What's in Your Herbal Remedy?


Herbal supplements (botanicals; plant-based medicine) have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Today they are recognized for having drug-like effects such as improving mood. Products that can have medicinal effects also carry risk, especially if taken with other medicines or supplements. However, most over-the-counter herbal supplements are not subjected to the same scientific scrutiny and aren't as strictly regulated as medications.

As noted in our article about dietary supplements, makers of herbal supplements are not required to submit their products for FDA approval before going to market. Their only requirement is to demonstrate their products meet quality manufacturing standards. Studies have shown this is not enough: Many over-the-counter herbals are contaminated or substituted with alternative plant species and fillers that are not listed on the label. According to the World Health Organization, this adulteration of herbal products is a threat to consumer safety.

Before buying herbal supplements, do your homework and investigate potential benefits and side effects. Follow our tips below to help identify quality herbal supplements. Before taking an herbal supplement, talk your health practitioner--especially if you take other medications, have chronic health problems, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Quality Factors: Look for products that indicate standardized extracts; no fillers, preservatives/additives; naturally harvested; fair-trade/sustainable manufacturing practices.

Quality Control: Quality control (QC) refers to processes for maintaining the purity of a product. Without QC, there is no assurance that the herb contained in the bottle is the same as what is stated on the outside. One of the key solutions to the QC problem that exists in the United States is for manufacturers and suppliers to adhere to standardized manufacturing practices.

Products should indicate they are third-party tested. Look for a USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) seal of approval. Check products (and product recalls) on these websites: Council for Responsible Nutrition, ConsumerLabs, and the National Institutes of Health Dietary Supplement QA Program. Check the product website for more information.

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Kid-Safe Herbls for Health


Herbs not only enhance the flavor of foods, they provide a gentle, powerful, and natural approach to wellness. There are many kid-safe herbs that can be used as a tonic to support overall health, to support immune function, and to soothe common complaints such as a tummy ache or sore throat. Herbal remedies for children are commonly prepared as tinctures, infusions, or teas.

A tincture is a liquid preparation of an herbal extract (the medicinal parts of the herb). Tinctures are usually administered by mouth. For children, look for tinctures extracted in vegetable glycerine or apple cider vinegar--these will be sweet and safe for kids.

Infusions, while prepared similarly to tea, do not contain leaves from the tea plant Camellia sinensis (e.g., black, white, and green tea). Infusions are prepared from the delicate leaves and flowers of herbs. A steeping process extracts the beneficial components of the herb: Place the plant parts in a jar and cover them with boiling water. Allow the liquid to sit for as long as you'd like, unless otherwise instructed. The longer the steeping process, the more potent the infusion will be. Infusions can be added to hot or iced beverages, and in cooking.

Herbal teas are made using water and are the easiest to prepare--but tend to be the least concentrated way of using herbs. You often have to drink larger quantities to achieve the same medicinal benefit than if you were using a tincture or infusion. But don't discount its health benefits: An herbal tea is a real delight when you are nursing a cold. Check labels when buying packaged herbal teas--some will contain Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) and may contain caffeine.

A wide variety of recipes exist for herbal beverages. Follow herb preparation instructions carefully--especially boiling time and steeping time. Otherwise, the medicinal properties of the tea may be too strong or weak, bitter, or flavorless.

Herbal beverages, hot or iced, children may enjoy:
Fall: Astragalus, black elderberry, raw honey (immunity booster, cold remedy)
Winter: Ginger, cinnamon, lemon balm, hibiscus, raw honey (warming, good for colds)
Spring: Stinging nettles, rosehips, milky oat seed, raw honey (allergen fighter, especially at change of seasons)
Summer: Chamomile, lemon balm, rose hips, raw honey (calming, cooling)

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Tonifying the Colon with Triphala


Constipation and improper elimination seem to be at an all-time high in many societies today. As a result, people looking for natural solutions may turn to ongoing magnesium supplementation; foods known to move the bowels, such as prunes; and herbs, such as cascara and senna. There are some potential harmful effects of using cascara and senna on an ongoing basis, as they do not address the cause of constipation. Considered "natural laxatives," they can create dependence and disrupt peristalsis (the natural contractions of the bowel).

Instead, an herbal formula that can be very helpful to relieve constipation and restore normal bowel function over time is Triphala. This is a formula made of three herbs: Amalaki (Emblica officinalis), Bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica), and Haritaki (Terminalia chebula). High in vitamin C, linoleic oil, and other nutrients, Triphala offers nutritional benefits, as well as blood and liver cleansing actions. It contains some anthraquinones that help to stimulate bile flow and peristalsis. Scientific research and clinical reports demonstrate Triphala to be an effective blood purifier that stimulates bile secretion as it detoxifies the liver, helps digestion and assimilation, and significantly reduces serum cholesterol and lipid levels throughout the body. As a result, it is regarded as a kind of universal panacea and is one of the most commonly prescribed herbal formulas in India.

As always, addressing the root cause of improper elimination is first and foremost. So, before starting on any substance or formula, discuss the best strategy for you with Dr. Bossio.


  • Gowda, D.V., G. Muguli, P.R. Rangesh, and R.D. Deshpande. "Phytochemical and Pharmacological Actions of Triphala: Ayurvedic Formulation - A Review." International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review & Research 15, no. 2 (July/August 2012).
  • Mukherjee, P.K., et al. "Clinical Study of Triphala - A Well Known Phytomedicine from India." Iranian Journal of Pharmacology & Therapeutics 5, no. 1 (January 2006).
  • Svoboda, R. Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution. Lotus Press: 1998.
  • Tierra, M. "The Wonders of Triphala: Ayurvedic Formula for Internal Purification." Accessed February 17, 2015.

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Medicinal Herbs, The Fresher, the Better


When it comes to medicinal herbs, freshness and proper handling are key to getting the most potency and value. Usually due to improper storage procedures, bargain-store herbs are often not as potent as they could be. They may have sat in the store for a long time, or worse, may have been exposed to light and air, which causes dried herbs to lose their potency. Additionally, purchasing herbs from an unreputable source leaves you vulnerable to uncertainties, such as not knowing when the herbs were harvested or how they were stored and transferred.

For smart herb buying, look for herb sellers who store their dry medicinal herbs in dark, amber glass containers, and in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Potent, well preserved dried herbs should retain their natural color, and have a very strong aroma. Green herbs, such as lemon balm, should still be green. Flowers such as calendula should have a vibrant yellow-orange color, and hibiscus should retain its deep maroon color. Roots should show no signs of mold and should be very dry. When evaluating a new herb source, you may also want to ask how frequently the store's stock is rotated. This should happen rather frequently. Medicinal herbs which have already been packaged into capsules or made into tinctures provide some extra assurance, provided that the herbs were fresh when they were used to make the products. Look for tinctures preserved with alcohol or glycerine, as they hold up well over time.

Local growers are usually a great source, because they harvest their herbs in small quantities, and sell them immediately. In addition, they usually know a lot about how to handle and preserve herbs. Medicinal herbs are not an item you should try to save a few bucks on, but you can certainly save time by purchasing your herbs from reputable sellers, such as Heron Botanicals, Blessed Herbs, or Mountain Rose Herbs.

As with any change in or question about supplements or any change to your health regimen, it is a good idea to consult Dr. Bossio for advice and assistance.


Murray, N.D., Michael, and Pizzorno, N.D., Joseph. 2012. New York, NY: Atria Paperback. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.

Bone, Kerry; Mills, Simon. 2013. Elsevier Ltd. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. 2nd ed.

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Burdock (Arctium lappa)


A member of the daisy family native to Europe and Northern Asia, burdock remains a largely unstudied herb among the scientific community, despite having been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Today, burdock grows as a weed in the U.S. and is cultivated and consumed as a vegetable in Japan and parts of Europe. Burdock has traditionally been used as a blood purifier, a diuretic, and as a topical remedy for skin problems such as eczema, acne and psoriasis. Additionally, burdock may be useful in treating chronic diseases such as cancers, diabetes and AIDS. Burdock also may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties, and may be used to improve digestion. Recent studies have shown that burdock has prebiotic properties, and as a root vegetable, burdock is an excellent antioxidant. Burdock supplements are sold as dried root powder, decoctions (liquid made by boiling down the herb in water), tinctures (a solution of the herb in alcohol, or water and alcohol), or fluid extracts. And extracts of burdock root are found in a variety of herbal preparations, as well as homeopathic remedies. As with any herb, burdock may interact with other herbs, supplements or medications. Discuss this herb with Dr. Bossio prior to use, to decide if burdock may be right for you.


  • Burdock. University of Maryland Medical Center.
  • Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. 2000. Principles and practice of phytotherapy: modern herbal medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Pizzorno, Joseph E., and Michael T. Murray. 1999. Textbook of natural medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.