I know that not all herbs and supplements are created equally; just like locally grown and organic vegetables are different from pesticide laden ones, I know I should discern the quality of my herbs. But, I don't know where to go for my supplements? How and from where does one procure great-quality herbal treatments? Should I only take them if I am working with a healer/practitioner who prescribes them?
The answer to this question can be sticky and complicated, but luckily, there are also several baseline rules to go by to discern herb quality. As far as deciding for yourself what to take, it is much safer to determine herbs for yourself than a pharmaceutical medicine; however, it is still ill-advised to do so without the guidance of a trained herbalist, so as to avoid common problematic interactions (such as licorice with high blood pressure, comfrey with cancer, or St. John's Wort with MAO-inhibitor anti-depressants). That said, if someone (that has experience with herbs, such as a trained herbalist) confirms the safety of an herb, you can follow the below guidelines to determine quality of herbs.
-Look and smell! Does it smell potent? If it is a leaf, does it look green? If it is a calendula flower, is it yellow? Basically, plants should look like plants, and smell good. This is a simple test that anyone can do. To refine your skills, try smelling herbs everywhere you go. Additionally, if it is in powder form, it will be less potent, with most herbs. Yet, with some herbs, that is the only way to use it. (Boswelia, for instance)
-Is the place where you are buying the herbs primarily selling medicine? I have seen some very low quality herbs in homemade soap stores, and the like. Can someone working there direct you to appropriate herbs for your condition? If not, the store probably doesn't know or value high quality medicinal herbs.
-Pills vs raw plant material: Largely, the pill form of plants mean that the herb has undergone more significant processing and handling, and is thus "farther" from its living state. Just as with food, the more whole and fresh the plant is, the more sustenance, nutrition and medicine can be found in it.
-Use the whole plant, when possible. Just like food, our body likes whole substances. For hundreds upon thousands of years, our ancestors' bodies have evolved eating whole foods and whole plants. Our body knows that. There are complexities involved in a plant that our scientific extraction methods cannot understand or duplicate. If we consider taking the hand of a person, diconnected from the body, will we be able to determine how good of an artist or musician they are? Do this with plants?
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