Herb Basics

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Dong quai
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Extracts: Measuring Up

Have you ever wondered how much you’re really getting in a dropperful? There’s no easy answer because accurate measurement is difficult when using drops. For example, water forms a larger droplet than an alcohol tincture, therefore a larger dose per drop. This means that twenty drops from one extract may not provide the same volume as those from another extract, depending on the glycerin content, sediment, and manufacturer’s design. The size of the bottle can make a difference, too; two-ounce bottles have longer droppers that contain more liquid than droppers from one-ounce bottles.

The following list of equivalent measures can help you make sure your dose is consistent from time to time and product to product. All measures are approximate.

• 10 ml water–275 drops
• 10 ml alcoholic extract–440 drops
• 4 ml–1 teaspoon
• 1 dropperful–1 ml–1/4 teaspoon
• Dropper from a one-ounce bottle–30 drops
• Dropper from a two-ounce bottle–40 drops
• A one-ounce bottle holds approximately 29.5 ml, 7.4 teaspoons, 29.5 droppersful, and 1,000-1,200 drops.

So what does this mean? At a dose of one dropperful, three times daily, a one-ounce bottle would last approximately ten days. At a quantity of twenty drops, three times daily, a one-ounce bottle would last approximately fifteen days.

Adapted from:

Unite and Conquer

Synergy–it’s a term used to describe the magic of a dynamic duo, or a collaborative group when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s also used to describe medicinal herbs. Synergy, or combined action, may explain why some herb combinations have broader benefits than each herb alone. It may also explain why some herbs seem to work better as whole plants containing several compounds rather than as ­single-compound extracts.

Pharmaceutical or over-the-counter drugs are generally targeted to have a specific action in the body. Herbs, with hundreds of chemical constituents in a single plant, can have many effects at once. Knowing the chemical components and their actions in isolation doesn’t tell you much about the activity of the plant itself.

One of the best-known examples of synergy in action is ­dandelion. Many diuretics can deplete the body’s store of potassium. But dandelion contains both diuretic compounds and significant amounts of potassium, which creates a balancing effect in the body. Also, the cardiac glycosides that are potentially toxic in foxglove are tempered by other compounds in lily of the valley, making the latter preferred by herbalists for treating heart conditions. (Use only under the supervision of a trained professional.)

You may also see the term synergies applied to targeted formulas that combine herbs or essential oils for specific healing purposes.

Angelicas: Healing Herbal Cousins

More than fifty species of angelicas spread across the globe. Several have longstanding reputations as prized healers, with different species having widely varying uses. In many cases, all parts of these medicinal angelicas–roots, stems, leaves, and seeds–carry healing chemicals.

Angelica archangelica: Angelica. Roots and leaves are used medicinally for ailments ranging from colic and indigestion to bronchitis and debilitating chest conditions. Also used in candies and to flavor liquors.

A. sinensis: Chinese angelica, dong quai, or dang gui. This sweet, pungent herb is the main tonic in Chinese medicine for regulating menstruation and strengthening the female reproductive system.

A. atropurpurea: American angelica. Has similar properties to A. sinensis, ­although it’s less aromatic.

A. dahurica: Fragrant angelica, or bai zhi. A Chinese herb used for headaches and aching eyes, nasal congestion, and toothache.

Focus on the Adrenals

You may have seen ­­products touted as “adren­al tonics” and remedies for “adrenal exhaustion.” Not all of them are based in a solid understanding of the adrenal glands, though, so here’s a quick primer to help you sort out facts from fads.

The adrenal glands are located just above the kidneys. Each has two parts: the medulla (the inner part) and the cortex (the outer part). In stressful situations, the medulla releases hormones into the bloodstream to prepare the body for fight or flight by increasing the heart rate, raising blood pressure, and stimulating breathing.

Long-term stress can exhaust this system. Herbs called adaptogens–including Siberian and Asian ginseng–directly support the medulla. Bitter herbs such as gentian and nervines such as oats or St.-John’s-wort provide more general support.

The cortex secretes different hormones. Herbal remedies can impact the ­cortex in a variety of ways. Ginseng is a general stimulant. Licorice is a common adrenal tonic in large doses it can lead to potassium depletion, although this is a rare ­occurrence.

Herbs and Skin

Herbs and skin are a natural pairing: the aromatic plants are a sensual treat for our largest sensory organ, and skin is a selective barrier, allowing some of the herbs’ healing properties to penetrate.

Here are suggestions on supplementing your daily skin-care routine with herbs.

Cleanse with herbs that contain foaming saponins, such as oats and yucca, and antimicrobial herbs such as thyme and sage.

Exfoliate with abrasives such as ground peach pits, date pits, and powdered parsley or by using naturally occurring acids from parsley, chamomile, and lemon.

Tone to restore the skin’s natural acid mantle. Witch hazel is a common tonifying astringent, and volatile oils in herbs such as lemon verbena and roses have a similar toning effect.

Replace and rebalance oil and moisture with aloe gel, mullein flowers, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and calendula ­flowers.

Masque occasionally to reach impurities deep in the pores; masques can be made using oats or by mixing various herbs with natural clays, yogurt, or honey.

Hoffmann, David. An Elder’s Herbal. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts, 1993.
Quatrochi, Kathlyn. The Skin Care Book. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1997.
St. Claire, Debra. Pocket Herbal Reference Guide. Freedom, California: Crossing Press, 1992.

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