Choosing Herbal Products: There are many herbal products and cures available, selecting herbal remedies takes a little bit of thought. With the advent of more and more natural food stores, more herbal goods are commonly accessible.
Herbs are used in many types of products, and they can be taken orally or used topically. Specific herbs have specific uses or cures associated with them. These are uses that have come to be known over years of use and handed down from generation to generation.
In recent times, scientific studies have been done which prove that certain herbal cures work for specific illnesses.
Topical herbal remedies are available in several forms. These are forms used for external use.
Salves are healing preparations that are applied to the skin. They are generally thick creams that last a long time on the skin, helping to keep moisture in. Salves have protective qualities that shield the skin from harsh effects of sun and wind. Popular salves are those made with calendula, St. John’s Wort, and comfrey.
A poultice is a traditional preparation of fresh or dried whole herbs. The herbs are mashed into a pasty consistency and applied topically to the affected area. Herbs can be moistened and heated and then applied to the skin. Poultices are the way your great-grandmother would have applied herbs and it’s still a useful method today. A crude method, poultices are great for instant use and can use parts of the plant that aren’t normally used, such as the root and stems.
A compress is similar to a poultice. Fresh or dried herbs are mashed and combined with water to make a paste. The paste is then applied to the skin or put into a small bundle, often in fabric, to be held against the skin.
Infused oils are made by combining herbs with oil, usually extra-virgin olive oil, and heated on a slow heat. The mixture is then steeped for at least two weeks, then strained and put into jars. Oils can be used for skin irritations and is commonly used as massage oil.
Similar to salves, ointments are thicker in consistency. They are used topically on the skin and are particularly good for minor skin irritations and burns.
Ingestible herbal remedies are taken orally. These include various forms.
Infusions are the most common way that people take herbal remedies. An infusion is a preparation that uses water as a solvent to mix with crude botanicals. The mixture may start out hot or can be a cold mixture. Usually, hot water mixtures infuse the herbs more readily and are therefore made hot and then cooled down for use. The mixture is steeped, rather than boiled. That is, it is let to set in the hot water for a period of time, depending on the type of herbs that are used. Infusions are generally the weakest of the herbal preparations.
A decoction is similar to an infusion because water is used. However, a decoction uses water to boil the herbs and then squeezes them into a container. That “juice” is more concentrated than an infusion and is twice as potent. In prepared decoctions, alcohol is used as a preservative. Otherwise, the decoction would spoil rapidly. Decoctions are often used as additives in prepared foods or drinks.
Similar to decoctions, tinctures are prepared by allowing herbs to sit in liquids for long periods of time to solubilize them. Herbs are stored for weeks to months in dark glass containers containing an ingredient that will make them soluble. That may be water, vinegar, alcohol, or glycerin. The herbs break down in the liquid and dissolve. The remaining mixture is strained or pressed. Tinctures are often used added to foods or drinks.
Similar to tinctures, syrups are a thicker liquid. These are most often taken alone as a remedy. Syrups generally have higher concentrations of herbs and care should be taken to follow the directions properly.
There are a number of pre-made herbal teas on the market these days. There are also tea bags that come in a variety of herbal mixtures. These are so common that they are available at any regular supermarket. Tea is actually a form of infusion.
Capsules or Tablets:
Next to Herbal infusions, capsules are the next most common way for taking herbs. Supplements are available in tablet form for almost any herb known. These are ingested in the same way you take aspirin. They dissolve in the stomach and get into your body.
Things To Keep In Mind
When you are choosing herbal products there are some things to keep in mind. First, make sure you understand what you want the product to do. Read the label. Sometimes there are additional ingredients that may be unnecessary for your ailment. Always choose a product that most closely identifies with your disorder.
Smell the product. That will tell you how much of the herb is actually in the product. This is especially true with creams and salves. If you can’t smell the herb, then chances are that there is may not be enough of it in the product to help you. Or it may not be fresh enough. Because herbal products are not governed the same way as food products, the user must take more caution in purchasing and using these items. Check for an expiration date on the item.
To keep herbal products good always store them in a cool, dry area. Also, try to store them in a dark area. Light often will break down the mixture and will change the strength. Many products come in dark containers to help keep light from affecting the herbs.
If you have herbal products that you haven’t used in awhile, always smell them before using them. If they smell rancid, they have probably gone bad. Although this won’t affect the topical cures, you certainly don’t want to ingest herbal mixtures of questionable freshness. Most products manufactured by large companies have a long shelf life. However, homemade products may last only weeks to several months. Keep homemade products in the refrigerator to make them keep longer.
Know what you’re taking and why. Even though the products are herbal and natural does not mean that they are all safe. Interactions can occur and you should be aware of these possible interactions before taking any herbal remedy.
Purchase your herbal products from a reputable source. Health food stores and many drug stores carry herbal products. Your local health food store will be able to answer many of your questions as they are trained in this area. If you buy herbal products over the Internet, be sure that the company is reputable. The FDA or any other agency does not control herbal products, so the quality can vary greatly between brands.
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