Buying Herbal Supplements

Dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it is up to you (and your doctor) to be fully aware of what you are putting into your body. Familiarize yourself with the following tests, which will help you determine a product’s quality and potential effectiveness. Every herbal supplement you take should pass each test. First check the side of the product’s packaging for the applicable information. If the facts are not there or are unclear, you can call the company or visit its website. If the answers to your questions remain unavailable after checking these sources, avoid the products of that company. After all, most companies that properly examine their products will make the results easily available to their customers. USANA manufactures the pharmaceutical quality nutritional supplements; USANA HealthPak provides the full daily dose of the top-rated USANA Essentials (Mega Antioxidant and Chelated Mineral) and also includes Active Calcium™, a core USANA Optimizer and AO Booster™ for added antioxidant protection. People choose to buy USANA Vitamins because the entire product line is made with more care and with higher quality ingredients than others on the market.

Authenticity

Only buy herbal supplements that have clearly labeled lists of ingredients and amounts. Unfortunately, these lists are not always reliable. Some companies use visual clues to label the herbs in their products, which can lead to mistakes because many herbs look alike. Dishonest companies may even knowingly turn a blind eye to this problem, due to the high cost of certain medicinal herbs. More reliable companies use tests, such a technique called thin layer chromatography (TLC), to scientifically identify the product’s compounds and verify that the correct herb is being packaged.

Potency

A supplement’s potency refers to its concentration of active ingredients. This detail is very important. After all, low potency usually means that the product will provide you with no results – and some herbal supplements are very expensive. There are tests the company can perform to determine a product’s potency. One such test is the high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), which separates and identifies the product’s molecules. You can perform your own potency test. Drop an herbal supplement into a glass of water and watch what happens. The herbs should dissolve. An herb that doesn’t dissolve will probably not be well absorbed by your body.

Purity

An herbal supplement is not pure if it contains any extraneous material or if its composition has been altered in any way. You can request that a company provide you with laboratory certificates ensuring that its product’s purity has been tested. Examining and tasting the product may allow you to determine its pureness. The following are some examples of qualities that would suggest your supplement is impure.

• If it has a gritty texture when chewed, it probably contains improper ingredients.
• If it is darker in color than usual or tastes particularly bitter, the herbs may have been burnt – which destroys the active materials and their effectiveness.
• If it tastes sweet or is sticky to the touch, a high percentage of the supplement may be made with sugar rather than the proper ingredients.

Safety

It is very important that the safety of a product has been thoroughly tested. Some companies do not perform these tests. Other companies perform these tests on a random sampling of their products. The companies from which you should buy herbal supplements have tested every batch of herbs they are putting on the market. When a product passes this inspection, the company is usually given a Certificate of Analysis (COA). You can request proof of this certificate before purchasing a company’s products.

Using Herbs

There are a variety of different ways to utilize medicinal herbs. Experiment with each of the following options before determining which you will use regularly.

Compresses

You can make a compress by soaking a clean cloth in an herbal solution. Wring it out to remove the excess liquid. Then apply the cloth to your body. If you have a specific pain, apply the cloth to that area of your body, such as your head or back. The herbs will be absorbed into your skin and your blood vessels will transport them through your body.

Decoctions and infusions

A decoction is an herbal solution. To make one, first break up pieces of bark, nuts, roots, or seeds of a plant. Simmer (cook just below boiling point) the pieces in water for fifteen to thirty minutes, keeping the pot or kettle covered. Then strain the plant pieces from the water.

An infusion is similar to a decoction but is made using the flowers, leaves, or stems of a plant. Also, the pieces are simmered in water for only ten minutes. (Again, keep the pot or kettle covered. Then strain the plant pieces from the water.)

These herbal solutions can be stored for up to two days in the refrigerator. They can be used to make compresses or drinks.

Extracts

Herbs are available as extracts – concentrated forms obtained by mixing herbs with a solvent such as alcohol and/or water. The potency of an herbal extract is expressed a ratio. For example, tinctures, which are made using a water and alcohol mixture as the solvent, are usually made at a 1:5 concentration. This means that there is five times the amount of alcohol and water than herbal material. A fluid extract is usually 1:1. A solid extract is usually at least four times stronger than the same amount of fluid extract and forty times as potent as a tincture if produced from herbs of the same quality.

Poultices

A poultice is a mixture of herbs applied to a cloth with oil or warm water. The cloth is then placed on your skin for relief from inflammation or soreness. You may want to reheat it when it cools off. Poultices are usually effective for twenty-four hours.

Tablets and capsules

Herbs can be bought in tablet or capsule form. You can either take them with a glass of water or dissolve them in hot water before drinking. Many people consider tablets and capsules to be the most convenient way to take herbs.

Teas

You can make herbal tea by cooking herbs in boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes. Then, allow the herbs to steep in the water for five minutes. You can add honey for flavor but do not use milk. Although most herbs become less powerful when boiled, these teas are often helpful for daily invigoration and wellness. Most people find it beneficial to drink one cup of herbal tea, three times a day. It can be drank hot or cold. To change the taste, experiment using more or less plant pieces.

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