Are powders better than tea pills? Or would tinctures or tea be better?
This is one of the more common questions asked about the effectiveness of herbs. The truth is that different delivery modalities have been in vogue over the thousands of years of Chinese herbal therapy, and all of them work well. Tinctures have actually not been part of TCM until very recently, although infused wines were once popular.
The most effective herbal treatments are the ones that real patient can realistically utilize. While growing fresh organic herbs in your personal garden and making a fresh tea or infusion from the freshest herbs would be the optimial situation, it is completely unrealistic for most. It is understandable that people want the most effective herbs, so here are some things to consider:
1st - There is a misunderstanding about the absorption rates of liquid herbs versus tablets. It is true that herbs that are decocted or tinctured are rendered in to a liquid state and the body does not have to break down the cellulose of the plant material; however, those with a normal digestive system break down plant material every day to render nutrients available from vegetables. If this were not so, you would quickly perish. I have even read where whole herbs taken will be rendered useless after passing through the digestive system and stomach acids. Again, we would perish if plant nutrients were unable to traverse our digestive tracts.
2nd - In Chinese medicine, decoctions are traditionally used more often than tinctures, although medicinal wines are sometimes used; tinctures are more widely used in western herbalism. Doses of medicinal tinctures are misleading; when tinctures were introduced to the market place at the turn of the 20th century, the public was used to homeopathic dosing from ounce bottles. Tincture manufacturers followed suit producing 1 ounce bottles with low dosages. A true dose of therapeutic quantities of 1:6 tincture is 2.5 teaspoons per day, not 20-60 drops. If tinctures were prescribed at their TRUE therapeutic dosages, patients would be spending over $500 per month for their herbal therapy; this is simply unrealistic for most consumers. Tinctures might make sense for acute conditions such as a cold or flu that are treated for only a week or two with something like echinacea tincture, but for chronic health conditions that take many months to treat, they become prohibitively expensive.
3rd - Traditional methods of herbal therapy tend to prove more clinically efficacious than the 'latest fad' practices in herbal medicine and natural healing, so herbalists tend to respect a decoction of whole herbs over isolated herb compounds and high potency 'pharm' herb products; it is clear that the herb industry is being influenced by the same science babble that the food industry marketers have been feeding us over the last 40 years leading us away from real, whole foods. The problem with decoctions is that most patients won't use them; they don't have time to brew up decoctions 3 times per day, and they don't like the taste. Patient compliance far out-ways any slight benefit of liquid herbs. Tinctures may be 10-20% more effective, but if patients are not taking their herbs, than they are getting 0% effectiveness from their treatment.
There are actually more important questions that people should be asking themselves about their herbs: Are these fresh organic herbs of high quality, or are they made from the brown lifeless remnants of herb medicines that are old or stored improperly? Am I taking the correct formulas for my specific health imbalances? Do I understand how herbs work with the body to bring about positive change and are my expectations realistic? Are there binders in my tablets or herbs that may make them less absorbable or make them an allergen?
It is very important that you use a trusted herb supplier as qualities of herbs varies dramatically. While it is important that you have realistic goals when utilizing natural medicines, you can have high expectations for healing; it is possible to be well, and to reverse chronic health conditions… it just takes time. It does not pay to rush the healing process; what matters to most are end results, but the actual process of healing offers many opportunities for personal and spiritual growth and should be honored.