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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Get the dose right

Tuesday, February 02, 2016
I watched a man, clearly in pain, lean heavily on the checkout counter. You know, the kind of pain that makes you wince internally. He was buying a handful of turmeric root . My distracted mind ran away with the idea that he must have heard somewhere about the inflammation-calming properties of turmeric and headed out to buy some. I could have been wrong, he might have been just creating a very powerful curry, and I didn’t want to pry. I just hope he didn’t’ give up on herbal remedies if that little bundle of fresh turmeric didn’t solve his problem.

The experience reminded me how many times people have stated, dismissively, they’ve tried herbs and they don’t work. Or, they’ve heard about how useful a particular herb is for the condition that ails them, so they’re including a sprig of it on their salad.  What they don’t realise (and what I’d like to remind you) is something all trained herbalists learn: You need a therapeutic dose to make a difference; enough of the active constituents of that herb to treat an ailment. ‘Enough’ for treating a particular condition might be far more than you can get in food.

Here’s what has to happen to herbs to create a therapeutic dose in western herbalism: The plant is collected and dried, then processing starts: Roots and bark are usually soaked in a fluid that extracts the constituents that do the good work. Plants are often packed into a long tube and alcohol or glycerine dripped through so that the therapeutic constituents move out of the plant and into the liquid. Soft material like leaves and flowers give up their precious elements easily – harder material like bark or roots takes a lot longer.

An ethical manufacturer tests herbs several times; before processing to check that the species is authentic (substitution is an ongoing problem); after processing too, to check that the right proportion of active ingredients are present.

The manufacturer’s label recommends a dose range based on its historical use and recent scientific research findings. Then the herbalist chooses the right dose for the person based on their size, how many other herbs are also being used, and the degree of their need. They also check that the herbs won’t clash with prescription medications being used.

Complex, huh? By all means include wonderful herbs in your cooking to reap some benefit; but if you have an ailment the best results will come from consulting with a professional herbalist.

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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