Are Standardized Extracts Better?

At Red Moon Herbs, we focus on using the whole plant in making our extracts.  Sometimes people ask us why.  Here’s an excerpt from an article by Nancy and Michael Phillips to help address that question.

Green Blessings ~ Corinna

Philosophy enters deeply into the debate on standardizing herbal preparations. People oriented towards a scientific point of view feel the need to quantify healing possibilities by knowing the concentration of the chosen active principle (constituent) used to achieve proven results. Others view synergy and spirit as working in ways we may not fully comprehend but have certainly observed with whole plant remedies that embrace healing, often in more ways than one.

Standardization generally refers to chemical extraction of the deemed active constituent. Two assumptions come immediately to the fore. Does one ingredient alone reflect the curative power in a given plant medicine? And does this ingredient become more potent in a concentrated extract than in the whole herb itself?

Few herbs are actually standardized to a relatively pure isolate. A single constituent is usually under 12% in nature. A strong solvent (hexane, methyl-chloride, acetone, benzene) with an affinity for the designated constituent is used to achieve the desired concentration, often in conjunction with a different solvent to precipitate out constituents deemed superfluous. Under such a regime, the complicated, interactive chemistries of such herbs are destroyed. The valid medicinal use remaining accepts both the limits of concentrated isolate and the possibility of side effects. Such phytopharmaceuticals are more akin to allopathic drugs than the original whole plant remedy.

Whole herbs come with life force intact. The subtle constituent balance herbalists have entrusted for millennia is put in arrears in a standardization process that focuses in on a single isolate. Such borderline pharmaceuticals have the potential to give herbs a bad name through misapprehended side effects or just inactivity.

A good example is salycylic acid, chemically extracted from willow bark to make aspirin. This ubiquitous drug has been found to have side effects in some people, including internal bleeding, leaky gut syndrome, and in some instances death. Herbal preparations of willow help reduce pain without this concentrated risk. The wide-ranging benefits that make up the gestalt of the whole herb are lost in a narrow science that ultimately promotes plant medicine as being only guaranteed by laboratory technique.

The marketing hype spread by some companies that standardized extracts are safer and more effective is untrue. “Claims for the clinical superiority of standardized products are unethical commercialism and an attempt to dupe the public in the name of science,” says Northwest herbalist Jonathan Treasure.

Herbal medicine has been called the medicine of the people precisely because the plants and the traditional knowledge of how to use the plants are accessible to rich and poor alike. The assertion that quality lies in a standardized preparation seeks to break the essential link of every person to the plants that heal.

“The starting quality of the herb used in the extraction process is far more relevant to quality of the final product than any laboratory manipulation or ‘correction’ during manufacture. Many companies offering standardized product start with crude herb purchased by third party brokers in the international marketplace, the provenance and quality of which is inevitably beyond their direct control. The old adage-garbage in, garbage out-is pertinent.”

“Herbalism is about holistic healing, about Gaia,” says Mimi Kamp in Arizona. “Squeezing our plants into isolated elements is not herbalism.” “A standardized extract,” chimes in Joyce Wardwell in Michigan, “is a poor substitute for a complex interaction and vitality found in whole herb preparations, especially if a person further empowers themselves by gathering their own medicine. But then I prefer driving a whole car rather than sitting astride a running engine.” Southwest herbalist Michael Moore sums this all up with characteristic clarity, “The active principle is the whole plant.”

Garlic!

by Anne Knoflicek

The garlic harvest is in and this week at Red Moon Herbs we are making a new batch of our beloved Garlic Elixir.

We get garlic from Yellowroot Farm, a small biodynamic farm on the land here, and separate the heads into their individual cloves to be chopped up and mixed with organic apple cider vinegar and local honey.

The outcome is a delicious blend of the pungent flavor of garlic and the sweet and sour flavors of the honey and vinegar.  I love to take some when I feel the faintest beginnings of a cough or tickle in my throat.  Often I take it because I just love the way it tastes!

September 18, 2012 — Red Moon Herbs

Jewelweed

by Anne Knoflicek

Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, is a flowering plant with beautiful orange horn shaped blossoms that bloom from early summer and into the fall.  It is also known as spotted touch-me-not, because of how the mature seeds spring out from the pod when touched.

Jewelweed tends to grow in moist soil, often near creeks or streams.

The juicy stems and leaves can provide some cooling relief from the irritating itch of the poison ivy rash.  If applied soon enough after coming into contact with poison ivy, it can sometimes help ward off the rash from appearing at all. 

September 03, 2012 — Red Moon Herbs

Marvelous Mints for the Family Herb Garden

by Corinna Wood and Lee Warren

First published in the Mountain Xpress, 2010

Imagine a glass of ice-cold peppermint tea on a hot day. Or the cheerful, earthy fragrance of lemon balm when you pinch a leaf as you walk by. Or a playful young cat rolling with ecstasy in the catnip in the nearby herb garden.

Cooling in nature and filled with aromatic oils, plants in the mint family delight us in countless ways. In particular, peppermint, lemon balm and catnip are some of our favorite, easy-to-grow herbs.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
First of all, when transplanting peppermint, make sure to put it in a place where you’re prepared for it to expand, as it spreads aggressively by roots. Our peppermint patch sends out runners several feet beyond its bed, even in the midst of a gravel path (you can also pull it out of those places you don’t want it). Planting in an outdoor planter is an option for containing it.

Fresh peppermint leaves can be picked and chewed for an instant hit of flavor or used in recipes that call for mint such as tabouleh (a middle eastern salad) or lamb dishes. Traditional herbailists used peppermint for easing digestive distress of all kinds.

Because it smells good, tastes yummy, and is very safe, it’s often used for children. In fact, since Corinna’s son Dylan was a wee toddler, he’s harvested fresh peppermint for the family at teatime. At grandma’s house, with the peppermint patch at the edge of the driveway, he would routinely pick a handful of stalks to play with, sniff, and eat, to stave off carsickness on the curvy roads back to their mountain home. 

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Super easy to grow, lemon balm thrives in the cool season (spring and fall), withstands the heat like a champ, and even tolerates some shade. Red Moon Herbs recently expanded from a few lemon balm plants to a lush bountiful circular bed more than 20 times the size of the original plants. We duplicated the plants from cuttings by taking the top couple of inches off an existing lemon balm plant, stripping the bottom leaves, and keeping these watered in some sandy potting soil. The cuttings soon grew roots and were ready to be planted. In less than a year, we had as much as we could harvest!

Just crushing the leaves of this plant and inhaling deeply will give you, immediately, a sense of its traditional use as a gentle mood supporter.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
As the name implies, cats love this plant as it contains a constituent that causes them temporary euphoria! Not euphoria producing in humans, it is nonetheless a lovely plant to include in the home garden for beauty and function. As easy to grow as the others, we usually start them from transplants. Catnip is a pleasant and relaxing tea for the stomach or just winding down before bedtime. As you plant your garden, note that catnip crosses with lemon balm, so it’s best to keep them separate.

August 24, 2012 — Red Moon Herbs

Make Your Own Bottled Sunshine With St. J’s

by Lee Warren

There is no other herb that bespeaks more of sunshine than St. Johnswort, or St. J’s, as we fondly call it. It loves sunny open places, blooms at the height of summer solstice, soothes the skin after sunburn, and even brings sunshine into our lives through its mood elevating properties.

The most well known, most widely used species of St. Johnswort is Hypericum perforatum, studied for its uses against depression—especially the kind of dark moods that come from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

We have our own wild varieties in Western NC, including Hypericum punctatum, but it is not found in great abundance as it is in some other parts of the country. It’s best to plant this herb in your home garden—it’s easy to grow, strong in establishment, and will bloom year after year. You’ll appreciate the beauty it adds to your garden, as it’s truly lovely, with 5-petaled yellow flowers, small seed pods, and delicate yellow-green leaves.

At Red Moon Herbs, we have about 170 St. J’s plants that we started over the many years. We saved the seed from our original garden plant, started them in a tray, watered them for several weeks until they germinated, and planted them out in the spring. We established them along a fence line, which helped stabilize a sloped bank—and they also provide food for our bees, beauty, and medicine.

Once established and thriving, harvest the top third of the plant, including the flowering tops, at peak potency. Peak time for St. J’s is when the flowers are 1/3 in blossom and 2/3 in bud. If you take a yellow flower bud and squeeze it, you’ll notice it exudes a red juice. This is the hypericin, a constituent in St. J’s which contains medicinal properties.

Once harvested, you can pack your flowers, stalks, and leaves in a dry jar and cover in olive oil to make medicinal oil; or fill with 100 proof vodka for some tincture. Let them steep for 6 weeks, and then strain out the plant material. One word of caution: sometimes folks who are taking St. J’s regularly become more sensitive to the sun (there’s that sun association again), so pay attention if you’re noticing your eyes or skin being more sensitive, and back off of internal use of St J’s if needed.

St. J’s genus name (Hypericum) is derived from the word hyper, meaning above, and eikon, meaning picture. This referred to the traditional style of hanging the plants around the house to ward off “bad spirits” (maybe an old fashioned word for depression).

Even if you don’t make extracts from your St. J’s, the plant will bring sunshine into your life.