Let me guess – you’re attracted to the idea of healing with herbs, but find they just are not that effective? Maybe you are already committed to living a holistic lifestyle, eating organic foods and avoiding environmental toxins, but when it comes to medicine, the many herbs you’ve tried feel like a hocus-pocus approach to healing. They just don’t work.
I’m here to tell you, I know what you’re going through! Until I learned what I know now about the complexity of sourcing herbs, I felt powerless in my quest to heal holistically.
But here’s what I learned about herbs that changed my life…
Quality means everything when it comes to effective herbal medicine. Unfortunately, just like our food supply, people often make purchases based on the lowest price or because they are mislead by what’s on the label.
We must purchase food for its nutritional density, not price. The same goes for herbal medicine. You get what you pay for. Now, does this mean go to the store, buy the most expensive product you can get your hands on and all will be well?
Nope. The next question to ask is: who is behind the company? Who formulated the products? This is just as important as knowing your farmer when you buy your food.
The harsh reality is this:
When a company makes an herbal product, there is a rarely an herbalist behind the scenes creating the formula. Similarly, when a study is done to test the quality and effectiveness of that herbal medicine, there is rarely an herbalist on board giving their input. This dynamic causes two major problems.
To begin with, we’re not asking the right questions, such as do we have the right plant part? Sometimes I browse the retail section of health food stores just to see what’s happening on their shelves, or maybe a client brings me their supplement regimen. I am amazed at how many products aren’t even using the right plant part.
We’re also not asking what the quality is of the starting plant material. Whether you’re making a tea, purchasing a water and alcohol extract, using a powder or a tablet or capsule, your plant medicine is only as good as the starting plant material. Most often herbal products contain dried flowers, leaves, berries, roots, and/or bark. The rule of thumb is that it must resemble what that plant looked like when it was alive.
So technically, drying an herb is the act of removing moisture, while retaining all the medicinal properties, right? But think about this drying process. What if the person uses too much heat? The heat will suck out the medicine leaving you with brown plant material that used to be green, or tan flowers that used to yellow. What if the environment is too damp and takes too long to dry? Then, you have mold.
Can you begin to see the complexity of making good quality herbal medicine?
I didn’t even mention the fact that where and how the plant is grown matters. Any farmer of herbal medicine will tell you that one of the biggest challenges is creating the right environment for an herb. Plants, just like us, are stronger when they are stressed. If you over-tend an herb, it will have weak medicine, just like over-parenting a child will result in a weak spirit.
On this basis, you would think that wildcrafting, i.e. going out into nature and harvesting the herb from its native habitat would be desirable. But if the wildcrafter fails to be a steward of the land, then the entire species of plants can be threatened through overharvesting, not to mention there is risk of inappropriate plant identification.
One of my herbal teachers used to say: “You take what you need and when you stand back to look at where you harvested the plant material, it shouldn’t look like you took anything.” Good advice, but this approach takes a level of consciousness that is likely to be absent when someone is being paid to harvest plant material for money.
So after you have the right part and the quality has been preserved, then you have another question to ask: how do I make good medicine out of this herb? Would it be most effective as a tea? Or do I need to make a water and alcohol preparation?
The medicine of some herbs likes to come out in water, others in alcohol. This has to be taken into account. I must also mention that it is very important to make herbal medicine that has the whole herb present. Many companies boast of their standardized herbal extracts. They pull the active constituent out of the plant and give it in high amounts. This reductionist approach can be appropriate - sometimes. But generally speaking, there is more power in the whole herb than a part of it.
Finally, there is the issue of dosage: is there enough herb in this product to get the job done?
If you buy herbs from a store, instead of from a professional trained in the use of herbal medicine, then you often end up buying what herbalists call a “kitchen sink” formula. These formulas contain a bunch of liver herbs or a bunch of digestive herbs or things to calm your nervous system or give you energy.
By trying to cover all your basis with one product, the herbal medicine gets diluted, and it loses effectiveness. The whole scene is very unfortunate. “Everything but the kitchen sink” formulas will not have enough herbal material to get the job done, nor will it be targeted to shift the physiology in a meaningful way. The shotgun approach rarely works in herbal medicine.
Think of it this way. An herb has a personality just like you do. It has a certain way of being in the world. Who you partner that herb with matters, just like whom you partner with in life matters, right? The people you hang out with bring out certain aspects of yourself. I am different hanging out with my family then I am at work. I am different going to a professional training, than I would be hanging out with friends at a restaurant. My essence would be the same, but I would behave differently.
So it goes with herbs. Plants have personalities just like we do, and putting them into a formula requires a certain expertise. An herbal formula could turn into a bar fight where the plants just cancel each other out! Or as I was saying earlier, maybe there’s so much going on in the formula that you can’t even find the plant, just like you disappear in a large group of people at a concert. The effectiveness of the herb can get lost when there are too many herbs in a formula.
You want an herbal formula that brings out the best in the plants being used. Just like you want to be in an environment that brings out the best in you.
I prefer sharp shooters when it comes to herbal interventions. In other words, let’s aim to get the job done. Let’s make it worth our while. That plant gives up its life for us. Let’s have some respect when we transform it into medicine.
Is your mind ready to explode? Do you see that herbal medicine is not a casual encounter? Knowing what you know now, do you really think that buying herbs at a drugstore is going to facilitate meaningful change in your body and life? Probably not. You deserve more and so do these precious plants.
So what to do now? I’m going to share with you who I trust in the realm of herbal medicine, both globally and locally. I am going to point you in different directions and then you can decide which path is right for you.
Purchasing high quality bulk herbal material is just like buying food: know your farmer! I do everything I can to purchase herbs from these two vendors. They know how to grow, harvest and dry the plant matter:
Zach Woods Farms
Heartsong Farm Healing Herbs
Other options include purchasing from a large vendor. These are a few of my favorites, depending on what I’m looking for:
Oregon’s Wild Harvest
Now, we get to the good stuff…professional herbal product lines.
These herbal products are available through trained health professionals, which has its advantages in terms of quality and consistent clinical results.
I discovered MediHerb in 2006 when my teacher made the comment that Kerry Bone, the founder of MediHerb, makes the best herbal medicine in the world. I signed up for an account the next day and have not stopped studying this company’s formulation since that time. MediHerb comes to us from Australia and I have had the honor of visiting their facility and witnessed the integrity of this company first hand. They have an expert in the raw materials department who has spent decades working with vendors to get the highest quality herbal material possible.
Then, MediHerb devotes one entire section of their facility to the science of asking this question: do we have the right plant and plant part? Then, they say, great, the plant made has made it this far: now is it worth a damn? And another team of people come together to make sure the plant has the phytochemical profile that will get the job done. I want to be transparent with you – Mediherb represents the bulk of the herbal products that I use in my practice because they are the best of the best.
I have heard stories where MediHerb tries a new vendor and the first batch of plant material passes with flying colors. But the second batch fails. MediHerb tests every single batch, leaving nothing to chance. They uncover adulteration in the market place where some herbs are being died to look like good quality plant material. Given the complexity I described earlier, you can see how this can happen!
Let me highlight the difference between high quality and drugstore herbs.
I want to tell you about two herbs that I tried on the retail market before discovering MediHerb. I share this because I didn’t think that either one of these herbs were for me, but as it turns out, there were quality issues at hand. First, was an experience I had with Rhodiola rosea. This is an adaptogenic herb that supports a healthy stress response, along with offering nervous system and immune support. After a week of taking it, I realized that there was a problem. I was revved up. I was working non-stop 16 hour days. I wasn’t sleeping well, and I got hot flushes a few times each day to the point where people would ask me if I was ok. My face was beet red. I could see that something was not right, so I stopped taking it and told myself – no more of that herb. Until I tried a rhodiola product from MediHerb and none of that happened. I felt a sense of wellbeing and relaxed, not stimulated to the point of no return.
Then, there is Piper mythisticum, also known as kava, which is a key herb to support a healthy nervous system and stress response. I have tried a lot of kava over the years. I would often get headaches. Sometimes, my body would get really heavy and my mind would race. It was very uncomfortable. And often, I would just feel depressed and have a generally unpleasant experience. Based on my past experience with this plant, I was hesitant to try MediHerb’s kava product. I shouldn’t have been hesitant at all. This is the luxury car of kava. I have never had an adverse reaction to their product. It is what the kava experience should be: a relaxed feeling of alertness and sociability. It’s wonderful. I use it very frequently.
I said this earlier but it is worth repeating: ensuring the quality of plant material, making the medicine in the right way, and taking enough to get the job done are the issues at hand. MediHerb makes using herbal medicine easy and effective. They make their medicine with a cold-percolation technique over the span of one to two weeks. This is like making drip coffee using room temperature water for days. They never apply heat and know exactly how much water and alcohol to use in the process. They preserve the presence of the whole herb in their final product, just like Mother Nature intended.
MediHerb has simplified the very complex task of making good quality herbal medicine. I feel very blessed to work with these leaders who respect both traditional knowledge of plants and the gifts of modern science.
If I cannot get what I need to from Mediherb, then I will also use Galen’s Way and Blue Heron. I know the people behind these companies as well and they do good work. Galen’s Way has an incredible herbal skin care line called Riot of Roses.
In terms of the retail market, I would trust the following companies:
While People’s Pharmacy is not a line of herbal products, I feel compelled to mention them. This is a store in Austin, Texas with four locations that carry good quality herbal medicine and has trained health professionals working in the wellness department. When I first landed in Austin, I worked at the Lakeline store for about a year and learned so much.
There are also local herbalists here in Austin, Texas and the surrounding area who make good medicine and teach the appropriate use of herbs. Studying local herbs is an essential part of herbal medicine, and something that I hope to do more of in the future.
Niki Telkes with the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine
And then of course, there is ME!
I hope that this thread has some useful information for you. The use of herbal medicine has been a physically and spiritually transformative practice in my life. I want more people to have access to these amazing tools. Herbal medicine is Nature’s medicine. Just like good food, your body deserves the best herb it can get!