By Nicole Telkes, Practicing Herbalist about.me/herbcrafter
Director of the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine Austin Texas
Buying herbs can be tricky: Herbs are regulated through the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). Just because the industry is regulated, doesn’t mean that everything on the shelf is of the highest quality or even what it says it is. In general it’s good to ask a lot of questions when it comes to purchasing supplements. Many formulas on the market are “kitchen sink” style, where everything natural that could possibly work is thrown in hopes that something may work. Buying herbs from trained herbalists is very different from buying herbs from the herb industry. The amount of energy and love that goes into making fresh, hand-picked extracts is immeasurable and cannot even be compared with large herb companies (oftentimes now subsidiaries of pharmaceutical companies). Whenever possible, support small herb companies, local herbalists and local herb growers. The herbs you obtain from smaller suppliers will most likely be fresher, more potent, more sustainably harvested and include weedy, local herbs that are not often found in the market or large health food stores. Just because something is “natural” does not make it safer or better. Herbalists are able to distinguish when and what herbs may work better for an individual and amend recipes to an individual’s unique situation. Take care to purchase Organically Grown herbs, or those grown in pesticide-free gardens. Make sure that any herbs that you buy that are “wildcrafted”(taken from the wild) are picked under strict conservation guidelines. Over harvesting of many popular market herbs have led to them being placed in “At Risk” or “Threatened” status by United Plant Savers, a group dedicated to the conservation of medicinal plants . It is very important to know where your plants came from and use as many weedy alternatives to exotic plants that are brought into the country. Many times herbs coming from overseas are irradiated upon entering the country. A great website that gives information on additives and preservatives, and levels of toxicity for is the Environmental Working Group at www.ewg.org
Dried Plants: Look for vibrancy in the plant matter, good color, and strong smells. Old herbs look and smell worn out. Sometimes if they are dried at the wrong temp(too high) they will be a little brown.
Tinctures: Should smell more like the herb then the menstruum it is preserved in. Dark colors and deep and pungent in smell. The color will vary between green, brown and black. Different plants need different percentages of alcohol to extract. Make sure the plant was extracted properly based on its constituents.
Oils and Salves: Should also vary in color and smell. Salves should vary from green to brown in coloration. Sediment ensures there were actual infused plants in the blend.