I recently went to visit a local Chinese Herb shop to get an herbal ‘tune-up’. Many years ago, I found a great chinese herb shop and whenever I felt rundown, I would get my pulse read by the old resident herbalist and he would write out a prescription for the pharamacist to combine together and grind up. I would then boil the ground up herbs and drink a cup twice a day. I always felt like a million bucks afterwards and I recommended them to all my friends and family. Unfortunately, the place burned down one night and I never saw or heard from them since. I haven’t been able to find a good herbalist since.
Anyway, I tried out this new place and when I went to pick up my herbs, I got a bunch of packets of powder I was supposed to mix into a cup of hot water and drink. The herbalist told me this was the new way to dispense herbal prescriptions. I didn’t really like this, but decided it was worth a try.
Extracts have some merit. Always make a note if you are dealing with a raw herb or with an extract. Extracts are just that..alcohol or water or some other chemical extraction of the chemicals in the herb. Extracts are very potent and come in varying strengths such as 5:1, 10:1, 100:1 etc. Extracts are usually standardized to contain a certain percentage of the known active chemical, which I guess makes it more like a drug, but guarantees you are getting a standard and expected dose. As an example, I don’t think 500 mg of powdered gingseng is going to have much effect on anyone, but 500 mg of a powerful ginseng extract certainly could.
The problem with extracts is that they could be missing important chemicals that are not understood or known that are vital. I always felt a water extract would miss chemicals that were not water soluble or an alcohol extract could miss ingredients as well. But I’m not a chemist, so I’m not really sure about that. I’ve noticed really powerful effects from extracts (which I’ll go into detail in future posts) so I know they work. At the same time, I’ve had great effects from boiling bulk herbs too. I can’t really think of a good experience with a raw powdered herb off the top of my head, I think they are largely ineffective because the dosage is so small.
In either case, one is probably not always better than the other and each will have it’s place. For now, just make sure you know what you’re dealing with and what you’re paying for. Read those labels to see if you’re getting an extract or just a few milligrams of a powder.
Oh, and my experience with that new herbalist was terrible. I don’t think mixing individual extracts of the herbs into hot water is the same as the raw herbs. I didn’t feel better, in fact I felt worse and threw the rest out. I’ll never go back there.
By the way, and this is a topic for another post, I don’t think the herbs we get now are anywhere near what they used to be in the ‘old days’. But I digress…