting Longer shelf-life – go stale after some time
Specific herbs can be harder to find in fresh form Easier to find – can be purchased online
Need more for cooked recipes. More preparation (slicing, dicing, cutting, etc.) may be required. Need less for cooked recipes. No preparation may be needed depending on the herb.
Pure in flavor Drying may change the flavor slightly
More fragrant Crushing releases fragrance
Most natural form Only form available in some cases
Difficult to determine dosage when using for medicinal purposes Form used most often for making herbal remedies and medicinal teas

The rest of this page is devoted to the different forms of herbal remedies on the market today. It is something of a shopping guide to help you figure out “when you want what”. The best uses for each of the forms are included near the end of the description.

Herbal Teas For a Relaxing Health Boost

Herbal teas have been around for thousands of years. They were among the first medicines prescribed by traditional healers. Drinking an herbal tea may calm you down, give you a boost, detoxify your body, improve your memory, relieve the symptoms of a cold or provide some other benefit.

There are several advantages of drinking herbal teas as compared to other beverages. They are caffeine-free, sugar-free and more hydrating than sodas.

The main advantage of herbal teas over the other herb forms is that you get to enjoy the pleasant feelings associated with drinking a cup of tea. There may be disadvantages if you are looking for a specific health benefit. Since the herbs are closer to nature, the makeup varies. That makes it harder to determine a correct dosage.

There may also be disadvantages associated with low quality products. You can avoid those disadvantages by looking for an experienced provider that offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee. You can’t judge a product by looking at a box or a picture online. You have to be able to try it.

Remember that the shelf-life of the dried herbs used to make teas is not unlimited. Buy only what you think you can use in a reasonable amount of time.

Best ways to use: Drink occasionally. Sip it slowly. Relax and enjoy!

Herbal Powders To Mix or Add

Powdered herbal extracts vary in terms of quality and content. The best powders are “standardized extracts”. A standardized extract takes the guess work out of taking herbs. The natural variation in the plant’s content, which equates to a variation in nutritional and/or medicinal value, is evaluated using scientific methods. The extracts are more similar to modern medicines in that you know you are getting the right amount of active compounds in each dose.

Powders are usually concentrated, although this depends on the manufacture. With concentrated powders, you can get the desired benefits with a smaller amount. This is something to consider when you are comparing prices. If a powder seems to be really cheap, it is probably not concentrated.

The advantages of powdered extracts over other forms also depend on the manufacturer. Assuming the extraction method is a good one and the process is monitored for consistency, the advantages may include more predictable results. Some people feel there is a disadvantage related to ease-of-use when powders are compared to some of the other forms listed below. On the other hand, some people like the powders. It’s something of a personal choice.

Best ways to use: Mix into a fruit smoothie, add a teaspoonful to your morning bowl of oatmeal or mix with your afternoon yogurt.

Essential Oils - Perfumes & Scents

Essential oils are concentrated plant fragrances. They have been considered valuable since the distillation process was discovered hundreds of years ago. Today, they are used in aromatherapy. They are a natural alternative to chemical-laden perfumes. Some work well as massage oils and all can be used to add a natural fragrance to your bathwater.

Essential oils cannot be compared to the other herb forms listed here. They are distinct in that they are used for specifically and solely as fragrances. They are not to be taken orally.

If you have never used an essential oil, you should be sure to choose a manufacturer with a satisfaction guarantee. Some people have allergic reactions to certain fragrances. In general, essential oils are far less likely to cause allergic reactions than synthetic chemical fragrances.

Best ways to use: Dab behind the ear and on the wrist instead of perfume. Use with aromatherapy accessories to enjoy the natural fragrances throughout your home.

Concentrated Extracts Come in All Forms

Concentrated extracts may be in the form of powders, described above, or in the form of tinctures, described below. As mentioned in the powders section, the main advantage of the concentrated extract is to be able to get the desired results with a smaller amount. Concentrated extracts may also be found in single-ingredient or multi-ingredient capsules.

Tinctures Are Liquid Form Herbal Extracts

Tinctures are basically liquid herbal extracts. Certain herbs, such as black cohosh and burdock root, have traditionally been used in the form of tinctures. Dosage recommendations vary but usually you use just a few drops either dissolved in another liquid or placed directly on the tongue.

It is extremely important that you choose a reputable manufacturer when you are buying tinctures. There are few qualified herbalists in today’s world. Even those who are qualified typically source their tinctures from a supplier with the equipment needed to verify content and purity. Tinctures are exactly like medicines and should be taken only as directed. Heed the warning labels and buy organic whenever it is available. Tinctures are usually root extracts and roots absorb any toxin present in the environment.

Best ways to use: Use as recommended by your doctor, naturopath or herbalist.

Single Ingredient Capsules

Single ingredient herb capsules are an alternative to powders and tinctures. They typically contain a concentrated extract, although that depends on the manufacturer.

Most people feel the advantages of capsules include:

·       Ease of use. It’s like taking a vitamin supplement.

·       No mess. Powders and tinctures can be messy.

·       No guessing. Getting an exact dosage of a powder or tincture can be tricky.

In addition to these advantages, some herbal extracts are only available in capsule form. Chasteberry extract, for example, is not typically sold as a dried berry.

The disadvantage of single ingredient capsules comes up when you wish to take several different herbs or nutritional supplements. You could end up taking 6 or more capsules per day. There is the risk of interactions between different herbs, just as there are interactions between different drugs. If you decide to take single-ingredient herbs of several kinds, check with an herbalist or do your own research to find out about any possible interactions.

Best ways to use: This really depends on the ingredient but most are taken daily as a part of preventative medicine. For example, cranberry extract capsules are frequently taken by people who experience frequent urinary tract infections or UTIs. The extract may help prevent UTIs.

Multi Ingredient Capsules

Multi-ingredient capsules are the best choice when you would like to enjoy the health benefits of a variety of herbs. These multi-ingredient supplements are created by manufacturers familiar with the effects of different herbs and how they interact with each other. The staff has knowledge concerning the synergistic effects when herbs and/or individual nutrients are combined. The synergistic effect means that the ingredients provide more benefits when taken together than would be expected if they were taken individually.

There is really no disadvantage associated with the use of multi-ingredient capsules, as long as you choose a good manufacturer. There have been cases where multi-ingredient supplements were banned by the FDA because they were believed to have caused health problems. The underlying cause of the problem was not the herb itself. Some of the products contained dangerous ingredients, such as the natural form of the banned diet pill fen-fen. Others contained ingredients that were not listed on the label, such as prescription drugs. The rest were contaminated with some kind of toxic compound.

So, when you look at the causes of health issues related to multi-ingredient capsules, you realize that the common cause is either a poor manufacturing process or an unethical manufacturer.

Best ways to use: Most can be taken daily as dietary supplements. They may improve your health in many ways, as long as you choose a good brand.

Where to Find the Highest Quality Single Ingredient Herbs

Throughout this guide, we have mentioned the importance of quality when you are shopping for herbs. Quality control is a big problem in the herb and supplement industry. It is entirely up to the manufacturer to provide a quality product. The industry is largely unregulated. This means that the only way to be sure you are getting the highest quality is to buy from a trusted provider.

Over the years, we have purchased herbs from a number of different companies, both from traditional stores and online. While we found some good products, we were also disappointed in the quality more than a few times. When we did have issues with the quality of an herb, we found that the sellers were reluctant to help resolve our problems. Suffice to say that buying herbs was often frustrating until we found Starwest.

Starwest Botanicals has been selling herbs, spices, extracts, capsules and essential oils since 1975. We found the company about 10 years ago and we’ve been buying from them ever since. The 100% satisfaction guarantee, the easy return policy and the huge selection were among the things that encouraged us to place that first order. Over the years, we have never had to make a return and we’ve always been satisfied.

Because of that, we believe that Starwest is where to go to find high quality herbs on a consistent basis.

You should be able to find any herb or spice that you want in just about any form that you want at Starwest Botanicals. 

Where to Find The Highest Quality Multi-Ingredient Supplements

There is no doubt that herbs are wonderful but they cannot provide all of the nutrients your body needs to thrive on a daily basis. We believe that optimizing nutrient intake helps people live longer, healthier lives. Our foods are simply not as nutritious as they once were. Regardless of how healthy your diet may be, you cannot get all of the nutrients you need from the foods that you eat.

In our search for the highest quality multi-herb, multi-nutritional supplements, we found Xtendlife.

Xtendlife specializes in improving health through optimized nutrient intake. Their Total Balance supplements contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, cofactors, enzymes and a variety of herbal extracts. The supplements are designed to address a number of common health problems, especially those that occur later in life and are believed to be related to years of inadequate nutrient intake.

Taking a totally balanced supplement on a daily basis may be more effective, more cost efficient and safer than taking dozens of different single-ingredient supplements. We have been taking Total Balance supplements for over 10 years. Whether you are interested in general health and wellness or you have a specific health concern, Xtendlife can help. That’s where we go to find the highest quality daily supplements.

Related Articles:  What Do We Take and Why?

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