Not all herbal formulations are created equal.
“It’s the wild, wild West out there as far as what’s being sold and who is recommending what,” says functional-medicine practitioner Mark Menolascino, MD. The safe use of herbal remedies requires doing some homework and keeping a buyer-beware attitude. With that in mind, follow these basic guidelines:
- Avoid buying herbs online unless you know and trust the company. When possible, go to a natural-food store or co-op and ask staff for help selecting a reputable product. If you do buy online, herbalist Lily Mazzarella, MS, CNS, suggests choosing manufacturers with solid reputations, such as Herb Pharm and Gaia Herbs.
- Pass on the cheapest option. High-quality herbal formulas are expensive to produce, so avoid the temptation of the lowest cost.
- Notice certifications. A seal on the package may show the product is endorsed by a trustworthy third-party certification organization, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP). But the absence of a seal doesn’t mean a product isn’t good, says Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, a nonprofit herbal-research organization. “Some of the best products don’t have certification, which leaves consumers in a tough spot.”
- Start by trying single herbals in lieu of antianxiety mixtures. “With individual formulas, it’s easier to pinpoint what works for you,” says Menolascino.
- Pay attention to shelf life. When looking for freshness and potency, know that teas are the first to fade. Tinctures last quite a bit longer, because most are preserved in alcohol; Blumenthal believes these can last up to five years, and some maintain their potency even longer. For freeze-dried extracts, he suggests discarding them if you haven’t finished them before their expiration date. Still, there is little danger if you do take an expired capsule.
- Consider seeing an herbalist, a naturopath, or an acupuncturist for guidance, says Mazzarella. “A professional will help to identify if your anxiety is an indicator of a systemic imbalance that needs attention.”
This originally appeared as “Herbs for Anxiety” in the March 2020 print issue of Experience Life.