Herbal Wisdom

Lemon Balm; Tea, Extract or Herbal Capsule?

The wisdom of our ancestral herbalists is often captured perfectly in the names chosen for many herbs that we use, which guides us to their uses. Lemon Balm is a very good example of this and fits the description of “something soothing.” If ever there was a balm for modern times, then Lemon Balm would be a strong contender. This herb has an affinity for all the modern nemeses including sleep, nervous system regulation and the digestive system. Lemon Balm has been used to take the edge off since ancient Greek and Roman times, helping you relax and take some stress off your adrenals.*
 
Just as numerous as the choice of herbs for sale, our next decision as a consumer is to decide whether to take the whole herb (in a capsule), the dried extract (in a capsule), a tablet, a softgel, a liquid extract, a glycerite, an elixir, a tea… etc. The choice of delivery method comes down to personal preference for some and others, it may even depend on what the herb is being used for.  
 
All supplement types have benefits and drawbacks and typically apply to most herbs, including Lemon Balm. It all begins with the chemistry of the herb we are considering since the characteristic phytochemicals within each herb have a unique combination of fat-loving compounds, water-loving compounds, minerals, soluble and insoluble fiber and essential oils. Traditionally, herbs in the west were either infused or decocted as a tea if the beneficial compounds were water-loving or taken as an alcohol and/or vinegar extract if the compounds were fat-loving. Since this is herbalism, we are not targeting one drug-like activity from one compound and the choice becomes more complicated because the reality is that both preparations will give you some benefit due to the hundreds of compounds that are captured by infusion or extraction. The benefit of these liquid preparations such as teas or extracts is that the body has only to absorb the compounds without having to digest them and they begin to work rapidly in the body. Also, the body is amazingly intelligent and as soon as we sense the herb with our taste, nose and sight there are physiological effects in the body. A disadvantage of these methods is that the extracted or infused part of the plant is discarded. This normally includes the insoluble fiber (the cellulose and lignins), and most of the micronutrients such as the insoluble minerals.
 
Taking the whole herb is a tradition that is practiced in Ayurveda and is a very pragmatic approach that is suited for people who like the idea of taking everything that is within that herb, which is typically around a few hundred constituents that we know of.
 
For example, Lemon Balm has been studied recently for a water-loving polyphenol known as rosmarinic acid. If we want to be sure to get this compound we need to either take the tea, the whole capsule or choose a preparation such as an ethanol-water extract. At Oregon’s Wild Harvest we hand-craft our liquid extract products using a mixture of organic or biodynamic alcohol and water. The ratio depends upon the characteristics of the herb which offer the most function. Mother Nature knows best and whole plants are effective at restoring order and homeostasis in our bodies.

Joanne Roberts
In-house Ayurvedic Health Coach & Herbalist

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