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Herbs are basically plants for which health improvements have been discovered. Often these discoveries are nothing more than a historical record that the "witch doctors" or "mothers" in a remote area have traditionally used "herb X" for "symptom F." Originally there was no study, no science, just observation.
Any one herb could be the whole plant. More often various parts of the plant would become known for some health improvement, or treatment, while other parts of the plant would have different or no effects.
Thus, the stem, the leaf, the root, the seed, the flower of the plant could be explicitly selected as THE part that has been and should be used.
Plants grow in different types of soils, with different types of sunshine and weather and water. It would be to be expected that one plant, grown in "X" environment would be found useful and effective, while the "same" plant in "Y" environment would not be useful. One of the particular differences between the same plant grown in different areas would often be the amount of and variety of trace minerals in the soil. Trace minerals, in particular, get "farmed out" of the soil, often without appearing to affect the plant to the eye. But, the plant might suddenly have less of, or none of, some mineral essential to the therapeutic qualities of that herb.
Ginseng is one of the herbs very highly thought of, particularly in Asia herbal medicine -- and many Asians would pay hundreds of times more for ginseng that grew in some special area, or came from a bush that had been growing for 100 years or more.
Plants used to make herbal preparations could be harvested in a variety of different times -- before, after or even during a rain, or darkness -- with some people believing that there is a huge difference in the effectiveness in the herb depending on when and how it was harvested. Herbs harvested early in the growing season are considered very different from herbs harvested in the middle or end of the growing season. Some are harvested only during a full moon!
The herbs must be stored and transported -- packaged and processed for commercial sale. There is a wide variety of conditions under which the herb can be processed.
It is the nature of the "herb industry" to be made up of many small companies, often located outside the United States. It would not be unusual for some high quality herb, say in the form of the ground-up bark from some tree, to be mixed with ground up bark from a cheaper tree -- no one could tell the difference, yet the effectiveness could be very much affected.
When it comes to storage another large factor of quality enters in. An herb harvested and used the same day could well be very different from the same herb harvested and stored for a year before use -- what were the storage conditions.
Many herbs are reduced to "powder" and that often involves heat and mixing of parts of the plant that can no longer be detected. There is such a thing as "concentrated powder," even.
In short, there is a world of difference between the actual quality of one herb, from supplier to supplier, and there is generally no common authority for authenticating any part of this process.
Many herbalists have discovered that the extract of some herb is more powerful and more uniform than the raw (or even dried or processed) whole herb. So, various types of extraction have come into use.
Extraction involves not only some method of using some liquid to remove some component from the herb, but then also some method of concentrating that liquid so that there is not a great deal of that liquid left in the final product. Some extracts are finalized as a paste or salve.
Alcohol is often used to extract the components of herbs, and often also is left as the final product. In other words, a "tincture" is usually a liquid that was originally used to extract something from the herb, and after some amount of soaking or heating, or whatever, the total amount of that extraction liquid is simply put in a bottle for use. Tinctures are often described as 15% alcohol, and the remainder of the liquid would generally be water.
Heat may or may not be used in making a tincture.
There are other extraction substances used besides alcohol and water -- some of these would be left in the final product, but in many cases the total mass of liquid is then concentrated or separated into unneeded solvent and the herbal components that are wanted.
All plants contain enzymes, and generally all enzymes are destroyed by a small amount of heat. There may be a consideration that the enzymes are a vital part of the herbal quality, or that the enzymes have no important role to play.
When someone wants to maintain the herbal extract to a state as close as possible to the original form, he would use a cold extract method -- no heat would be used.
Obviously an extract form of any herb would be more expensive than the "raw, dried" form of that same herb. The different types of extraction could cost a widely different amount to produce -- depending on the solvent, the time, the method and the desired final product.
Some plants would need one extraction process to make a good herbal remedy, while other herbs may do poorly with that same extraction procedure.
The cold extract process is usually more expensive than the normal extract in which heat is used -- because heat speeds up, and simplifies the extraction process.
In many cases as the extraction (and concentration) process gets more sophisticated, it also becomes more proprietary -- more secrets are involved. Finally you might conclude that the reputation and integrity of the commercial source is much more important than any mechanical description of the final product.
I've published on other pages on this web site some descriptions of various commercial extract forms for various herbs, particularly Ayurvedic herbs.
Curcumin, widely used in India for inflammation,
found at 5 microM to inhibit lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced
production of TNF and IL-1 by human monocytic macrophage cells
Chan 1995 Many other studies are on
this same page.
Pukka Herbal Ayurveda
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