Living with Herbs
I always recommend using whole herbs and not extracts. White Willow Bark for pain, Green Tea, and Cranberries for urinary tract infection are just three examples. Let me explain why.
The medicinal effects of plants have been known for ages and all around the world – evidence bases, passing on the knowledge from generation to generation. Nowadays we know that there are active constituents in every plant that provide the medicinal efficacy. But using only these active constituents - extracted - may harm your body. Whole herbs mostly have other parts that counteract side effects.
Learn more and see examples.
It took chemical knowledge to find these active constituents that are responsible for the medicinal actions. The advantage of pharmaceutical knowledge is: Active medicinal agents in herbs are validated. We know these days which constituents are responsible for certain actions.
But: There are more constituents in a plant. Evidence based we learn in some cases that taking the whole herb means not having side effects the extracts have. All botanical constituents seem to complement each other. Extracting individual constituents may be harmful.
Therefore it is good to rely on pharmaceutical knowledge about herbs as well as evidence based experiences.
Let me give you a few examples.
White Willow Bark (Salix Alba)
White Willow Bark is the original source of salicylic acid and has been used for pain and fever for thousands of years.
There has been a lot of research and we know today that White Willow Bark – because of the active constituent ‘salicylic acid’ – relieves pain and soothes fevers and is an excellent remedy for arthritic and rheumatic pain, relieves inflammation and swelling, improves mobility in painful or creaky joints.
About hundred years ago Bayer extracted salicylic acid and synthesized it in order to patent ‘Aspirin’. Aspirin has side effects: It hurts your stomach and thins your blood.
Evidence based we know that the whole ‘White Willow Bark’ powder does not irritate the stomach and seems not to have other side effects. Obviously there are other constituents that counteract side effects.
White Willow Bark can be safely consumed when used appropriately in accordance with AHPA Botanical Safety Handbook. (www.ahpa.org)
Green Tea (Camellia sinensis)
Green Tea is the same plant as black tea. The leaves are processed in a different way that preserves the integrity of the nutrients, especially the polyphenols that are obviously responsible for antioxidant and medicinal activities of green tea. (The polyphenol in Green Tea ‘EGCG’ is under basic research for potential medicinal efficacy.)
Green Tea is consumed in abundance in China and highly appreciated for its medicinal value. Research suggests that regular Green Tea drinkers may have a lower risk of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer. Latest studies suggest the effect of Green Tea consumption on weight-loss maintenance.
And here comes the problem. The moment the industry knows and assumes benefits from a certain constituent in a plant, they extract it. ‘EGCG’ is used as ‘Green Tea extract’ in many dietary supplements, especially weight loss products. This is more like a drug derived from a plant. Recently there have been reports of Green Tea extracts harming the liver.
The moral of this story: Drinking Green Tea is good for your health (and recognized as safe by FDA), but don’t swallow capsules containing ‘Green Tea extract’. That may be harmful.
Cranberries have been used in Alternative Medicine to prevent and treat Urinary Tract Infections. There is some research going on, but so far we do not know exactly which constituents are responsible for this efficacy.
Since there is evidence, the industry has created pills you may swallow. These are sometimes made of dried juice, sometimes of dried skins, sometimes of both. It does not have to say on the label. Fact is: Latest tests show that not all cranberry supplements prevent urinary tract infection.
The whole genuine juice of cranberries is not delicious to every taste bud, but it works far better than pills. There is enough evidence that drinking just a shot glass of cranberry juice in the morning may not only prevent urinary tract infection, but maybe let you get rid of it for good .
Please let me know, if you have any further questions.
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It's easy and healthy using more herbs: 'Living With Herbs' is a blog giving little tips, recipes, and information on herbs.
Dr. Angela C. Fritz