A Guide to Using Herbal Supplements

Oct 19, 2021 4 MIN

How to Use Herbal Supplements

Quick Health Scoop

  • Herbs have been used to address health concerns from the earliest of times
  • When using herbal supplements, there are a number of things to check for, including the herbal supplement label
  • Commonly used herbal supplements include Ashwagandha, Chamomile, Cranberry, Echinacea, Elderberry, Garlic, Ginger, Milk Thistle, and Turmeric Curcurmin

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 herbal supplements can be found throughout the retail health marketplace. Shoppers can identify the specific plant genus (group name) and species (related member) stated on an herbal supplement 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 you can 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. The standardization process involves identifying and measuring specific chemicals (also known as markers) and adjusting them to assure consistent amounts in each batch. Ideally, the chemical markers chosen for standardization would also be the constituents that are responsible for a botanical’s effect in the body. If such chemical markers were used, each batch of the product would have the same health effects.

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 drugs or over-the-counter medications. If you do start using any herbal supplement(s) and any reaction occurs resulting in adverse effects, immediately discontinue using the herb or herbal product and contact your healthcare practitioner.
  2. Always pay careful attention to recommended dosage of any product with an active ingredient. Be sure to follow label directions. "If a little is good, more must be better" does not apply to herbal supplements.
  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 to avoid the possibility of any herb-drug interactions from occurring.
  4. There are few herbs that are truly 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.

Whether you are searching for tips on how to reduce stress, calm an upset stomach, or support your immune system, herbal supplements can be a powerful tool to incorporate into your daily life. 

Common Herb Supplements & Their Benefits

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera

Use: Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogen, which are plants that facilitate your body's ability to adapt to stressors. Branded Ashwagandha like Sensoril and KSM have been clinically shown to help reduce perceived stress, and help 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, have an existing health condition, or taking prescription medication, consult your healthcare professional before taking this herbal supplement.

Learn More: Ashwagandha Benefits & Uses

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 to help support a healthy urinary tract

Actives: Proanthocyanidins and other antioxidants

Suggested Use: 500 mg cranberry fruit powder

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

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: Syrups or extracts prepared from 6.5 grams fresh elderberry or 1.3 grams dried elderberry.

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

Learn More: Elderberry Health Benefits

Garlic, Allium sativum

Use: May help support healthy cholesterol levels already within 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: Helps support healthy liver function.

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 milk thistle if you are allergic to plants in the daisy or ragweed family.

Learn More: Milk Thistle Benefits & Uses

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 root powder and extract blend to include total curcuminoids

Contraindications: Avoid taking if history of gallstones or bile duct obstruction, or if pregnant or nursing. Consult with your physician prior to surgery. If you are taking medications or have blood clotting issues, consult with your physician before use

Learn More: Turmeric Benefits & Uses  

† 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.


Melissa Dorval Pine, RD

Senior Manager, Medical and Scientific Communications

Melissa is a Registered Dietitian and provides leadership to Pharmavite’s Medical and Scientific Education team. She has over 20 years of experience educating consumers, healthcare professionals, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements, and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Affairs department and worked as a clinical dietitian throughout Southern California. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veteran’s Hospital in East Orange New Jersey.

Read More