1. What is a liquid herbal extract?
A liquid herbal extract is a concentrated liquid containing an herb’s chemical constituents dissolved into a solution of alcohol and water. They are made by extracting (“washing”) the herb’s chemical constituents out of the inert herb fiber (cellulose) with a solution of alcohol and water. A good liquid herbal extract should optimally preserve the aroma, taste and biological activity of the herb from which it is made. Vanilla extract is a commonly known liquid herbal extract.
2. Are extracts made from fresh herbs better than ones made from dry herbs?
Many people assume that a fresh herb extract is superior to a dry herb extract, but this is not necessarily true; it really depends upon the unique biochemical, biophysical and energetic properties of the specific herb being extracted. While some herbs do indeed make a superior extract when extracted while still fresh and succulent (e.g., Shepherd’s Purse, Corn Silk), there are also many herbs which make a superior extract when extracted after the herb is dried (e.g., Hops, Grindelia). Also, some herbs are best extracted when semi-dried (e.g., Saw Palmetto),
or fermented (e.g., Wild Cherry, Sweet Clover), or some are toxic when fresh and must be dried and aged one year before they can be used safely (e.g., Buckthorn, Cascara Sagrada).
For thousands of years people have been successfully using hundreds of different herbs for healing, and while some are used fresh, the vast majority are used in their dry form. Remember that each herb has its own unique properties and therefore must be extracted accordingly. There are no universals when it comes to herbal extraction.
3. What is the purpose of alcohol in liquid herbal extracts?
The grain alcohol used to prepare liquid extracts serves three specific purposes. First, alcohol is the only edible solvent that will extract and preserve many of the naturally occurring herb constituents that are poorly soluble in water, such as essential oils, resins, balsams and many alkaloids. Second, alcohol is an excellent natural preservative, which maximizes the shelf life of the extracts. Thirdly, alcohol is a great carrying agent that facilitates the absorption of the herb’s constituents into the bloodstream.
4. Why is there so much alcohol in liquid herbal extracts and how much am I really taking?
The amount of alcohol in individual liquid extracts can vary from 20% to 90% depending on the herb being extracted and its content of alcohol and water soluble constituents. For example, to fully extract Cayenne’s alcohol-soluble pungent resins and orange-red pigments requires at least 82% alcohol. A Cayenne extract made with a lower amount of alcohol will contain smaller amounts of Cayenne’s resins and pigments, and therefore will be of lower quality than the higher alcohol extract.
The amount of alcohol you consume in a dose of liquid extract is actually very small. For example, taking 30 drops of Echinacea liquid extract (alcohol content of 45% to 50%) amounts to consuming 1/65th of a can of beer or 1/85th of an 8-ounce glass of wine. Also, if you mix those 30 drops of Echinacea liquid extract into 2 ounces of water, that mixture would contain only 0.59% alcohol.
5. Can I evaporate away the alcohol in liquid herbal extracts by mixing the extract drops into hot water?
A small amount of the alcohol can be removed this way but most of it will stay intimately mixed with the hot water and will remain so even if the water is boiled. That’s because alcohol and water are chemical
azeotropes and therefore are extremely difficult to separate once they
have been mixed. While adding extracts to hot water will not eliminate their alcohol, it can, in some cases, actually damage the extract. Many extracts are heat stable (e.g., Goldenseal) and adding them to hot water does no harm. However, other extracts are damaged by heat (e.g., Valerian) and can be weakened by adding them to hot water. Also, essential oils and other non-water-soluble aromatic compounds found in certain extracts (e.g., Lemon Balm, Chamomile) do not mix well with water and can therefore evaporate away from the hot water. Here you are left with a compromised extract, but the alcohol remains.
6. How many times per day should I take a dose of a liquid herbal extract?
Generally I prefer to mix the prescribed number of extract drops into 2 to 4 ounces of water. You can also add the drops to warm tea (not hot) or juice. Certain herbs, because of their stronger action, require more water and these have been so noted under “Dose” in this manual. For optimal results sip the mixed drops so you can savor the extract’s flavor and aroma, although you may not always like the taste.
7. How is the best way to take liquid herbal extracts?
Most of the doses in this manual recommend taking the extract “2 to 5 times per day.” Normally 2 to 3 times per day is sufficient in chronic, ongoing conditions (e.g., poor memory, varicose veins). However, 4 to 5 times per day may be needed in acute, immediate conditions (e.g., fevers, colds). In a condition like chronic asthma, 2 to 3 times per day could be used on an ongoing basis, but could be increased to 4 to 5 times per day when there is an asthma flare-up.
8. What is the proper dosage of liquid herbal extracts for children?
Unless otherwise noted, all doses given in this manual are for adults, but Clark’s Rule can be used to convert the adult dose to a child’s dose.
Divide the child’s weight (in pounds) by 150 to get the approximate fraction of the adult dose to give to the child.
Example: For a 50 pound child give 50/150 (or 1/3) of the adult dose. Therefore, if the adult dose is 30 drops taken 3 times per day, the child’s dose will be 10 drops taken 3 times per day (not 30 drops taken 1 time per day).
9. How many drops are in a one-ounce bottle of liquid herbal extract?
The number of drops in a bottle of liquid extract will vary depending on the viscosity (thickness) of the extract and its molecular weight. For example, one ounce of Goldenseal liquid extract contains 1,243 drops, Echinacea liquid extract contains 1,184 drops, and Comfrey liquid extract, which is very viscous, contains only 1,000 drops. In general, most extracts fall within the range of 1,000 to 1,300 drops per ounce.
10. How can I compare the dosage of herb capsules or tablets to the dosage of liquid herbal extracts?
Liquid herbal extracts are much easier to absorb and assimilate into the body than herb capsules and tablets. Herb capsules and tablets made from crude herb have to be digested (i.e., extracted) by the body before the herb’s chemical constituents can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Since many herbs are very woody, digesting and absorbing them can be very difficult, especially for people with health problems. Therefore, much of the capsule or tablet remains undigested and never gets absorbed. However, the chemical constituents in a liquid herbal extract have already been “digested” and can therefore be readily absorbed into the bloodstream. Because of these differences, liquid herbal extracts are a much more efficient means of getting the chemical constituents out of the crude herb and into the bloodstream where they can do their healing work. Because of the widely varying amount of hard-to-digest woody fiber in various herbs and the efficiency of absorbing and assimilating liquid extracts, I always recommend using the dosage listed on the liquid extract’s label or in this manual.
11. What is the story with “pyrrolizidine alkaloids” in Butterbur, Coltsfoot and Comfrey?
About 3% of flowering plants contain a group of chemical compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs); Comfrey, Coltsfoot and Butterbur are in this group of plants. PAs can have a toxic effect on the liver when taken orally in large amounts or for extended periods of time. The amount of PAs in plants can vary greatly depending upon the botanical species and variety, growing conditions, plant part, and time of harvest. Occasional, small amounts of PAs are harmless to the body, but they can be cumulative. Children, the elderly and those with liver disease are more easily harmed by PAs, and the fetus is particularly susceptible.
Because of safety concerns, Canada, Australia, England and several European countries have banned the sale of PA-containing herbs, although Germany and Switzerland do allow their sale if the PA level is less than one part-per-million (1 ppm). The PAs can be removed by a chemical-free process (ion exchange) which removes nothing from the extract but the PAs and 2 to 3% of its minerals. The quality of these PA-free extracts is not compromised by this process and they can be used without concerns about PA toxicity. To assure safety, only consume Comfrey, Coltsfoot or Butterbur extracts that are PA-free (i.e., contain less than 1ppm of PAs).
12. What were the sources of information used in writing this Therapeutic Herb Manual?
Besides the author’s many years of personal experience as a medical herbalist, much of the medical information about the herbs and herbal compounds in this manual was gathered from a broad array of ancient to modern texts on Traditional Herbal Medicine (THM). Unfortunately the conventional medical science community misunderstands THM as being only folkloric and anecdotal, and therefore they consider it unreliable. However, while traditional folk medicine has a lot to offer, THM has even more.
THM is a more reliable body of medical knowledge developed over centuries from practical clinical experience by professional medical practitioners, including medical herbalists, midwives, medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists and doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine, doctors of Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, doctors of Traditional Unani (Greco-Arabic) Medicine, and others.
The World Health Organization (WHO) supports the incorporation of THM in modern healthcare, and states that “Traditional use of herbal medicines refers to the long historical use of these medicines. Their use is well established and widely acknowledged to be safe and effective, and may be accepted by national authorities.” Unfortunately, although most countries of the world support WHO’s efforts with THM, the United States is one of the few that do not.
13. Has the medical information in this Therapeutic Herb Manual been proven by modern medical science?
While medical and pharmacological research has been done on the individual single herbs in this manual, most of that research is in vitro and few clinical trials have been done on herbs in humans. There are some exceptions, however, as with Saw Palmetto, Milk Thistle, Valerian, Ginkgo, Ginger, Echinacea, and others which have been proven by many clinical medical studies to be therapeutically effective.
While there have been many scientific studies on the individual herbs in the herbal compounds in this text, there have been only a few clinical studies on the compounds themselves. However, years of clinical use of these compounds by a broad array of medical practitioners have shown them to be safe and effective when used properly.