How to Shop for Herbal Supplements
|By Petra Trudell, Managing Editor on Thursday, January 9, 2014|
|Herbal supplements can make great alternatives to common medications and can help supplement proper diet and exercise. Learn what to look for when shopping for herbs.||
Herbs have been used for centuries to relieve particular ailments and support longevity in both men and women.
You may have heard of popular herbs like ginkgo, ginseng, echinacea or hawthorn, but do you know the right way to shop for them? Don’t let herbs overwhelm you -- with these tips, you’ll get exactly the product you want and need each time.
What to Do First
If you’re considering using herbal supplements alongside of or in place of medications, the first thing you need to do research. There are plenty of books available and online resources (like this blog!) to help you get the information you need.
Once you’ve decided which herbal supplements you’re interested in, seek the advice of your primary care physician, or any doctor you go to for a specific condition. They can help you decide if the herbal supplements will be safe for use with your current medications or in place of them. You can also reach out to a naturopathic physician, who can help you determine the right combination of herbs for your specific needs.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn't take herbal supplements without first speaking with their doctor, just like those with existing medical conditions.
Forms of Herbal Supplements
Herbal extracts are available in dried form or liquid form. It's up to you which method you prefer. You can find herbal extracts sold individually or in combination for a particular benefit.
First of all, supplements can be made by freeze drying or drying the herbs and processing them with heat to form tablets. Once in a powder form, they can also be put into capsules. Tablets and capsules are a quick, tasteless way to add herbs to your routine -- many choose these for convenience.
Herbal extracts are also available in liquid form, either with alcohol (grain) or with a natural base like distilled water. They can be added to beverages and food or simply taken on their own. People who dislike pills often choose liquid extracts, but they can have very strong and bitter flavors. They can also be easier to digest and enter the bloodstream more quickly.
Reading the Nutrition Facts
When looking at the nutrition label for an herbal supplement, you'll probably see the common name of the herb and/or Latin name. For example, ginkgo would be also be listed as Ginkgo biloba. The next piece of information will be which part of the plant the extract was taken from. It could be the root, leaves, aerial parts, flower, berry or even the whole plant. The potency of the extract may also be listed as a ratio, like 4:1, or in milligrams, so you know how much you're getting.
Below this information will be any additional ingredients used in the supplement. If it's listed within the nutrition facts table, it's an ingredient meant to enhance the herb's benefits. One example of this is black pepper, or bioperine, which is known to enhance absorption. There may also be additional vitamins or minerals.
Underneath the nutrition facts table will be any other ingredients used in the product. This may include a base, like those found in liquid extracts or the contents of the actual capsule the herbal extract is encased in, like gelatin (animal product) or vegetable cellulose (vegetarian). You may also see filler and binder ingredients. These ingredients are often included to help form tablets or preservatives and may also be left behind by the manufacturing process. These include magnesium stearate or silica and aren't known to be harmful. However, you can find supplements without them if you prefer.
Follow these guidelines to be a smart shopper when selecting herbal supplements. Check out our entire selection at eVitamins and let us know which products you like best!
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