Safety and Efficacy
The FDA largely regards herbal supplements as safe for use over the counter, and many herbs are food grade. Food grade examples include ginger, mushrooms, and cinnamon - things we would typically consider food or seasoning. Used in specific combinations at the right times they can have a medicinal effect, but in general are mild. Other parts of less well known plants make up the bulk of the rest of the Chinese herbal Materia Medica, with the occasional shell or gelatin from animals. Some of these substances are considered more medicinal. For more info on how the FDA regulates Complementary and Alternative medicine, click here.
Herbal formulas can have very strong effects, and can cause harm if they are not an appropriate match for your body. For example, a specific herb intended for a very sick person might harm someone who is strong and healthy.
The Western Approach
Western science largely operates on scientific principals that involve research and dissection. It seeks to understand something by taking it apart and looking at the pieces until a theory can be proven. This can involve isolating components of herbs on a petri dish, or doing studies on animals or people with repeatable results that can be compared to a placebo, or decoy item, designed to not have an effect.
Results of such study of herbs has yielded information about volatile oils and other parts of plants that can have specific effects.
The Chinese Medicine Approach
Chinese Medicine largely operates on the principles of whole rather than parts. Where Western medicine might break tissue down into cells under a microscope to understand what's going on, Chinese theory looks at how the whole functions. Qi, or life force energy, is not visible under a microscope, but believed to be present in a living being.
The study of herbs with Chinese theory includes properties of herbs that are more energetic. Instead of considering effects of volatile oils in labs, other concepts exist. Each herb has a temperature, flavor, direction, and channels entered (acupuncture meridians). Every flavor and energetic component is considered to have an effect on the body. For example, cool herbs might help with heat problems like heat rising causing headaches.
The important thing to know is that specific symptoms, like headaches, can have different causes, so it's best to have an accurate diagnosis from a professional herbalist. There are however, several formulas that are unlikely to cause side effects because they are mild and intended to be taken more frequently or in the absence of major symptoms.
Check out our selection or contact us for more info. We stock herbs to have on hand in case you get sick, herbs and topicals for pain management, and some specific formulas your practitioner might recommend.