Herbs have been around for thousands of years. They have been used to treat numerous health ailments, by numerous different societies. Herbs have been proven to be safe and effective. So, how do you make them better? You extract the good parts.
Herbal extracts come in several different forms. However, they all have one thing in common. They are naturally occurring plant compounds that have been removed from the inert matrix of the target plant. The removed part is called a constituent and is the part of the plant that has an action on the body.
Herbal extracts are prepared differently from dried herbs. When you dry an herb, you take the plant and allow the water to evaporate. Nothing else is done to the plant. After it is dried, the plant is ground up, and sold as a powder or put into capsules. Herbal extracts take it another step further. They take the dried plant and combine it with a solvent.
How Solvents Work
Extracts come in several different forms. They are typically categorized by the solvent used to make them. A solvent is the substance in which a solute is dissolved. For example, the solvent for saltwater is water. The solute is salt. The solvent used for herbal extraction dissolves part of the plant material and leaves the insoluble part of the plant behind. This is one of the biggest advantages of using an herbal extract. The insoluble part of the plant is usually unable to be digested by the body. By separating the extract from the insoluble part of the plant, it is easier for your body to digest the phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are plant produced compounds and are usually the most beneficial to the body.
Different solvents are used to extract different phytochemicals. The most common solvents used in phytochemical extraction are alcohol, glycerin, vinegar, oil, and water. Each solvent pulls out a specific phytochemical or multiple phytochemicals in its own unique way. By using different solvents, we can procure multiple extracts, with different purposes, from the same plant. These different extracts have different effects on the body.
Why Herbal Extracts are Better than the Whole Plant
There are several benefits of using herbal extracts versus the whole plant. The most beneficial advantage of herbal extracts over whole plants is their improved absorption. As we mentioned before, the whole plant has both insoluble and soluble parts. The insoluble parts make it difficult to absorb the constituents.
Another benefit of herbal extracts is that the constituents are preserved for a long time. The whole herb is only dried. Nothing else is done to it. And just like food, the dried herb has a greater chance of decaying, and at a fast rate. Not only does using a solvent help preserve the constituents for a long time, it also makes them more concentrated, and potent. Because they are concentrated and more potent than the whole herb, less is required to impact the body. Because you are using a smaller amount, it costs less, and can fit into a smaller space. Thus, you can get more benefits by swallowing a few pills than you would get from eating multiple cups of that same herb. Who wants to eat cups and cups of herbs a day to see results? In some instances, you would have to eat over 100 cups of an herb to get the same results as swallowing one pill.
Now you know the basics of how herbal extracts are made, and why they are more beneficial than consuming the whole herb. The next step is to find the herbal extracts that are the most beneficial to your specific aliments.
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