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Earthnotes
Herb Library

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DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.



LEARNING TO RECOGNIZE HERB QUALITY

You walk into a health store looking to purchase a supply of bulk herbs. As you gaze at the shelves of containers holding materials that could be anything from brown to dessicated green in color, you are immediately in a quandry.

Where did the contents of those jars come from?

Were they harvested and processed in a manner that would provide optimum quality?

And how can you know?

Ask the store clerk and you will be told they only purchase the highest qualtity herbs from reputable suppliers. But truth be told, most clerks, and many store owners, haven't got a clue. And to be fair, that's what they tell the customer because that's what someone else told them/sold them, and they believe it.

So how to get beyond that?

I can't cover every herb here, but I can give you an idea of what to look for with the clovers. That will help you decide on the quality of any flower species used for teas and medicinals. Flowers should retain a good portion of their original color if they are dried properly - freeze-drying is a great system, but a dehydrator with temperature control also works well. There might be exceptions, but none come to mind. There have been occasions when I've looked at jars of red clover on the shelf and had to inform the owners that the mass of yukky brown blossoms were useless and they should find a new supplier. And yes, they would have gladly shot the messenger, but at least they were told.

fresh

Here you see red clover on the left and white clover on the right. Note the lively color. These are fresh picked in their prime - and that's important. Clovers are in their prime as you see them in the photo and should be harvested during the first flush of blooms in early summer. Wait any later and mold develops.

mold on clover

Here you can clearly see the mold which has developed, appearing as a white film on the leaves.


fresh red clover      fresh white clover

Here are close ups of the clovers in their fresh state.


dried

And in their dried state.


After harvest they should be dried immediately. I use a dehydrator out of direct light. These blossoms are generally done after 16 to 24 hours, depending on weather conditions. A far cry from those masses of brown in the jars, the photos above show that the flowers have retained a good portion of their color.

And as for leafy materials, they should be green, not brown unless they have been deliberately allowed to wilt like tea (Camelia sinensis) to get black or pekoe tea. They will turn a darker, dry-looking green, but you should still be able to see the 'life' or get the sense they were fresh picked when dried. Roots are a different matter as each is different.

I'd say this scratched the surface of the issue, but it doesn't even do that. This is more like a clue that I hope you will follow up on. A Google image search should help you with photos of what each herb you wish to study will look like when it's fresh, then properly processed. Maude Grieve in her Modern Herbal (2 volumes) gives descriptions of many plant parts, especially roots, and what they should look, smell, and feel like when processed.

So before you buy, do a little research, become familiar with the looks, smells, and textures of the plant parts. Then you can be more certain of getting the best product. An informed consumer is his/her best friend.




©2007 by Ernestina Parziale, CH

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