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FAQ-Liquid Herbal Extracts (alcohol content)
#1
How do I take herbal extracts?


A liquid herbal extract is a concentrated liquid containing an herb's chemical constituents dissolved into a solution of alcohol and water. They are made by extracting ("washing") the herb's chemical constituents out of the inert herb fiber (cellulose) with a solution of alcohol and water. A good liquid herbal extract should optimally preserve the aroma, taste and biological activity of the herb from which it is made. Vanilla extract is a commonly known liquid herbal extract.

Are extracts made from fresh herbs better than ones made from dry herbs?
Many people assume that a fresh herb extract is superior to a dry herb extract, but this is not necessarily true; it really depends upon the unique biochemical, biophysical and energetic properties of the specific herb being extracted. While some herbs do indeed make a superior extract when extracted while still fresh and succulent, there are also many herbs which make a superior extract when extracted after the herb is dried (e.g., Hops, Grindelia). Also, some herbs are best extracted when semi-dried (e.g., Saw Palmetto), or fermented (e.g., Wild Cherry, Sweet Clover), or some are toxic when fresh and must be dried and aged one year before they can be used safely (e.g., Buckthorn, Cascara Sagrada). For thousands of years people have been successfully using hundreds of different herbs for healing, and while some are used fresh, the vast majority are used in their dry form.

What is the purpose of alcohol in liquid herbal extracts?
The grain alcohol used to prepare liquid extracts serves three specific purposes. First, alcohol is the only edible solvent that will extract and preserve many of the naturally occurring herb constituents that are poorly soluble in water, such as essential oils, resins, balsams and many alkaloids. Second, alcohol is an excellent natural preservative, which maximizes the shelf-life of the extracts. Thirdly, alcohol is a great carrying agent which facilitates the absorption of the herb's constituents into the bloodstream.

Why is there so much alcohol in liquid herbal extracts and how much am I really taking?
The amount of alcohol in individual liquid extracts can vary from 20% to 90% depending on the herb being extracted and its content of alcohol and water soluble constituents. For example, to fully extract Cayenne’s alcohol-soluble pungent resins and orange-red pigments requires at least 82% alcohol. A Cayenne extract made with a lower amount of alcohol will contain smaller amounts of Cayenne’s resins and pigments, and therefore will be of lower quality than the higher alcohol extract.

The amount of alcohol you actually consume in a dose of liquid extract is actually very small. For example, taking 30 drops of Echinacea liquid extract (alcohol content of 45% to 50%) amounts to consuming 1/65th of a can of beer or 1/85th of an 8-ounce glass of wine. Also, if you mix those 30 drops of Echinacea liquid extract into 2 ounces of water, that mixture would contain only 0.59% alcohol.

Can I evaporate away the alcohol in liquid herbalextracts by mixing the extract drops into hot water?
A small amount of the alcohol can be removed this way but most of it will stay intimately mixed with the hot water and will remain so even if the water is boiled. That's because alcohol and water are chemical azeotropes and therefore are extremely difficult to separate once they have been mixed. While adding extracts to hot water will not eliminate their alcohol, it can, in some cases, actually damage the extract. Many extracts are heat stable (e.g., Goldenseal) and adding them to hot water does no harm. However, other extracts are damaged by heat (e.g., Valerian) and can be weakened by adding them to hot water. Also, essential oils and other non-water-soluble aromatic compounds found in certain extracts (e.g., Lemon Balm, Chamomile) do not mix well with water and can therefore evaporate away from the hot water. Here you are left with a compromised extract, but the alcohol remains.


How is the best way to take liquid herbal extracts?
You can mix the prescribed number of extract drops into 2 to 4 ounces of water, you can also add the drops to warm tea (not hot) or juice. Certain herbs, because of their stronger action, require more water. For optimal results sip the mixed drops so you can savor the extract's flavor and aroma, although you may not always like the taste.


How many drops are in a one-ounce bottle of liquid herbal extract?
The number of drops in a bottle of liquid extract will vary depending on the viscosity (thickness) of the extract and its molecular weight. In general, most extracts fall within the range of 1,000 to 1,300 drops per ounce.


How can I compare the dosage of herb capsules or tablets to the dosage of liquid herbal extracts?
Liquid herbal extracts are much easier to absorb and assimilate into the body than herb capsules and tablets. Herb capsules and tablets made from crude herb have to be digested (i.e., extracted) by the body before the herb's chemical constituents can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Since many herbs are very woody, digesting and absorbing them can be very difficult, especially for people with health problems. Therefore, much of the capsule or tablet remains undigested and never gets absorbed. However, the chemical constituents in a liquid herbal extract have already been "digested" and can therefore be readily absorbed into the bloodstream. Because of these differences, liquid herbal extracts are a much more efficient means of getting the chemical constituents out of the crude herb and into the bloodstream where they can do their healing work, and because of the widely varying amount of hard-to-digest woody fiber in various herbs and the efficiency of absorbing and assimilating liquid extracts.
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