A Beginner’s Guide to Herbal Supplements
At NuTraditions, we make herbal supplements that combine modern convenience with ancient wisdom. Convenience, efficacy and tradition are our goals, so we put a great deal of research and consideration into every product. We always want to offer the most potent products that honor the foundational wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine while fitting into your busy life.
Though TCM has been around for millennia, we know that herbal supplements are not always familiar to everyone. Plus, there might be some confusion over what they contain or what they can do to support health and well-being. In this blog, we’ll explain what an herbal supplement is, whether they’re safe (yes – but trust matters!) and some commonly used herbal supplements.
What Are Herbal Supplements?
Herbal supplements are products made from plants or their parts, including berries, roots, bark, seeds, flowers, oils, etc. Herbs are sometimes called botanicals, since the category includes things other than plants, such as lichens or mushrooms. These botanical-based products are taken as a supplement to the diet, so they are considered dietary supplements.
Some herbal supplements are very basic, with small pieces of an herb macerated (or soaked) in alcohol. Others are more complicated, to isolate or concentrate certain phytochemicals (the beneficial compounds found in botanicals).
Here are some common formats of herbal supplements:
Capsules: These can contain liquid or dried extracts, or dried herbs. The capsule materials can be made from plants or gelatin, so read the label if that matters to you.
Dried Herbs: Herbs that have been dried to preserve them and extend their life span. Some herbs, like Asian Ginseng, are traditionally dried before they are extracted or used therapeutically. Others (such as certain leaves) lose some of their potency once dried.
Extract: A dried or fresh herb that has been extracted into a solution (such as alcohol, water, glycerin, etc.). Extracting an herb makes its beneficial components more bioavailable and easier to consume. The herbal materials are strained, so only the herbal components remain.
Glycerite: Sometimes called no-alcohol or alcohol-free extracts, glycerites are dried or fresh herbs extracted in glycerin. They are naturally sweet so they’re often used for kids’ products.
Powdered Extract: This is a liquid extract that has been dehydrated to concentrate the herbal components, removing all water and other liquids. A powdered extract can be used as-is, added to food or drinks or made into capsules or tablets.
Tablets: Tablets contain compressed herbs that have been dried or extracted.
Tea: When fresh or dried botanicals are simmered in water, they form a decoction – like a tea. This is one of the oldest and most traditional ways to take herbs.
Tea pills: Tea pills are made by blending herbs together, then slowly cooking them in water. This tea is simmered down into a concentrate, then formed into small pills. This method is the traditional way that Chinese formulas have been prepared for thousands of years.
Tincture: A tincture is an alcohol-based herbal supplement. Dried or fresh herbs are first soaked in alcohol, then strained. You usually see tinctures sold in small glass dropper bottles.
Topicals: Herbs can be extracted into a gel, lotion or oil form, to be applied externally (on the skin).
Are Herbal Supplements Safe?
Humans have been using plants and other botanical ingredients to support their health and well-being for at least 5,000 years – that’s how old the earliest written records are. But the Sumerians, who lived in what is now southern Iraq, used plants like laurel, thyme and caraway as long as 60,000 years ago. And in China, they’ve been used for at least 8,000 years!
That said, not all supplements are created equal, so it’s important to choose a brand you can trust. We are obsessed with quality, so all of our herbs are traceable, back to the people who actually grew those botanicals.
All of the herbs we use undergo extensive testing via multiple methods, and we work directly with those growing and crafting the ingredients to ensure our products’ safety and efficacy. Our testing methods include macroscopy, microscopy and chemical constituent testing. We know that quality begins at the source, and that’s why we take incredible care with every ingredient and every herb. We’re passionate about herbal wisdom – and making sure that you have access to the best quality supplements possible.
It is possible to be intolerant or allergic to ingredients in herbal supplements, so always read the label and consult with a health-care provider before taking anything new.
Common Herbal Supplements and Their Uses
Here are a few of the most common herbal supplements used in TCM and their uses. While there are hundreds of botanicals used in TCM, these are the ones we use, along with other popular herbs.
Asian ginseng (red ginseng/ren shen): A time-honored, revered adaptogenic root with science-backed benefits. It helps fight fatigue by supporting healthy, vital energy levels while nurturing the mind, body, and spirit from the impacts of daily stress.*
Good Morning Sunshine™ Coffee + Adaptogens is infused with organic red ginseng. Each pod gives you the energy you need to make it through your to-do list while helping you fight fatigue with more than just caffeine.*
Astragalus (huang qi): The root of this plant is used to support the immune system, and it offers support against physical stress.*
Sour jujube seed (suan zao ren): A respected herb that promotes deep, tranquil slumber by reducing irritability and mental distress as well as taming physical tension and restlessness. It’s the herbal hero in our Calm Down™ formula.*
Our Hello Dreams™ Sleep Strips with Melatonin & Calm Down™ herbal blend are formulated to be part of your evening routine. With more than melatonin, each one helps you fall and stay asleep, to wake up rejuvenated.*
Licorice (gan cao): One of the most common herbs in TCM, it is a balancing herb that encourages synergy among the stronger-acting herbs. It adds a nourishing, natural sweetness to the overall formula.
Poria mushroom (fu ling): A mushroom that supports Jujube’s sedating action. It gently calms and soothes the mind and nervous system.*
Schisandra (wu wei zi): Known as the five-flavor berry, schisandra is also an adaptogen that helps bring balance to the body and mind.*
Szechuan lovage rhizome (chuan xiong): A warming herb that is known for its ability to help provide bodily ease and support for those with occasional sleeplessness.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.