Three common mistakes in herbal medicine

Posted by Virginia Ahearn on Jan 28th, 2017

I often receive calls and emails from people who have tried this or that herbal remedy but didn’t notice any results  and thus, didn’t think it worked.  After a great many of these conversations, three common errors stood out. 

Read on to learn how to avoid these mistakes!

  1. Not taking the remedy for a long enough period of time.

If you’re taking herbs to relieve a short term issue, like a cold, you should feel some results in a few hours up to a few days. But if you are taking herbs for chronic ailments such as arthritis, asthma, PMS, digestive disorders, anxiety, or depression, you’ll need to take an herbal remedy for several months or longer to build in your system before seeing results.

Chronic illnesses don’t go away in few days, or even a few weeks. It only makes sense that if you have had something for a long time, it will take a while to heal fully from it. Herbs work thoroughly, but slowly. They are not a quick fix for chronic health issues.

For example, I’ve had asthma since I was a toddler. My asthma was severe in my childhood but eventually got much better. In my early 30s, however,  I lived in an old farmhouse and had no idea how exposed to mold I was while living there. My asthma grew much worse during this time. I was often short of breath, and one September I realized I was using my inhaler daily.

This was not normal for me.

I was early in my herbal studies program, and I chose two herbs to work with. (astragalus and ginko, if you’re curious) I certainly could have used more than two, but I committed and took the tincture – a liquid form of the herb – three times a day. One day the following March, I packing my inhaler in my bag to go out for the day, and I realized I hadn’t used it in a month! The herbs had started to work, bit by bit since October.

It was such a slow steady healing over five months that I didn’t notice all the benchmarks until it dawned upon me in that moment. I went ahead and reduced the dosing and now take herbs for lung support intermittently throughout winter when my asthma typically worsens.

Moral of the story is that slow and steady wins the race. You need to commit to taking herbs for a long period of time in order to earn the payoff! Don’t give up too early.

  1. Not taking a high enough dose.

Herbal remedies, especially tinctures, vary greatly in their dosage. Tinctures are the liquid form of the herb are often sold in brown glass bottles capped with a dropper. Dosages, though listed on the bottle, vary, and are sometimes on the low side. It’s best to start with the dosage on the bottle and consult with an herbalist if you don’t see results. I am always happy to guide you.


When I create an herbal formula for a client, the dosage for tincture is usually a teaspoon three times a day. This may seem a bit expensive at the outset of your regimen, but this usually leads to a great return on investment over time, with improved and enhanced health and higher productivity. Typically as your health improves your dosage is reduced, lowering costs.

Some clients confide that they have stretched their herbal formulas by taking a lower dose. I understand the desire to save money, but this ends up costing more because not taking enough to have an effect on the system is no better than not taking anything at all.

It is better commit to allocating the investment in your health to take the full dose and actually get the results. Of course, I am available to answer specific questions on correct dose of herbs you are taking.

  1. Poor quality, or product that has been on the shelf too long.

If anything about herbal medicine makes our heads spin, it is the huge array of products to choose from.

Let me break some things down for you. The three main ways to take herbs are as tinctures, teas, or capsules. (There are many others such as oils, linaments, which I will cover in a different series). Tinctures that are alcohol based as their preservative, have a long shelf life. Years, usually.

Bulk teas are leafy, loose or flowers, that may be effective for up to 18 months, but some less. Write the date on bulk herbs you buy. To be totally sure, keep these bulk herbs for only 12 months, then lovingly compost them.

It is of note that the mineral content in herbs do not break down. So herbs like nettles, alfalfa, oatstraw may lose other medicinal effects in 18 months, but you could still drink them and get the minerals. Hurrah for that!

If the bulk herbs are roots, berries, or barks, they will last several years. They are more stable because they are chunkier, but you should still write the date on your bags of roots, berries, and barks.

Regarding the quality of herbs in general: There are a lot of wonderful companies out there that have great quality control on their herbs. I have a short list of some of my favorite companies on my website, most are small farms run by herbalists with big hearts who know the importance of high quality, and honor shelf life.

I generally shy away from larger companies. I also shy away from capsules, because the herbs are powdered and lose their potency more quickly. I also prefer teas and tinctures because taking herbs in liquid form is the easiest for our bodies to absorb. This means it is the easiest way for our bodies to put the medicine to use.

Was this helpful? How many of these common mistakes might you be making? How will you know? Leave a comment below, or send me a message!

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