Herbal medicine has changed considerably over the past 100 years. Major changes have occurred in our environment, population density has exponentially increased, medicine making techniques have advanced and global trade is ever expanding; with these changes comes a new set of considerations and responsibilities to be mindful of in order to maintain high-quality herbal products. Knowing how to identify good quality product is essential for effective herbal therapy, especially if you wish to purchase your own herbs for teas or if you are making your own herbal preparations. As an aware consumer, it is also important to be informed of the wider ethical and environmental implications of modern-day herbal production. This handout provides guidelines to help you source and identify high-quality herbal products, as well as giving you an idea of questions you should be asking your herbalist/naturopath to ensure you are receiving the best medicines available.
How to Source and Identify High-Quality Herbal Products
What to look for in a herb company…
Purchasing your herbs from a reputable herb company or store is the easiest way to ensure quality product. Companies that are concerned about the quality of their product as well as the environment will readily provide information regarding their quality control protocols, wildcrafting ethics, herb sourcing and should be happy to talk to you if you have any questions.
Australian herb growers and manufacturing companies, by law, must adhere to the code of “Good Manufacturing Processes” as outlined by the Therapeutic Goods Act (TGA) to produce “listed medicines”. The code details specific manufacturing steps to ensure high-quality herbal products are produced. These include proper identification of plants, ensures active ingredients are present in herb batches and cleanliness standards. The term “listed medicine” with a specific code will appear on manufactured herbal products that have been approved by the TGA. For more information, go to the TGA’s website.
Things to remain mindful of and look for in a herb companies’ range of herbal products are:
- Local and/or certified organic herbs.
- Wildcrafted herbs that have been responsibly and ethically harvested.
- If herbs are coming from an overseas supplier in undeveloped countries, make sure that the company has fair-trade and quality standard agreements.
- Don’t hesitate to pay more for quality herbs; it is a mistake to assume that herbal medicine is cheap. The growing and producing of quality herbal medicines is a highly skilled area.
What to look for in a manufactured herbal product…
Herbal products should be properly labeled with the following information:
- The botanical name of the herb in addition to its common name.
- The plant part used.
- The source of the raw plant material.
- Its category (organic, biodynamic, non-organic, wild
- harvested, fresh or dry).
- The date of manufacture (if applicable).
- Best before date.
- If it is a manufactured herbal product, (ie. not raw dried herb) it should have “listed medicine” with a specific code (in Australia).
What to look for in raw herbal material…
There is nothing like fresh herbs straight from the garden, however, if herbs have been dried properly, they should maintain all their medicinal properties. Your senses are the best way to determine whether a dried herb has maintained these properties. Using this technique is particularly useful if you are purchasing herbs from a store and you are unsure of its turnover rate.
- Color – Herb should be the same color as it was when it was fresh; blossoms should be bright and colorful and leaves from green plants (ie peppermint, spearmint, nettle) should be a vivid green. Look for vitality, vibrancy and deep, strong colors. Leaves should be relatively free of stems and not be crumbled from over-handling. Seeds (ie fennel, caraway, milk thistle) should be of a good size and not appear shriveled or dried out. Fruity herbs (ie rosehips, hawthorn berries, bilberries, schizandra) should have a consistent reddish color (bilberries are a deep purple) and not be pale, faded, orange or yellowish, which is a sign of poor storage.
- Smell – Herb should have a strong scent (not always necessarily good!). Aromatic plants such as chamomile, peppermint, spearmint, fennel, valerian, and angelica should really hit you with an aroma that tingles your nose. Other herbs such as comfrey, chickweed, plantain, and alfalfa, may not have such a volatile smell but should have a vital and “green” fragrance, like freshly cut grass
- Taste – Herbs should have a strong, distinctive taste. Although this taste may not always be all that pleasant, you should judge a herb’s potency on the strength of its flavor rather than the flavor itself.
How to Store Herbs to Maintain Their Quality and Freshness
Once you have quality herbal material or products, there are certain storage measures you can make to preserve their medicinal qualities.
- Store in airtight glass jars, away from direct light in a cool area. Avoid storing in plastic bags and jars as they cause the herbs to go stale much faster.
- Light (including incandescent and fluorescence) will strip your botanicals of their natural color and remove many key elements. An ideal location is a dry pantry, cupboard or closet.
- Only purchase what you will use within a short period of time. The best guideline to follow is; no longer than 8-12 months for blossoms and leafy herbs, and no longer than 14-16 months for roots, barks, and berries. However always use color, smell, and taste as your guidelines for whether the herbs are still viable.
Some Reliable Herbal Manufacturing Suppliers I Recommend
Tasmanian Highland Herbs
Phone: (03) 6397 3461
Mountain Rose Herbs (USA)
Phone: (541) 741-730
Southern Light Herbs
Phone: (03)5475 2763
Avena Botanicals (USA)
Pharmaceutical Plant Company
Phone: (03) 9762 3777
Remember, the therapy is only as good as the medicine!