In the ever-growing market of herbal medicine, it’s getting more difficult to decide what herbs to buy. When companies come out with new products that seem better than other brands, how does the consumer decide which product is best? For the average herbal consumer, the world of herbal medicine is made even more confusing by the constant release of contradicting studies, along with the addling advice of know-it-all friends. We asked some leading herbal professionals what herbs they take, how they take them, and their tips on choosing what’s best for you.
Herbs in teas, cooking, and tinctures
Randy Kidd, D.V.M., believes in the power of herbs. Kidd, author of the “Pet corner” column in Herbs for Health, holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and veterinary and clinical pathology, and practices holistic veterinary medicine. He takes an experimental approach when using different herbs.
“I take one week a month to really learn one herb—I try to use it in everything,” he says. “I take it at various times of the day in varying amounts. The idea is to see how this one herb affects me individually.”
Kidd does not take his herbs in capsule or tablet form because he doesn’t feel that pill forms take full advantage of an herb’s potential. Most of the herbs Kidd uses are in teas and in his cooking. The most common herbs in his teas include licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), burdock root (Arctium lappa), nettle (Urtica dioica), and echinacea (Echinacea spp.). Kidd enjoys cooking with garlic (Allium sativum), turmeric (Curcuma longa), sage (Salvia officinalis), and oregano (Origanum vulgare).
Kidd buys most of his herbs in bulk from Frontier Herbs, a company located in Norway, Iowa, because nearly all of their products are organically certified and he feels that Frontier has the best quality control in the country. He is currently test- growing several culinary and medicinal herbs to see what grows best in his soil and climate. Kidd is attempting to organically certify his thirty-acre farm and in the future wants to develop his own line of herbal products.
Some people need herbs to help their bodies keep up with their busy schedules. Mindy Green, an herbalist, aromatherapist, writer, and esthetician consults for companies in the natural products industry as well as directing education programs at the Herb Research Foundation in Boulder, Colorado. She takes herbs to promote her own good health.
“I like to use herbs preventively, supporting the body before it creates a specific condition,” she says. Green home-grows her own nettles and eats them as a steamed green or dries them for soup in the winter. Green also has a daily habit of drinking 1 quart of her special bone-building and osteoporosis-preventing tea blend. Her recipe consists of equal parts of nettle, oatstraw (Avena sativa), horsetail (Equisetum arvense), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), and red clover (Trifolium pratense). She uses 1/4 cup of the dry herbal mixture to 1 quart of water, steeps the tea for one hour, and drinks the mixture throughout the day. For premade products, Green uses Herb Pharm’s Super Echinacea tincture or tablets and Sambucol elderberry (Sambucus nigra) extract from Nature’s Way for colds and the flu.
Aviva Romm, a certified midwife and clinical herbalist, says, “I’m more of an occasional herb taker. I’m generally pretty healthy. I don’t use a lot of herbs on a daily basis.” Romm, the executive director and director of education and certification at the American Herbalists Guild, mainly uses herbs in cooking and teas. When she feels a sickness coming on, she uses black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) tincture for aches and either elder or spearmint (Mentha spicata) tincture for cold symptoms. She tends to use the Herb Pharm brand of these tinctures.
Among the herbalists we surveyed, teas and tinctures are popular forms of ingesting herbs. Brigitte Mars, herbalist and author of Natural First Aid (Storey, 1999), makes a tea with nettle that she harvests from her own backyard. She likes her home-brewed tea because of its numerous health benefits.
“I use it because it is rich in minerals such as iron and calcium. It nourishes the bones and kidneys and makes me feel great,” she says. Mars is a believer in the power of herbs and exclaims, “I have used herbs for everything!”
Herbalist Amanda McQuade Crawford uses herbs as an educational tool. “There isn’t any one herb I take every day, no more than I eat the same food day in and day out. I take plants to learn about them as well as to improve my health. I only take herbal products I make myself,” she says. Crawford has a degree in phytotherapy and is a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, a member of the American Herbalists Guild, and founder of the North American College of Botanic Medicine.
Potent herbal supplements
Logan Chamberlain, Herbs for Health’s editorial director and the author of What the Labels Won’t Tell You: A Consumer Guide to Herbal Supplements (Interweave, 1998), has relied on herbal medicine for more than fifteen years and believes herbs have the power to heal. “The doctor can’t make you well,” Chamberlain says. “It’s up to you to make yourself well, to take charge of your own wellness.”
Chamberlain’s daily regimen includes Gink-Gold, a ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) standardized extract from Nature’s Way, and Nature’s Way milk thistle (Silybum marianum) standardized extract.
With more than twenty-five years of experience with medicinal herbs, and a specialization in Ayurvedic, Chinese, and North American healing traditions, frequent Herbs for Health contributor Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa uses a few herbs regularly himself. He uses such herbs as turmeric (Curcuma longa), guggul (Commiphora mukul), and uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), all manufactured by Herb Technology, which sells only to professional herbalists for clinical use.
Matthew Hamm is a senior at Colorado State University and is the editorial assistant for Herbs for Health.
James A. Duke, Ph.D. (read more about him on page 50), is the author of Dr. Duke’s Essential Herbs (Rodale, 1999) and is an editorial adviser for Herbs for Health. He preferred to add his input to this article through song.
Duke’s Geriatric Dozen Song
(TO THE TUNE OF “LAY THAT PISTOL DOWN”)
The only herb I take, on every single day
Cel’ry lowers uric acid, and keeps the gout away.
The drug it costs a whole lot more—the allopurinol
Cel’ry does it just as well; it really works, y’all.
Feel them coming on—bronchitis, colds, and flus?
I’ll take echinacea, it’s the herb I always choose.
I also take the garlic—almost every day
The grandkids kinda shy away, but it keeps the germs at bay.
I often memorize my lines; But sometimes I do not
That’s when I take my ginkgo, but—YOU GOT IT—I forgot!
Bilberries, blueberries, craisins, and grapes, the vine that’s called vitis
That’s where we get the raisins to master maculitis.
Travel is bedraggling, and airports such a mess!
That’s when I take my kava, to mellow down the stress.
Zoloft is more often used, but old Saint John’s is best
It puts you in a better mood with fewer side effects.
Prostate glands will grow when old age comes along,
That’s when I take saw palmetto, and don’t tinkle all night long.
Synthetic drugs they can disturb your vital synergies
But hawthorn is a gentle herb to prevent the heart disease.
Celebrex may have killed some men, but not me—what, me worry?
When my arthritis starts kickin’ in; I just up my dose of curry!
Turmeric’s anti-arthritic, and has its saving grace:
Like Celebrex, it inhibits cyclooxygenase.
And if you’re overliving, there’s one herb you should choose
Milk thistle saves the liver from the mushrooms and the booze.
Compression stockings are atrocities, I prefer horse chestnut pills
To slow down varicosities better than drugs will.
We often talk in alphabets, EPO and GLA
Will help to put to rest the BPH and the PMS.
I’ve been taking evening primrose, two decades more or less
And almost everybody knows, I ain’t got PMS!