Forms of Herbal Therapies

Herbs are plants or parts of plants that contain medicinal qualities. Some herbs can be taken as whole. One such herb is fresh aloe, which can be used topically to treat burns and minor cuts. Other herbs must be transformed into a form that is suitable for ingestion.

Herbs are living organisms that have a very short life after they are removed from their source of nutrition (that is, picked from the ground). Enzyme activity begins to cause the herb to decay immediately after the herb is harvested. Therefore, steps must be taken to preserve the herb by drying it in sunlight or by using another heat source. Drying removes moisture and lowers the enzyme activity. This enables the herb to retain its therapeutic qualities for up to six months.

Extraction techniques are used to remove the therapeutic material from an herb. The most commonly used extraction technique is to first isolate the part of the herb that contains the therapeutic material and then soak that part in alcohol or water. This helps to produce a reliable dose.

Some extractions take the form of oils. Herbal oil is prepared by soaking the dried herb in olive oil or vegetable oil and heating the herb for an extended period of time. Oils promote the concentration of the therapeutic material and, if properly stored, extend the therapeutic life of the material for months.

Herbal therapies also come in the form of salves. Salves are semi-solid fatty preparations such as balms, creams, and ointments. They are prepared in a way similar to herbal oils except once the dried herb is soaked in oil, melted wax is mixed with the oil. It is left to cool and harden to form the therapeutic balm, cream, or ointment.

Herbal tea is another popular form of herbal therapy. Herbal tea is made by soaking fresh or dried herbs in boiling water. Once the herb blends with the water, the resulting tea can be stored in the refrigerator for later use as a drink, bath water additive, or applied topically in a compress to the skin.

Herbs are also available as tinctures. Chaparral tincture, for example, contains important ingredients that cannot be dissolved in water. Tinctures are also a convenient way to take herbs that does not require kitchen preparation. Disagreeable-tasting herbs can be swallowed more quickly and can be masked with juice. Tinctures are made by soaking fresh or dried herbs in water or alcohol causing the water-soluble and fat-soluble components of the herb to concentrate. The concentrate is the desired form. Water is used for people who do not consume alcohol. Alcohol is used to preserve the herbal concentrate for a year.

Herbal capsule is another common form of herbal therapy. The herb is dried and pulverized into a powder that is placed inside the capsule. Some herbal capsules contain oil-soaked herbals or herbal juices.

Herbal tablets are similar to herbal capsules except the dried, pulverized herb is combined with stabilizers and binders and then compressed into a tablet. A stabilizer is an ingredient that assures that the herb maintains its therapeutic effect. A binder is an ingredient that acts like glue to hold together the powdery mixture of herb and stabilizer.

Herbal therapy can also take the form of syrup. Syrups are made by drying the herb and soaking it in water or oil and then adding a sweetener to the mix. The sweetener is usually honey or sugar. The sweetened mixture is then heated until the syrup forms. Herbal syrups are used to treat colds, cough, and sore throat.

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