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Herbs For Health Or Profit?

written by Marina Zacharias

The herbal ‘business’ is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S.A. Even the Mega-Giants such as General Foods, Quaker Oats, etc., are recognizing that the "health food" wave is more than just a passing fad. This hefty increase in demand must be a windfall for the American farmer, right? Wrong!!

The vast majority of herbs that American companies are using and selling do not come from within the U.S. Most (some estimates range over 95%) are imported from Eastern Europe, India, China, Mexico, and many third-world countries.

So what’s wrong with that? The pollution in these countries is unbelievable! Aside from the heavy use of DDT and other noxious pesticides in widespread areas, you have such lovely things as rivers polluted with medical and chemical wastes, areas where human feces are used to fertilize the fields where they grow herbs, and of course little things like radiation overload left over from Chernobyl!! Many of the herbs imported from China and India have been found to be loaded with E. coli bacteria.

Is it any wonder then, that Federal law requires fumigation and irradiation of bulk herbs to get rid of bacterial contamination? Thus we end up with herbs that may not only be toxic, but are also sprayed with antibiotics. (As for ‘irradiation’ treatment, I’ll tell you more about that in the future). To get the full picture of this you need to grasp the size of this operation. Huge ‘bales’ of herbs are literally soaked down with a fire hose, spewing out gallons of antibiotics over a large area. Just ask anyone working on the large docks in California how these shipments are handled.

Of the herbs that come into the U.S. there are only three major import companies that control almost all of them. Thus, although there are many secondary ‘suppliers’ of "bulk" herbs and many manufacturers of herbal products, the sources are all the same!!

It would be a miracle for you to end up with any of these herbs that could be considered good quality. We haven’t even begun to talk about what the manufacturers do with the herbs. We’re just talking about the herbs they bring in.

Why would major companies with a reputation to protect even consider using this stuff? The answer is price! Wild crafted or organically grown local herbs cost about ten to twenty times the cost of the imported material. That, plus the fact that quality herbs are just not available in the quantities needed and at all times, as required, by the commercial giants. You can’t really expect them to hold up the manufacturing process while waiting for the herb to bloom or ripen to its peak.

Without doing a chemical analysis of each product, is there any way we can tell if a product may be potent or garbage?

A simple way to detect herb activity in a product is to look for the "signature" of the herb it is supposed to contain. By that I mean look for the smell, taste, color, etc. normally associated with a particular herb. If it says ‘garlic’, it should smell like garlic. Bitter herbs (like golden seal) should taste bitter. Cayenne is hot. Echinacea tingles in your mouth. And so on.

Unfortunately, some companies may list a formula with 30 or 40 herbs on the label where there is only one herb making up 99% of the product and only 1 % of the other herbs. In the industry they call this ‘fairy dust’. You’d get just as much out of it if you just yelled the name of the herb at the bottle.

Other companies "improve" the herb by ‘deodorizing’ it or ‘sweetening’ it to make the product more palatable. When you remove the chemical constituent of an herb that provides its primary "signature"--you destroy the usefulness of the herb!!

Juliette de Bairacli Levy has provided us with a reliable roadmap for herbal use with our animals. Her wonderful book "The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat" gives us proven methods of disease prevention and cure (even for such things as Distemper and Parvo). They do work if the herbs are decent quality. Don’t expect the same miracles from sawdust.

Don’t be mislead by the heavily promoted herbal ‘extracts’ or ‘tinctures’ that are supposedly "more powerful" or "high potency" versions using the same stuff as their base.

Traditional methods of making an herbal tincture require a minimum of fourteen days (with the lunar cycle--from the new moon to the full moon). Most of the tinctures on the market today are made in anywhere from 8 hours to 3 days. A few of the ‘fast buck’ boys pack herbs into cones and just pour alcohol through them!!

Tinctures are usually preferable to tea, because tinctures last indefinitely. Also, Tinctures enter your system in seconds as compared with dry herbs in capsules, which have to be digested first.

Actually, making your own tinctures is relatively simple and can be fun. Needless to say, you need to start out with good quality herbs. Growing your own does give you the advantage of complete control of not only soil conditions but also the proper timing for harvesting. There are many good books on this subject available at health food stores or check your local library.

If you are not inclined to put in the extra effort to grow your own, you can get certified organically-grown or wild crafted herbs from several suppliers (yes, Charlie--they are expensive).

Get your herbs and place them in a wide mouth glass jar. Either make separate tinctures, or assemble a formula and place it in the jar. Now cover the herbs with 80 to 100 proof vodka (Smiranoff seems to have the least perfume taste), just enough so that they are submerged. Cover and shake several times a day. Try to start the tincture on the new moon, and wait at least 14 days (longer is preferred). If you have the patience, you can leave them in for two to three months.

When you are ready, press out the soaked herbs through cheesecloth into a bowl. You can then use dark glass jars to store your tinctures in. Otherwise light will deteriorate the tinctures. If you can’t find dark jars, you can wrap paper around clear glass for protection from light.

Don’t be afraid to fresh grind your herbs. You can buy an inexpensive little coffee grinder that will do the job for everything but the very hard roots.

If you really want high potency, take the liquid from your first batch, put fresh herbs in the tincture and make a double strength batch.

If you prefer to stay away from any alcohol mixtures, Juliette does give us her method of preparing an "infusion" of herbs for administering to animals. These are only good for two or three days at a time, but do provide a ‘liquid’ form of herbs that is both effective and easily digested by dogs and cats.

Take one large handful of fresh herb (or two heaped tablespoons dry herb), cut up small if the herb has large leaves, and mix with a pint of cold water. Cover well (keep tightly lidded to prevent escape of steam and volatile properties of herbs), then simmer until near the boiling point. Do not boil. Remove from the heat and let stand for four hours. Do not strain. Pour into clean jar (dark or covered with paper).

It is interesting to note that her method of preparing a concentrated extract calls for raw milk or carrot juice as an extracting medium rather than alcohol. Do read her book. It’s packed with useful information that has stood the test of time.

From the foregoing I hope you will have a better understanding when you read about some of the "miracle" cures of herbal medicine and then read that in such and such a test the same results were not obtained. I leave it up to you to try to determine what quality of herbs were used in each case.