What forms do herbal products come in?
A: The most popular herbal products in America are capsules,
softgels and tablets. Herbal teas, especially in teabags, account
for a substantial amount of the herbs consumed in the United
States. Herbs in liquid herbal extract form are also a popular
way to ingest therapeutic herbal products. Finally, herbs are
available in bulk form in some health and natural food stores.
Q: Which form of herbs offers the most therapeutic
A: The therapeutic benefits achieved by using herbs
depend on a variety of factors. For instance, does the herbal
contain all of the active constituents in ratios found in nature,
or have the constituents been altered? Is the herbal product
fresh? What is the shelf life of the herb? Has the herb been
processed in such a way to ensure that it will be effective
when you are ready to take the product? Does the product require
you to digest the herbs in order to get all of the benefits
from these herbs? Is it convenient to take? Is it affordable?
the product address the problem that you are trying to solve?
Of all the available forms of herbs, liquid herbal extracts
best address all of these factors. This is the reason that
herbalists recommend this form of herbs the most.
Q: What are liquid herbal extracts?
A: Liquid herbal extracts are herbs that have been processed
in such a way that their active constituents (ingredients)
are suspended in a liquefied medium, usually alcohol and water.
the alcohol is left in the formulation, an alcohol-containing
extract is the result. However, once the constituents
have been extracted, the alcohol in the extract can be removed
heat-free process to produce alcohol-free herbal extracts.
The alcohol-free herbal extracts are suspended in glycerin
to make alcohol-free
or suspended in olive oil to create a liquid herbal concentrated
extracts in softgels.
Q: Why are herbs in liquid herbal extract
form preferable over dried herbs in capsule or tablet form?
A: The success of herbal products as healing agents
is dependent upon how active their constituents (ingredients)
when you ingest them. For maximum therapeutic benefits,
therefore, it is important to take herbs in the form that
and preserves their active constituents. Liquid herbal
extracts achieve this, so they are the most therapeutically
form of herbs available on the market today.
herbs in tablet or capsule form are ground months prior to appearing
on store shelves. They lose many of their active ingredients
they are ground and while they are in storage. Herbal tablets
also contain fillers, binders and other materials necessary
ground herbs into tablet form. Tablets must also be dissolved
by the body's digestive system before the herbs can be assimilated.
Herbal capsules tend to be better than tablets because
they do not
contain the extra manufacturing materials and they dissolve
easily in the stomach. However, if the body is not digesting
well, the potential therapeutic benefits of herbs in tablet
and capsule form diminishes because the digestive system must
break the active
constituents free from the fiber and cellulose. Herbs in
capsule and tablet form also lose potency as they are exposed
(capsules oxidize more rapidly than tablets).
in liquid extract form, on the other hand, contain no fillers,
or "extra" ingredients so they
are immediately assimilated into the body. Nothing has
to be broken down or digested
in order for the body to absorb
them. In liquid form, the herbs are immediately available for assimilation
into the bloodstream, glands and organs. Even a person with poor
digestion and assimilation can enjoy maximum benefits from liquid
Q: You say herbalists recommend liquid herbal
extracts over other forms of herbs. Can you explain more?
A: Herbalists prefer liquid herbal extracts
over other forms of herbs for four reasons: freshness,
detailed in the previous answer, herbs in liquid herbal extract
form retain their
potency much longer than ground herbs in capsule or tablet
in many instances, using fresh [undried] herbs
is the only way to deliver the specific properties necessary
extracts start with fresh [undried] herbs that
are picked and processed the same day so that the active
Herbs found in capsules, tablets, teas and loose
herbs, on the other hand, must first be dried,
which saps them of the
necessary for healing. Freshness is also dependent
upon how herbs are ground. Super-cold (cryogenic)
grinding, done minutes
extraction of the herbs, is effective in preserving
all of the herbs' active ingredients because it
essential oils and degradation of active substances.
have long recognized that potency is not about isolating a single "active constituent".
Potency results from the interaction of many constituents
within each herb. Herbal products containing a full spectrum
constituents promote healing as well as the maintenance
of health. Liquid herbal extracts regardless of form, time
more bioavailable constituents than any other herbal supplements.
has proven that liquid herbal extracts bypass the digestive process
enter the bloodstream rapidly.
This makes them the most effective way for
body to absorb medicinal herbs. Once assimilated,
herbs start working in
your body within minutes.
herbal extracts can effectively deliver the healing power of
herbs at once.
experience shows those herbal formulas, comprised of
a combination of several
herbs, produce better results than single
herbs. In a formula, each herb is designed to support
manner that complements the action of other
herbs, and the systems they support. Well-designed,
the body's complete healing needs.
Q: How are the different forms of liquid herbal
A: Liquid herbal extracts are available
in alcohol-containing extracts, alcohol-free
extracts and liquid herbal softgels.
I advise consumers to pay attention to how
different brands of extracts are formulated.
give you the information you need.
most potent and effective extracts, whether they are in alcohol-factors,
or softgel form,
should share three important commonalties.
They should all start as alcohol-containing extracts
ensure potency. Second,
heat should not be used in their manufacturing processes,
as heat is detrimental to the potency of
liquid herbal extracts.
Third, all should
be produced in
such a way to ensure that the herbs contain their full
spectrum of active constituents.
alcohol-containing extracts are produced by subjecting herbs,
ground or powdered
form, to precise ratios of
water and alcohol
specified lengths of time. This is done in order to
capture the active constituents of those herbs.
Two methods yield the most
undried herbs are most potent when they are "kinetically
this method, herbs are first continuously agitated
in an alcohol and water solution for 12 to 24 hours,
then soaked in that same liquid solution for
a minimum of two weeks. For dried herbs, the active
ingredients are best extracted with the use of a special
called a "cold-extraction percolator".
Using this method, an alcohol and water solution is
poured over freshly ground dried herbs in the cold-extraction
percolator. Notice in both
no heat is used, since heat is damaging to the potency
of the herbs' active ingredients.
the most effective alcohol-free extracts begin
as alcohol-containing extracts per the process explained
Then, using a heat-free
vacuum process, the alcohol is removed. The removal
of the alcohol must also
be done without
the use of heat as it negatively affects the potency
of the extract. Next, glycerin is added to bring
to its original
it is important that a preservative be added to prevent
the growth of microbes. Citric acid, found in citrus
fruits, is a safe and
deliver effective potency, liquid herbal softgels must also begin
as alcohol containing
explained above. Then,
heat-free vacuum process,
the alcohol is removed. Olive oil is added to this
liquid concentrate to permit its encapsulation
into a softgel.
As an example,
a softgel is what normally
encapsulates vitamin E. A dropperful of active
constituents of a liquid herbal extract is contained in each
Q: Is it better to buy liquid herbal extracts
or softgels made from fresh herbs or dried herbs?
A: There is no simple answer
to this question. It depends on why
the herbs that
you are taking.
Stinging Nettle, for example, can be used
fresh or dried. If you need an herb
to increase mineral absorption in
body, dried Stinging Nettle offers
the most benefits.
other hand, fresh Stinging
optimum hayfever relief because once
this herb is dried, its hayfever-alleviating
properties disappear. Certain herbs
Blue Cohosh, Dong Quai, Goldenseal,
and Milk Thistle, are better dried
process modifies and
action. Other herbs, such as Chamomile,
Oat seed, Peppermint and Shepherd's
in order to preserve their delicate volatile
oils and other fragile constituents.
examples show that whether you
choose fresh herbs or dried herbs
goal you are trying
to achieve. Therefore, some liquid herbal extracts
and softgels are made from fresh
others are made from dried
some formulas, fresh and
dried forms are blended together so that you
get the best form of each herb for the
you are addressing.
is where an herbalist's
expertise in creating the most effective formulation
Q: Why are alcohol and water used to make
quality liquid herbal extracts?
A: Alcohol and water are
used because both of these substances
to ensure full
of all the active
ingredients of the herbs. Goldenseal best
this principle. Boiling
this root for hours in water will
extract its water-soluble properties
fail to extract
hydrastine, its main
Only alcohol will extract
this valuable constituent. The
alcohol content in different extracts
ranges from as little as 20 percent
to as high as 95 percent. The varying
needed for maximum
are determined by the properties
of the herbs. Vinegar and glycerin
as efficient extractive
Q: When the label says an extract has 70 percent
alcohol in it, does that mean the remaining 30 percent is herbs
A: No, it doesn't. One hundred
percent of the mixture in the bottle
let's say you
stir in one ounce of sugar into
four ounces of water. You still
it is now
sweet. The water is
now permeated with sugar, which
is no longer visible as a separate
analogy holds with
herbal formulations. If a
particular extract uses 70 percent
and 30 percent water to extract
and preserve the
herbs, both the 70
and the 30 percent water are imbued
with herbs. They
hold the herbs just as the water
in this example holds the sugar.
Q: I'm alcohol sensitive. How much alcohol
will I ingest in an average dose of a liquid herbal extract containing
A: Although some people
may be concerned about the amount
alcohol in alcohol-containing
herbal extracts, there
is little cause for worry. On average,
30 drops of an extract containing
70 percent alcohol
label on the bottle for
the percentage of alcohol) has
of alcohol as one ripe banana.
When we eat fruit, our
alcohol via the fermentation process
in our stomachs. The point I am
sensitive people do not
quit eating fruit. So if one dosage
is only a banana's worth of alcohol,
to most people.
I still feel that a ripe banana's worth of alcohol is still
too much for me. Is there any way I can get the maximum benefits
of a liquid
herbal extract AND avoid the alcohol?
A: Evaporating the alcohol out
of an alcohol-containing liquid herbal
best done on a dose-by-dose
basis by putting the dose in a hot
drink. Do not heat up an entire bottle
of herbs, as that would damage
herbs in the extract. Instead, add
as many drops
as are recommended
to a cup of boiling water, or,
if you wish, to an herbal tea that
minutes. Forty to 60 percent of
the alcohol will evaporate during that
In an extract
70 percent alcohol,
alcohol will be about the same
would find in a third of a ripe banana.
Evaporating the alcohol
manner does not
in any way diminish the effectiveness
the herbs in an alcohol-containing
extract. Or, you
all alcohol by taking an alcohol-free
extract, or an alcohol-free liquid
Q: Are alcohol-free extracts as potent as
A: As the market stands
right now, most alcohol-based extracts
are much stronger
The fact is that most alcohol free
extracts only contain a few active
constituents and, as such, they
not a good value for the money.
herbs in liquid herbal extracts made with alcohol are stronger
they have more
available to the user, and they
have a longer shelf life as well.
I was involved in compared
alcohol-free extracts of Goldenseal
to alcohol-containing extracts
of Goldenseal by measuring the
of two major active alkaloids
in each form of extract. The
study verified that there was a direct correlation
alcohol percentage and the level
The results showed that the lower
the percentage of alcohol equated
lower levels of healing alkaloids
in the extracts. In fact,
the alcohol-free extracts tested were so low
that they were practically useless.
you would need ten bottles
of an alcohol-free extract rated "Best" and
up to 256 bottles of an alcohol-free extract
rated "Worst" to equal
one good bottle of alcohol-based extract.
Q: Does this mean there are no potent alcohol-free
extracts on the market then?
A: No, the good news is
that one manufacturer, Herbs,
found a way to produce
extracts. Two main factors determine if
an alcohol-free extract is potent:
first, how are the active constituents
of the herbs extracted, and second,
When it comes to making alcohol-free extracts,
manufacturers are faced
with the question of how to effectively
extract the active constituents
of herbs and make
a potent alcohol-free
the same time.
Most manufacturers, therefore,
choose glycerin over alcohol
is that glycerin does
not effectively extract the active
constituents, as the study
cited in the last question verifies.
Capitalizing on these findings,
Herbs, Etc., Inc. uses
alcohol in the extraction
of herbs for
its alcohol-free extracts. A
second problem arises if heat
in the removal
of alcohol to
extracts as heat destroys the
active constituents. Herbs, Etc.,
found a way around
these two issues using alcohol,
not glycerin, and then removing the alcohol
by a vacuum extraction, (not
recent study conducted by a renowned Canadian
in Echinacea analysis
confirms the effectiveness
Etc., Inc.'s manufacturing process. In the
study, Echinacea angustifolia
extracts were analyzed both
for water-soluble constituents
(caffeic acid derivatives) and alcohol-soluble
the extract made by Herbs,
Etc., Inc. was three to 20 times stronger
any other leading
second finding indicated that this new alcohol-free
had the same
per volume of
water-soluble and alcohol-soluble
constituents as the
best alcohol-containing extract.
Q: I have read about herbs that are "standardized".
What is standardization?
of herbal products occurs
amount of one "active constituent" in an herb is artificially
manipulated to be at a certain level. In the last few years there
has been an ongoing trend in the herbal industry to "standardize" herbal
products. This phenomenon is occurring principally because of
two strong influences. First, medical doctors are being drawn
to herbs by patients who are growing uncomfortable with synthetic
drugs. Patients are requesting products with fewer side effects
but with equally effective natural properties. Coming from an
orthodox, pharmaceutically-driven framework, doctors feel more
comfortable when they can recommend products that have "active
constituents" in measurable and consistent amounts.
Thus, they are encouraging the standardization of herbs.
in response to pressure from medical doctors to bring
herbs in line
with how drugs are standardized, some herb companies
are developing such products.
Q: Is the standardization of herbs valid
in your opinion? Does it increase the healing potential of herbs?
A: In my opinion,
standardization runs counter
to the holistic
view that each herb
is an ecosystem
all of its parts to heal and balance
our bodies. I strongly believe
instances, using whole
herbs is superior
fragments of herbs. In support
of this point
of view, I point to the issues
that are outstanding in the
The biggest problem with
standardizing herbal products
becomes apparent when one looks at
the constituents found in
any given herb. Just which
herb's numerous constituents
should be chosen
as being the
effective one? The truth
is we do not know what the active constituents
are in 98 percent of the herbs
on Echinacea illustrates why the question
of "Which one of the
many constituents is the active constituent?" is
still unanswered. In the late 1970s and
the early 1980s, researchers concluded
in Echinacea had many immunostimulating
activities. Based on this research, European
standardized their Echinacea products to
achieve a specific
amount of polysaccharides (usually labeled
as echinacosides). Subsequent research
revealed that alcohol soluble constituents
more effective in supporting
the immune system than the polysaccharides.
It doesnt stop there.
Year by year, new Echinacea compounds
have been isolated and identified.
overview of the process of trying to
standardize Valerian also provides another
case in point.
First, it was thought
were the active constituents of Valerian.
But when essential oils alone were administered
to people, only partial
therapeutic results were achieved. Then it was thought
that valepotriates were the active
until studies revealed
only partial results again.
Still later, valerenic acid was thought
to be the active
ingredient. More studies, same results.
The irony is that each testing
process actually supports the fact that
the whole herb gives better results
than any fraction of the herb.
second issue that comes up as to whether
standardized herbs are the way
to go is
that the standardization
of a few effective
to be possible for all herbs. Yes,
there have been a handful of standardized herbal
be effective in certain situations.
For instance, Milk Thistle with standardized
silymarin levels is
effective for serious liver diseases.
However, if one is using Milk Thistle
a liver protectant, a whole seed liquid
extract protects the liver just as
a standardized extractat a fraction
of the cost of a standardized extract.
In addition, the whole seed contains
many other innate substances
in the standardized product that help
support the healing of the liver.
successful standardization of about
a half dozen herbs (Bilberry, Ginkgo,
Grape Seed extract,
Thistle) is simply
to all herbs, or applicable for all
their uses. Remember that in over
of herbs, we simply do not know what
the active constituents are. Key
questions that emerge out of all
these research projects include: "To
which active constituent should an
herb be standardized?" and "Does
standardizing certain constituents
in herbs make them better products?" The
answers are still inconclusive.
Q: How long do herbs in different forms retain
Form Shelf Life
Whole dried Leaves
Whole dried Root
Liquid Herbal Extract Softgels
Alcohol-free Liquid Extracts
Alcohol-containing Liquid Extracts
at least 7 years
This chart points out that the more an herb is ground or reduced in size, the
more rapidly it will lose its beneficial properties. In general, whole
herbs tend to retain their medicinal properties or "shelf life" longer
than other forms of herbs. This chart also shows that liquid herbal extracts
maintain a longer shelf life than other forms of herbs. Once the herbs
are extracted in a liquid medium, very little evaporation, oxidation
or degradation of active constituents occurs.
Q: How should I care for my liquid herbal
extracts or softgels to keep them fresh?
A: For optimum shelf life of alcohol-free or alcohol-containing
extracts, including softgels, I suggest a three point approach.
First, keep your liquid herbal extracts away from sunlight/windows.
Second, keep your extracts away from hot temperatures, such
as storing them in the glove compartment of your car in the
Especially softgels, as they will dissolve. Third, keep bottle
caps firmly closed. Unopened bottles of alcohol-free liquid
herbal extracts have a five-year shelf life. Once opened, it
that alcohol-free extracts be used or discarded within six
months. This precaution is necessary to prevent bacterial contamination.
This six-month shelf life for an opened bottle of alcohol-free
extract can be extended by another six months if you refrigerate
extracts, opened or unopened, have a shelf life of at least seven
years if the recommendations
made above are followed. Refrigeration is
not necessary. Softgels will last five years, opened or unopened. No refrigeration
Q: How can I tell if a liquid herbal extract
has gone "bad"?
A: In my experience with alcohol-containing liquid
herbal extracts, it is rare for extracts not to last for
they are stored properly. With alcohol-free liquid herbal
extracts, the product should contain citric acid, a natural
preservative. Should the product
not contain a preservative
such as citric acid, smell the product. If the product has a musty odor
or seems to have any growth, immediately discard the product.
Even with a citric
acid containing alcohol-free product, discard the product within six months
of opening it or after one year if the product has been refrigerated.
Q: Does it matter if the herbs I take are
A: As an herbalist concerned about our environment,
I strongly recommend that herbal consumers choose certified
choosing organically cultivated herbs helps lessen over-harvesting
of herbs in the wild. For example,
and Goldenseal, among other herbs,
are facing extinction unless we start cultivating these plants. Second,
certified organic farmers make sure they have crops year
after year by not compromising
their land for short-term gain. Therefore, by buying organic, you support
renewing the land. Third, certified organic farmers are
inspected by a third-party certifying
agency, insuring that the farmers utilize sustainable, chemical-free
and pesticide-free farming techniques. This means that organic
herbs truly support your healing
as well as help preserve the health of our planet.
Q: What should I look for when I buy liquid
herbal extracts or softgels?
A: 1.) Look for sufficient alcohol amount and cold
processing. Be aware of the production process that the
herbs have gone
through. Choose alcohol-containing extracts with a minimum
of 20 percent
alcohol. The alcohol acts as a preservative and prevents
contamination of the herbs by fungus, bacteria and viruses.
higher than 20 percent are needed to extract many different
herbs. For example, Milk Thistle and Cayenne need at least
alcohol in order to extract the active constituents. Echinacea
and Goldenseal require 70 percent while herbs like Peppermint
and Chamomile require a much lower alcohol percentage.
When extracts are made from whole herbs ground cryogenically
minutes prior to extraction, no constituents are destroyed
by friction-induced heat during the grinding process. Cold
kinetic maceration for fresh herbs or cold process percolation
for dried herbs yields more active ingredients in finished
extracts than in herbs processed by using other methods.
alcohol-free extracts or softgels, make sure that the extract
was originally extracted with alcohol, then the
alcohol was removed with the use of low heat.
Citric acid should be added as a natural preservative. When choosing
softgels, ensure that the extraction was done using alcohol
and that the alcohol
was then removed.
Buy organically grown herbs. Choose herbal extracts made from
certified organically grown herbs when
When certified organically grown
herbs are not available, choose wild harvested herbs picked in regions
not exposed to pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers.
Choose liquid herbal extracts in formulas. The formulas listed
on this web site are available in alcohol-containing
extracts, alcohol-free extracts and liquid herbal softgels, and
have been blended,
tested and approved by Medical Herbalist, Daniel Gagnon.