Putting the Pieces Together

Putting herbs to work means understanding their uses — and limits — and deciding how to use them effectively.

In most cases, there are no ironclad rules when it comes to how much of an herbal remedy to take. All herbs are different, and remedies based on the same herb can vary enormously.

Experts determine what's known as a therapeutic range for medicines, with the smallest amount that would produce a benefit at one end and the maximum amount that the average person could take without experiencing unwanted effects at the other. Most herbs have a very wide range of efficacy, and it's nearly impossible to get a toxic dose of many of them. But while large doses of herbal remedies are usually safe, they're not necessary. The herbs that are in use today got here because they're effective — and practical.

Most manufacturers err on the cautious side when it comes to dosages, suggesting the lowest possible amount that you'd need to get the results you want.

If you're using an alcohol-based tincture but are sensitive to alcohol, or if you're treating a child, you can get rid of a lot of it — not all, but a lot — by putting a small container of tincture into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes. This will allow the alcohol to evaporate.

When determining the best dose, you should always follow the manufacturer's guidelines. When you don't have any — the package doesn't have dosage information or you've made the remedy yourself — you can use these. For chronic conditions, adults should take the following doses:

  • Tea:3 to 4 cups a day

  • Tincture or syrup: ½ to 1 teaspoon, three times a day

  • For acute problems, adults should take the following, until symptoms subside:

  • Tea: ¼ to ½ cup every hour or two, up to three cups a day

  • Tincture or syrup: ¼ to ½ teaspoon every 30 to 60 minutes

  • The dosages given here are for nonconcentrated products. Because commercial herbal extracts vary widely in their concentration, the best advice for taking a concentrated extract is to check the product's concentration level (see previous) and divide that by the dosages recommended here. Generally speaking, seniors should take a quarter of an adult dose. For chronic conditions, seniors should take the following doses:

  • Tea: ½ to 1 cup, twice a day

  • Tincture or syrup: ¼ to ½ teaspoon, twice a day

  • For acute problems, seniors should take the following, until symptoms subside:

  • Tea: ⅛ to ¼ cup every hour or two, up to three cups a day

  • Tincture or syrup: ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon every hour

  • Here are two formulas for determining the best dosage for a child:

  • Take your child's age and add 12, then divide that number by the child's age. Then multiply the adult dosage by that number.

  • Divide the child's age at his next birthday by 24.

  • Using these formulas, a six-year-old would get 30 percent of an adult dose, and a twelve-year-old would be given half. If you're treating a baby younger than six months (and you're breastfeeding), you can take the appropriate herb yourself — and pass it to your baby via your breastmilk.

    A recent study of health care professionals found that a full 79 percent of U.S. physicians and 82 percent of nurses say they recommend dietary supplements — including herbs — to their patients. A roughly equal number of doctors and nurses say they regularly use supplements themselves.

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