Herbal Extracts and Herbal Ingredients

The family of botanical's referred to as herbs have played in important role in medicine around the world for thousands of years. From Native Americans to Stone Age hunters and gatherers herbs and of late, herbology, have played a role. As far back is 5500 years ago it has been shown that the European cultures employed herbs for medicinal purposes. The recently discovered remains of a 5500-year-old European referred to as The Ice-Man, had in his possession a leather pouch which has been determined to be the oldest yet discovered first aid kit. In his first aid kit and The Ice-Man had in number of herbs which are known for their effective medicinal properties.

Many people around the world are avid believers in the powers of herbal medicine. Indeed, many of the pharmaceutical products are derivatives of natural substances and compounds found in herbs around the world. Even today, the rainforests of the world are being scoured for clues to hidden and until now undiscovered herbs containing powerful medicinal properties.

Because herbs can and often do have powerful compounds, they ought to be viewed and handled and used with respect, care and caution. Indiscriminate use without regard for interactions between multiple herbs taken simultaneously, can often lead to too dangerous medical conditions. Individuals who wish to employee the powers of herbs in their pursuit of their own and/or their families medical care, should first seek the guidance of experts well versed in the use of herbal medicine.

There are many ways in which herbs can be prepared to be used to medicinal purposes:

Decoctions are a of tea prepared from the bark, seed, root, fruit, or leaf of the plant. In order to preserve the integrity of the compounds within the herb, the decoctions should be simmered for about 20 minutes and never boiled.

Compresses are merely cloths soaked in a warm or even cool herbal solution and applied directly to the injured area.

Essential oils are obtained through steam distillation and/or cold pressing. Cold pressing is often considered the desirable process. Mixed with vegetable oil or water the oil can be used internally and externally for various medicinal purposes.

Herbal extracts are obtained by compressing herbs typically with a hydraulic press while soaking them in alcohol or water. The alcohol or water is allowed to evaporate, the remaining substance is a concentrated extract. Extracts are the most common forms of herbal remedies found on the shelf of health food stores in the U.S.. They are also the most effective form of herbal substance used as a remedy. Alcohol free extracts a desirable to individuals who are recovering alcoholics, concerned about being exposed to alcohol and/or the alcohol solution to which the extract is packaged. Alcohol free extracts are also considered to be more desirable because of quality. Since extracts are highly concentrated amounts of the chemical composition, care should be taken to avoid over use.

Herbal vinegars are merely herbs which a put into various types of vinegar preparations and allowed to steep for several weeks.

Infusions are prepared by taking the flowers and leafy parts of the plant and steep them for 5 to 10 minutes in hot water in order not to destroy the benefits of the compounds. Care should be taken never to boil the compound as boiling will often destroy the effectiveness of the delicate chemicals within.

Ointments can be prepared by taking any of the previously discussed preparations and mixing them with a salve which can be applied externally to the affected areas.

Poultice is a preparation of soft moist herbs spread between muslin cloth or another comparable cloth and placed over the affected area of the body for typically 24 hours.

Standardized extracts arose out of the need to create a uniform product for clinical trials. Broadly speaking, there are two types. One is based on identifying and quantifying an extract to a characteristic chemical marker compound. The second, identifies and concentrates one or more as active constituents, making it closer to the level of a chemical isolate. This means that other naturally occurring constituents are displaced at the expense of one or a number of compounds.

Medicinal plants constitute an effective source of traditional (e.g., Ayurvedic, Chinese, Unani and Homeopathy) and modern medicine. Herbal medicine has been shown to have genuine utility and about 80% of rural populations depend on medicinal herbs as their sole source of primary health care. A study from the U.S. demonstrated that about 34% of the general population used one or the other system at least once a year. In Germany and France, which together represent 39% of the $14 billion global retail market, the use of herbal remedies is well established. In fact, today approximately 70% of “synthetic” medicines are derived from plants.

A medicinal herb can be viewed as a biosynthetic laboratory as it contains a number of chemical compounds. These compounds, responsible for medicinal activity of the herb, are secondary metabolites. For example, alkaloids are nitrogenous principles of organic compounds and combine with acids to form crystalline salts. Morphine, Atropine, Codeine and Cocaine are familiar examples. Glycosides are crystalline compounds, which are neutral in reaction that when acted upon by acids, split into sugar and non-sugar parts. Salicin and Digioxin are familiar examples of glycosides. In addition, herbs contain saponins, resins, oleoresins, lactones and volatile oils.

Most of medicinal herbs are not—in their natural state—fit for administration. Preparations suitable for administration are made according to pharmacopoeial directions. Herbal infusions are prepared by treating the herb to be extracted with water or alcohol. An herbal drug reduced to powder form is known as pulverata. Tinctures are solutions of the active principles of a drug in alcohol. A coarsely bruised drug boiled in water for a definite period is known as decoction.

Herbal extracts are considered to be scientific pharmacopoeial preparations. Liquid extracts, concentrated soft extracts and dry extracts are all used for industrial applications. Herbal extracts are prepared by extracting an herb of a specific particle size with suitable solvent. Depending on the solvent used, extracts are known as aqueous, alcoholic or etheral extracts. The extracts also contain marker compounds that are important for the quality of the finished product. Markers are chemically defined constituents of a herbal drug, which are of interest for quality control purposes (independent of whether they have any therapeutic activity or not). Extract of Hypericum perforatum (i.e., St. John’s Wort) is a good example of how extracts are standardised to marker compounds (0. 3% hypericin) and active constituent (2. 8% hyperforin).

In the case of medicinal herbs, before a consignment is evaluated, a sample is drawn for analysis and considerable care is exercised to ensure that this sample is truly representative. Macroscopic and sensory characters are usually sufficient to enable the drugs to be identified. Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC) is a good tool for determining the botanical identity of the herb. Moisture content, extractive value and ash value are also used as standards for preliminary examination. Swelling index is standard specified, applicable to mucilage-containing drugs. Inadequate quality control of herbal drugs is a significant concern for consumers and manufacturers.

Once botanical identity is established, the next step is preliminary phytochemical screening. This screening involves extraction, purification and characterisation of the active constituents of pharmaceutical importance. The herbal drug or herbal drug preparation in its entirety is regarded as the active substance. These constituents are either of known therapeutic activity or are chemically defined substances or groups of substances generally accepted to contribute substantially to the therapeutic activity of an herbal drug. Qualitative chemical examination is done to detect and isolate the active constituent(s). High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is the main analytical technique for quantitative measurements of active compounds. In cases when active ingredients are not known or are too complex, the quality of plant extracts can be assessed by a "fingerprint" chromatogram.

Standardisation means adjusting the herbal drug preparation to a defined content of a constituent or a group of substances with known therapeutic activity by adding excipients or by mixing herbal drugs or herbal drug preparations. Botanical extracts made directly from crude plant material show substantial variation in composition, quality and therapeutic effects. Standardised extracts are high quality extracts containing consistent levels of specified compounds, and they are subjected to rigorous quality controls during all phases of the growing, harvesting and manufacturing processes.

Medicinal herbs are moving from fringe to mainstream use with greater numbers of people seeking remedies and health approaches free of the side-effects caused by synthesized chemicals. The crude medicinal herbs for this industry have long been grown and traded in many countries around the world. The herbal, raw materials are comprised of dried plant materials in the form of roots, barks, flowers, and fruits. Besides being important to consumers of herbal remedies, the quality of medicinal herbs is also vital to growers and suppliers of these crude botanicals. It is reasonable to expect that herbs of superior quality will sell for the premium price.

Alternative systems of medicine have become increasingly popular in recent years. The efficacy of some herbal products is beyond doubt, the most recent examples being Artemisia annua (i.e., artemesinin: wormwood derivative used to target cancers), Silymarin marianum (i.e., silymarin: seeds of the milk thistle effective in treating diseases of the liver) and Taxus brevifolia (i.e., taxols: pacific yew derivative that exhibits antimitotic activity and is used for treating refractory tumors). A number of recent findings have focused on the adverse effects of herbal products. Hepatotoxicity, nephrotoxicity and most critically, drug interactions with synthetic medicines are common in herbal practice. In light of above discussion, consumers and clinicians should be increasingly cautious about following the latest trends in medicinal herbs and be alert to the potential risks herbal medicines pose.
Powder is prepared by grinding up the desirable portion of the herb into a powder. The powder can be then placed into capsules all made into tablets.

Syrup is prepared by joining herbs and various types of sugar which is then boiled into syrupy compound.

Tinctures are prepared from fresh herbs placed into a container with an unspecified amount of alcohol; the resulting liquid is a concentrated herbal extract. This form of herb extract referred to in herbology as tincture and can be kept for prolonged periods of time. Typically, the method of taking the tincture is usually under the tongue.