FAQ: About Herbs and Their Use


I have never used herbs before where do I begin?

A reliable herbal reference is a good place to start. It should describe in simple terms what the herb is used for, suggested dosage, as well as any appropriate cautions. Some of the most popular guides are listed here:

Are herbs safe?

When used in moderation and according to the manufacturer’s recommendation, herbs can be a safe alternative to chemical drugs, which often have numerous and toxic side-effects.

However it is important to remember: follow directions on the labels when using herbs. Almost anything taken in excess can cause side-effects. Most reported problems with herbs have been due to overuse or misuse.

Well-known author, Dr. Earl Mindell cautions:

"Just because herbs are natural substances doesn't mean that they can be used indiscriminately. Herbs can be strong medicine. Before trying any herbal remedy, be sure you know what it does, how to use it, and the possible side effects. Never exceed the recommended dose."

Do herbs work?

For millions in Europe, Asia and other countries where herbal medicine is standard treatment in their healthcare systems, the answer is a resounding "YES!"

Here are a few key points to keep in mind when using herbs:

  • DO NOT expect the activity or immediate response of a drug.

  • Results vary with each person, but improvements can generally be seen within a week. Chronic problems usually take longer.

  • Make sure you purchase herbs from a reliable source like Penn Herb Company, since quality can vary greatly.

Can I use herbs with my prescription medicines?

It is recommended that you ALWAYS check with your healthcare professional before using herbal medicines. For some suggestions on known interactions, please see the Penn Herb Wellness Guide:

A to Z Index of Vitamin & Herb Interactions
A-Z Index of Medication Interactions

But what if my doctor doesn't believe in herbs?

Whether your doctor agrees with your choice to use herbs or not, it is always a good idea to let him or her know what herbal remedies you are taking.

The good news is that many progressive physicians now recognize the value of alternative therapies, including the use of herbs. Many major hospitals now have alternative and complementary treatment centers available to their patients.

If you would like to find an herbalist or naturopathic physician in your area, the following websites may be helpful

Why do herb labels not say what ailments and conditions they are good for?

Perhaps you read in your herbal guide that a certain herb is used for colds; yet when you read the label it says something like "Promotes immune function". Why is that? The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulates what manufacturers are allowed to say on product labels. We are not permitted to say an herb cures or improves any condition that the FDA considers to be a disease, such as "colds", "cancer", "diabetes" or "high blood pressure".

While this can be very frustrating for you as the consumer, it is very important for us to follow these guidelines so that we can continue to provide you with the herbs and supplements you need.

Reliable herbal reference books are a good place to find information on herbs and what they're used for.

What is the difference between wild crafted and organic herbs?

Wild crafted herbs are grown and harvested in their natural habitat; organic herbs are grown in an controlled environment.

Penn Herb offers wild-crafted herbs. We've been in the herb business since 1924, and have long-standing relationships with our herb farmers and suppliers who follow strict ethical harvesting methods.

What is the difference between a standardized herb and a whole herb?

Standardized means that the active compound or component believed to make the herb effective is extracted, measured and sometimes concentrated, then packaged in a capsule, tablet or liquid. For example, curcumin is one active compound found in the whole herb Turmeric. Research shows that an exact dose of 95% of that particular compound curcumin, supports joint health. Therefore, a standardized Turmeric capsule will deliver 95% curcumin in each dose.

A whole herb supplement is carefully dried, milled to powder, measured by weight (usually milligrams) and encapsulated. ALL of the herbs' compounds remain intact - nothing is removed, isolated or concentrated. For example, our whole herb Turmeric capsules contain 700 mg of Turmeric powder, which naturally contains the active compound curcumin, plus oils and other compounds. The whole herb Turmeric supports joint health, as well as liver health, digestive health, healthy cholesterol levels and more.

Are standardized herbs better than whole herbs?

There is no definite answer, and even herbalists are split on this issue. Consider the facts for yourself.

Standardized supplements:

  • Ensures a consistent amount of an effective active ingredient

  • Guarantees that a herb will produce the desired effect

  • Can be measured exactly to be used in clinical trials, such as is the case with Ginkgo flavones and St. John's Wort hypericin

Whole herbs:

  • Have been used effectively and safely for thousands of years

  • Contain dozens of compounds, which often have synergistic health benefits

  • Usually have fewer side-effects, since whole herbs are generally less concentrated

In order to accommodate the diverse needs of our customers, Penn Herb Company offers both standardized preparations and over 400 top quality whole herbs.

What is the best form to take? Tea? Capsules? Liquid extracts?

The form you take depends on your personal preferences and circumstances.

Capsules:

  • Convenient

  • Ideal if taking an herb with an unpleasant taste

  • Provides higher dosages than tea

Liquid Extracts:

  • Easily absorbed, which is especially beneficial if you have digestion and absorption issues

  • Faster-acting (most extracts are highly concentrated)

  • Easy to use, simply add to juice or water

Tea:

  • Provides immediate, comforting relief. For example, hot Ginger tea instantly warms and soothes indigestion

  • Natural health author Laurel Vukovic also notes: "Teas are excellent for treating urinary tract infections, because the fluids help to flush the bladder."

What is the difference between the various forms of herbs?

Penn Herb Herb Forms

Whole (W)

Cut and Sifted (C)

  • Used for making teas - the herb is cut in small pieces and the dust is sifted out. This produces a clear tea that is pleasant to drink.

  • Popular herbs to use in cut and sifted form include Peppermint Leaves and Red Clover.

  • The cut form can also be used to make a bath, a facial wash or a topical compress.

Powder (P)

  • Most often used for filling empty capsules and for making a salve or other external preparations.

  • It makes an instant, "cloudy" tea

  • Many spices are preferred in the powder form, including Cinnamon and Cayenne Pepper.

Capsule (X)

  • The preferred way for many because capsules are convenient to carry.

  • They provide a higher, regulated dosage for continuous benefits.

  • Eliminates unpleasant taste of some herbs. For example, Golden Seal Root is very beneficial for immune support, however it is also very bitter.

How long can herbs be stored before they begin to lose potency?

The length of time herbs can be stored varies greatly according to storage conditions. If herbs are kept in a cool, dry, dark place, and in airtight containers, most will retain their potency for up to 3 years. Many find it best to store dried herbs in opaque, airtight glass jars.

Can you tell me more about a particular herb, like what country it is from?

For most herbs, we have a Certificate of Analysis available that shows more information on the herb, including country of origin. To see the COA for any herb, simply search the herb you are interested in, and click on the "Certificate of Analysis" tab.