A Guide to Using Herbal Supplements

How to Use Herbal Supplements

From the earliest of times, people have created herbal remedies and relied on plants to address health concerns. Today, a number of things continue to fuel a growing interest in botanical supplements, including a cultural use of herbs and ongoing scientific study.

As a result, a wide array of herb supplements can be found throughout the retail health marketplace. Shoppers should be sure that the correct plant genus (group name) and species (related member) is stated on an herbal supplement Nutrition Facts label. For instance, Echinacea purpurea (genus and species), not just Echinacea. This is important because some experts believe that species within the same plant genus may differ in effectiveness. Also check the herbal supplement label to see if the herb in the product has been standardized. A standardized herb is an herb that has undergone a process by the manufacturer to ensure consistency and potency of the product. Standardization may involve identifying specific phytonutrient markers that can be used to help manufacture and maintain a consistent product.

How to Use Herbal Supplements

In addition to selecting herbal products with the correct plant genus and species names, there are a few other herbal golden rules” that may help keep you in the know when considering the use of herbs.

1. Before using an herb or herbal formula for the first time, discuss it with your doctor or preferred health care provider. This is especially important if you have any health conditions and/or are taking any prescription medications. If you do start using any herbal supplement(s) and any reaction occurs, immediately discontinue using the herb or herbal product and contact your physician.

2. Always pay careful attention to recommended dosage. Be sure to follow label directions. If a little is good, more must be better” does not apply here.

3. Check the label for any cautionary statements. Since some interactions may occur between some herbs and prescription medications, read labels carefully and discuss any questions or concerns with your physician or pharmacist.

4. There are few herbs that are truly not known to be safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding. If you are pregnant or lactating do not take herbal products, unless advised to do so by a health care practitioner.

5. Remember to be patient, the actions of many herbs are subtle and typically manifest when used over time.

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), dietary supplements -- including herbal products -- may not be promoted for disease treatment or prevention. However, manufacturers are allowed to state scientifically supported claims about a products effect on the structure and function of the body. With this in mind, review the information below for some of the most popular herbs and the special benefits they may offer:

Common Herb Supplements & Their Benefits

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera

Use: Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogen, which are plants that facilitate your bodys ability to adapt to stressors. Branded  Ashwagandha like Sensoril and KSM have been clinically shown to help reduce perceived stress, help relax the body and reduce serum cortisol levels.†

Actives: Withanolide glycosides

Suggested Use: 125-600 mg depending on the concentration of the active withanolides

Contraindications: If you are pregnant, nursing, or taking medications, consult your healthcare professional before taking this product.

Chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla

Use: Traditionally used as a natural remedy, often in herbal tea, to calm the body and settle the stomach

Actives: Flavonoids and other active compounds

Contraindications: If you are pregnant, nursing, or taking medications, consult your healthcare professional before taking this product.

Cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon

Use: Helps support a healthy urinary tract

Function: Proanthocyanidins and other compounds in cranberry have antioxidant properties

Actives: Proanthocyanidins and other antioxidants

Suggested Use: 450-900 mg extract or 12 to 32 fluid ounces 100% cranberry juice (not cocktail)

Contraindications: If you are taking medication, consult your physician before use. Cranberry juice and cranberry extracts have a moderately high concentration of oxalate, which may increase the risk of kidney stones. If you have a history of kidney stones, consult your physician before use.

Echinacea, Echinacea purpurea

Use: Popular herb used for centuries for its health support properties

Actives: Echinacosides polysaccharides

Suggested Use: 300-400 mg extract or 350 mg taken in 4 divided doses of whole herb

Contraindications: Individuals with a known sensitivity to plants in the daisy or ragweed family or people with auto-immune conditions should speak to a healthcare provider prior to use.

Elderberry, Sambucus nigra

Use: Traditionally used around the world to help support the immune system and for its antioxidant properties†

Actives: Anthocyanidins

Suggested Use: 100-700 mg elderberry extract or 2 teaspoons elderberry liquid is traditionally used

Contraindications: If you are pregnant, nursing, or taking medications, consult your physician before use.

Garlic, Allium sativum

Use: May help support healthy cholesterol levels already in the normal range

Function: Active ingredient, allicin, has beneficial properties to support overall health

Actives: Allin or Allicin

Suggested Use: 500-1000 mg/day of concentrated whole garlic

Contraindications: Anyone taking anticoagulant therapy or aspirin therapy, or awaiting surgery, is strongly recommended to seek medical advice prior to use.

Ginger, Zingiber officinale

Use: Traditionally used to aid digestion and reduce nausea†

Actives: Polyphenols and other active compounds

Contraindications: If you are pregnant, nursing, or taking medications, consult your healthcare professional before taking this product.

Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum

Use: One of the most studied and documented herbs in use today

Origin: Derived from a stout plant with large, prickly, glossy green leaves and a milky sap.

Actives: Silymarin

Suggested Use: 140 mg extract

Contraindications: If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have an auto-immune condition, consult your physician before use. Do not use if you are allergic to plants in the daisy or ragweed family.

Turmeric Curcumin, Curcuma longa

Use: Has antioxidant activity to help neutralize free radicals to support overall health

Actives: Curcuminoids

Suggested Use: 500 mg of Turmeric blend to include total curcuminoids

Contraindications: Avoid taking if history of gall stones or bile duct obstruction, or if pregnant or nursing. Consult with your physician prior to surgery.


This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.

 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.

References available upon request.