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Laura Perry, N.D. has retired from practice as a naturopath and herbalist after 14 years in the field. She now devotes her time to writing both fiction and non-fiction, as well as articles on natural health and holistic spirituality. Find her blog at agentleheart.blogspot.com or check out her author page on Facebook.


The American Holistic Health Association has compiled a collection of self-help articles to support your efforts to enhance your own health and well-being.

This article is part of the
article category
ENHANCING YOUR LEVEL OF WELLNESS
and the sub-category
NUTRITION AND SUPPLEMENTATION

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Herbal remedies in their many available forms may seem complicated, but the principle is a simple one. Your body views plants as food and utilizes them very efficiently, taking almost all the valuable active principles and organic compounds right into your body's cells. In contrast, your body does not recognize synthetic drugs as food and often utilizes only 5 to 10% of what you take in, leaving the rest to float around in your bloodstream and cause unpleasant side effects.

So, you ask, are herbs completely safe because they are natural? Absolutely not. Belladonna and nightshade are all-natural and highly poisonous. Also, please don't assume that you can safely take more than the recommended dose of any herb without unpleasant, or possibly harmful, results. But there's no need to fear herbs either; just be aware and informed about herbs and how they can help your body reach and maintain a state of wellness.

Herbal supplements are commonly available in several convenient forms; tinctures, capsules, and tea. Each of these forms has its assets as well as drawbacks. Being familiar with the different forms of herbal supplements can help you make the best choice for your personal use.

A tincture is an alcohol- or glycerin-based extract of the herb, usually packaged in a glass dropper bottle. Tinctures are convenient because they are highly concentrated so you take only a small dose, and they store well for long periods of time.

Glycerin-based tinctures are a convenient way to give herbs to children. The glycerin provides a sweet taste and the liquid is much easier for a child to swallow than capsules. Also, the small dose of a tincture (just a few drops for a child) will cause less disagreement than, say, trying to get a child to drink a whole cup of "funny-tasting" tea.

Most herbal tinctures include a dosage range on the label, usually 20 to 40 drops per adult dose. A "dropperful" is considered to be 35 drops, regardless of the size of the dropper. It is easiest to measure your dosage into a cup of tea or a spoon rather than trying to count the drops as they fall on your tongue.

Capsules are another popular form of herbal supplements. The dried herb is powdered and pressed into gelatin capsules. Capsules containing a combination of the whole herb plus a standardized extract provide the greatest effect. The whole herb contains all the organic compounds that help your body recognize it as food, and the standardized extract ensures that a standard amount of the most active principle is available in each capsule.

Appropriate dosage ranges are listed on the labels of herb capsule bottles. If you are taking herbal capsules for an acute illness, choose the higher end of the dosage range. If you are taking them as a preventive measure or to maintain wellness, choose a lower dosage. Capsules can also be opened and the powder sprinkled into drinks or on food.

Teas (technically, herbal infusions) are the oldest common form of herbal remedy and a soothing way to take herbs. An herbal infusion is made simply by placing a small amount of the herb in a cup, filling the cup with boiling water and letting it steep. Unlike black tea, which gets unpleasantly bitter if allowed to steep more than just a few minutes, herb teas increase in potency with extended steeping time and are best left to steep for at least 10 minutes. Covering the cup (a small saucer works well) keeps the steam in and keeps the tea hot longer. Note: Some herbal teas do get bitter with long steeping.

Many herbal supplements can be safely given to children, but often, children's dosages are not listed on supplement labels. For safety, never give a child any supplement labeled "not to be given to children" under a certain age. If you are uncertain about the safety of an herb for children, please consult a reliable resource such as "The Herb Book" by John Lust. If you are certain that a supplement is safe for your child, and the label does not include a children's dosage, use the following formula to calculate an accurate dosage.

Always base dosages on weight, not age. This applies not only to children, but also to smaller- or larger-than-average adults. A standard adult dosage is based on a 150-pound person. To calculate dosages, simply take the weight of the person and divide it by 150. This is how much of a standard dosage the person should take. For instance, a 50-pound child weighs 1/3 of a "standard" 150-pound adult weight, so this child would take 1/3 of the standard dosage.

People who are very inactive (some elderly, chronically ill or physically disabled people, for instance) should take a lower dosage as well. Due to their inactivity, these people's bodies will take a longer time to utilize the herbs and filter out any waste. Starting with 2/3 the standard dosage (based on weight, of course) will give these people's bodies plenty of leeway to use the healthy properties of the herbs without overburdening their systems.

Herbal supplements are available in several convenient forms and are safe and effective when used according to package directions; they are not mysterious at all, just a natural, healthy aid to achieving optimum health.