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Su B

You’ve read about St John’s Wort for depression, or Turmeric for inflammation. If you’ve looked a little deeper, you’ll find a lot of supplements that are standardised for a particular ingredient: hypericin in St John’s Wort, or curcumin in Turmeric, and so on.

In any herb, there will be a number of constituents that contribute to its action, but there is often one that stands out. A lot of the research will focus on this constituent alone, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the rest of the herb is just a waste of space.

But that’s a long way from the truth

There’s a reason why an isolated ingredient, like salicylic acid – aspirin – from Willow bark or Meadowsweet, may turn out to have unwanted side-effects that don’t show up when you take the whole herb. The other parts are not just filler; they buffer the action, supporting it in some ways and softening it in others.

And the whole herb is perceived by your system as food, which is something it understands and knows how to deal with. An isolate or a drug, on the other hand, is a challenge for your liver to metabolise. Rather than being supportive, it can be a burden

So although the herb may be less powerful and slower to act than the isolate or the standardised extract, it is also much less likely to cause problems, and it will feed your vitality rather than depleting it. It’s also cheaper for you. One incentive for the makers of supplements to produce standardised extracts is that they can charge more for them.

So it’s worth thinking about why you’re taking the herb. If you need fast action, a short course of the standardised extract may be fine, but the long, slow work of restoring health is always better done by the whole herb.

Meet The Author...
Su Bristow
Who Am I?
I studied at the School of Herbal Medicine for four years, and qualified in 1989, becoming a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists ( The road to herbal medicine led from my early interest in organic gardening and healthy eating, through the study of social and physical anthropology at Cambridge, where I specialised in medical anthropology. What fascinated me was how people deal with their health problems when they have only the natural resources around them, and their own ingenuity. I went on to learn massage and reflexology, and worked at a residential naturopathic clinic, where I learned about the use of diet and other natural ways of healing. After qualifying as a herbalist, I set up practice in mid-Devon. Since then I have continued to expand my expertise, with counselling skills, first aid, and knowledge of the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of herbal medicine. Besides one-to-one consultation, I have also taught evening classes, students of the Westcountry Massage Association, and various private courses.
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