Choosing which form of an herb to take can be quite confusing! There are tablets, liquid extracts, powders, add the powder to a shake…the list goes on. In Ayurveda, each form of the herb has specific benefits that the practitioner takes into consideration when recommending a form of an herb. This article is to help you figure out which method of delivery will be beneficial for you and when to take it!
Please recognize that it is not always as simple as what is described below, and finding the right form can take some personal experimenting. Nevertheless, think about these points as you go through the process.
They are easy to take. Many of our formulations, which are precise blends of herbs with a specific purpose, are in tablet form, and they are an easy way to get that right combination of herbs. Tablets are also a quick and convenient way to take your herbs, especially when you’re on the go or traveling. Not everyone has time or patience to measure out the powder, and if you are in a rush, spilling herbal powder on your clothes can really hold things up!
You can still get a quick taste of the herb. We chose tablets as opposed to capsules so that you can at least get a quick taste of the herbs (for reasons we explain in the following section) before swallowing them. For those who do not mind the taste, the tablets are also chewable so that you can get a deeper and richer taste of the herbs.
You get the benefit of the whole herb in its innate form. Traditionally, the powder of the plant, whether it be of the root, or fruit, or leaves, is what the ancient practitioners used. This is why we at Banyan have avoided the now popular practice of using extracts of specific constituents for all forms of the herb that we make—it is believed that the various constituents and parts of the plant work synergistically to give a balanced effect. Plants have a certain innate intelligence. Take turmeric for an example. The main active constituent, curcumin, is the talk of the town since it has been widely researched for many benefits. But it is only 5% of the whole root of turmeric, which has over 300 other constituents! Several studies have shown that the whole plant has greater benefits than curcumin alone (e.g. improved immunity function, stronger natural antioxidant function).1, 2 It is the whole plant that contains everything that is needed for proper absorption, digestion, and assimilation of the plant.
You get to taste the herb. The powder is great if you have the time to measure out and take the appropriate amount of herb. In Ayurveda, it is said that digestion begins in the mouth with taste. This is a scientific fact—the tongue communicates directly with the brain and other parts of the body and sends important information based on the taste it receives.3 So while some herbs are not the most palatable, it is very beneficial if you can tolerate the taste.
You can cater the herb to your needs and lifestyle. The powder also has an additional benefit in that it can be easily added to food or drinks. For instance, you can sprinkle some hingvastak on your food, or soak any of the herbs in water to make a cold decoction (triphala is a prime example), or boil the herb in water or other liquids to make a hot decoction or tea. Some choose to add ashwagandha to their smoothies, or cook shatavari and other spices with ghee for additional nourishing properties and digestibility. The powder is very versatile, making it easy to find your favorite combination!
You get a more concentrated form of the active constituents. Liquid extracts are made by a process of drawing out the active constituents of the whole herb in alcohol or other medium, resulting in a more concentrated form—in the end, you do not have to take as much of the liquid extract. For instance, 15 mg of ground herb is roughly equivalent to one drop of liquid extract.
Liquid extracts are a more potent and immediate form of the herbs. Most of our liquid extracts are in a base of alcohol and water, as are the traditional form of extracts, asavas and arishtas, where herbs were fermented in an alcohol base. Asavas and arishtas were recommended in traditional Ayurveda because the sharp and heating qualities of alcohol help give a quicker and more direct effect of the herbs, which is helpful when results are needed more immediately. Both our alcohol and glycerin-based liquid extracts provide the benefit of allowing the body to assimilate the active constituents found in the liquid much more rapidly and thoroughly. The alcohol is also helpful for those with a weaker digestive fire, where digesting whole herbs on its own is often challenging. That being said, alcohol-based extracts are probably not the best idea, generally speaking, if there is a strong pitta imbalance.
They are easy to take. Liquid extracts provide an alternative way to take your herbs if you do not want to bother with the hassle of powders or if you are not a fan of swallowing multiple tablets at once.
They have a long shelf life. Liquid extracts have a longer shelf life, as compared to the herb powder or tablets, where herbs slowly lose their potency through evaporation, oxidation, and degradation.
We encourage you to try different forms of the herb to find the right fit. Give each form a couple weeks to really get a sense of how it is acting in your body, and enjoy the process of discovering what works best for you!
1 A.K. Chakravarty, S.N. Chatterjee, H Yasmin, and T Mazumder. “Comparison of Efficacy of Turmeric and Commercial Curcumin in Immunological Functions and Gene Regulation.” International Journal of Pharmacology. 5 (2009):333-345
2 L Rackova, et al. “Comparative study of two natural antioxidants, curcumin and Curcuma longa extract.” Journal of Food & Nutrition Research. 48, no 3 (2009): 148.
3 M Frank and T Hettinger. “What the Tongue Tells the Brain About Taste.” Chemical Senses. 30 (2005):i68-i69