Products made from botanicals, or plants, that are used to treat diseases or to maintain health are called herbal products, botanical products, or phytomedicines. A product made from plants and used solely for internal use is called an herbal supplement.
Many prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines are also made from plant products, but these products contain only purified ingredients and are regulated by the FDA. Herbal supplements may contain entire plants or plant parts.
Herbal supplements come in all forms: dried, chopped, powdered, capsule, or liquid, and can be used in various ways, including:
- Swallowed as pills, powders, or tinctures
- Brewed as tea
- Applied to the skin as gels, lotions, or creams
- Added to bath water
The practice of using herbal supplements dates back thousands of years. Today, the use of herbal supplements is common among American consumers. However, they are not for everyone. Because they are not subject to close scrutiny by the FDA or other governing agencies, the use of herbal supplements remains controversial. It is best to consult your doctor about any symptoms or conditions you have and to discuss the use of herbal supplements.
Precautions when choosing herbal supplements
- Herbal supplements can interact with conventional medicines or have strong effects. Do not self-diagnose. Talk to your doctor before taking herbal supplements.
- Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about the herbs you are taking by consulting your doctor and contacting herbal supplement manufacturers for information.
- If you use herbal supplements, follow label instructions carefully and use the prescribed dosage only. Never exceed the recommended dosage, and seek out information about who should not take the supplement.
- Work with a professional. Seek out the services of a trained and licensed herbalist or naturopathic doctor who has extensive training in this area.
- Watch for side effects. If symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness, headache, or upset stomach, occur, reduce the dosage or stop taking the herbal supplement.
- Be alert for allergic reactions. A severe allergic reaction can cause trouble breathing. If such a problem occurs, call 911 or the emergency number in your area for help.
- Research the company whose herbs you are taking. All herbal supplements are not created equal, and it is best to choose a reputable manufacturer’s brand. Ask yourself: