Frequently Asked Questions About Herbs and Their Usage


I have never used herbs before where do I begin?

Are herbs safe?

Do herbs work?

Can I use herbs with my prescription medications?

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

How can I find an herbalist or natural health doctor? 

Why do herb labels not say what they do?

What is the difference between wild crafted and organic herbs? 

What are standardized herbs?

Are standardized herbs better than whole herbs?

Which form is best - tea? capsule? extract? whole? powder?

What is the difference between the various forms of loose herbs you carry? 

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



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:


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Are herbs safe?

Yes, used in moderation and according to the manufacturer’s recommendation, herbs can be a safe alternative to chemical drugs with their numerous and toxic side-effects.

However it is important to remember: Balance is the key when using herbs and anything taken to excess can cause negative side-effects. In fact, most reported problems with herbs have been due to overuse and/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."

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Do herbs work?

For millions of people 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 3-6 days. Chronic problems usually take longer. 

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

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Can I use herbs with my prescription medicines?

Traditional Naturopath, Linda Rector-Page answers, "In many cases, herbs and supplements can be used supportively, to maintain health while a person is on drug therapy. For instance, ginkgo biloba may be taken to help counteract sexual side effects of antidepressant drugs." 

On the other hand she cautions, "While generally very safe, ginkgo’s blood-thinning effects can interact with some anticoagulants like Warfarin and antiplatelet drugs, and sometimes with over-the-counter drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen." 

The point: You should ALWAYS check with your healthcare professional before using any herbal medicines. 

Books such as the A-Z Guide To Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions, The American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook, and the Physician's Desk Reference For Herbal Medicines may be helpful.

The Penn Herb Wellness Guide A-Z Index may also help:
A-Z Index of Vitamin & Herb Interactions
A-Z Index of Medication Interactions

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

Whether your doctor agrees with your use of 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, many American doctors now recognize the value of alternative therapies including use of herbs. In fact, some major cities, now have Alternative And Complementary Centers in their hospitals. 

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 they do?

You read in your herbal guide that "Herb X" is used for colds; yet when you read the label it says "Promotes immune function". Why is that? Contrary to what is often stated in the news, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulates what manufacturers are allowed to say on their product labels. We are not allowed 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 the guidelines so that we can continue to provide you with the herbs and supplements you need. 

Again, a reliable herbal reference and organizations such as the American Botanical Council and the Herb Research Foundation are good places to find information on herbs and what they're used for. 

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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 so we have long-standing relationships with our herb farmers and suppliers who follow strict ethical harvesting methods.

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

A standardized herb means that its active compound or the component believed to make it 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 simply dried, reduced to a powder, measured by weight (usually milligrams) and encapsulated. The dosages listed are usually high enough to make them effective yet safe. All its compounds remain intact -  nothing is isolated or concentrated

For example, our whole herb Turmeric capsule contains 700 mg of powder. It naturally contains the active compound curcumin plus oils and other compounds. The whole herb Turmeric also helps joint health, as well as liver, digestion, cholesterol and more. 

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 Which one is better?

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, many of which have not yet been identified

  • Can be used with less side-effects, as many herbs come with their own built-in overdose protection

    • For example, Lobelia relaxes the body and provides powerful respiratory support, but if used excessively will cause nausea & vomiting.

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

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What is the best form to take tea? capsule? liquid extract? 

That depends on your personal preferences and circumstances.


  • Convenient

  • Ideal if taking an herb with an unpleasant taste

  • Provides higher dosages than tea

Liquid Extract:

  • 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


  • 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."

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What is the difference between the various forms of loose herbs, such as "Whole", "Cut & Sifted", "Powdered" and "Capsules"?

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, 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. 

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

The length of time herbs can be stored varies greatly according to 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.

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