Americans are getting more discriminating about what they put into their bodies. We want cleaner foods and less chemicals in our homes. So it makes sense that when I talk to my patients about herbs, they ask me if herbs are safe. Typically when people ask me this question, they are either asking about the quality of the herbs, or their safety with medications or risk of side effects.
Quality Control for Herbs
It’s true – not all herbs are high quality. There are a lot of steps between the field where the herbs are grown and the preparation handed to you to take. Different herbs have different growing practices, they must be correctly identified among similar species in the wild, they may or may not be sprayed with pesticides, and they have to be processed into granules or pills (if that’s the form you take your herbs) before they are handed to you.
From your herbalist’s standpoint, all of those factors are important, but of them all the most critical is whether herbs contain pesticides, toxic heavy metals, and whether the correct species has actually been identified and grown properly. For this, we rely on the testing done by the companies whose herbs we purchase (since herb suppliers have an interest in providing high-quality herbs), and on third-party testing reports done on those same herbs (to ensure the suppliers aren’t lying).
The herbs used in our clinic come from Blue Poppy, and they make public their independent testing results, so you know that the herbs you’re getting are of premium quality.
Safety in Use
Regarding safety in use, Chinese herbal formulas are designed to be taken as groups of herbs put together. Very rarely are only one or two herbs given to a patient. This compounding (called polypharmacy) is intentional – what it does is ensure that any unwanted effects from one herb are offset by an opposing action from another herb.
Wait, you might say, this same situation occurs in typical doctor’s offices and they’re criticized for it. One drug is given to offset the problems of another drug. How is this any different? There are a couple things that make this different. Most importantly is that polypharmacy is possible and easy when a practitioner takes into account the patient’s full health history. If your provider looks holistically at your health, the possibility for unwanted reactions from bad prescribing or conflicts with other drugs is minimized. Also, while herbs have powerful effects, their effects are still mild compared to Western drugs, so any adverse effects are also more mild to begin with. And lastly, herbs are given all at once, so you don’t feel like you’re having a meal full of pills.
Herbs given in formulas like this are also safe for kids – we just give smaller doses to account for the smaller weight of the child.
So overall, yes herbs are safe! If you’ve let concerns about safety hold you back, or if you have more questions, schedule your consultation today!