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Issue No 104
Fall 2005 
page 44

Herbal Myths EXPOSED
Chamomile tea is the third most commonly consumed tea in the world. Allergic reaction is exceedingly rare.

Concern for licorice arises with the European variety (G glabra). The Chinese variety (G uralensis) is considered more calming than G glabra, and less likely to cause the rare potential blood pressure increases that large amounts of the European variety can. This may explain the relative lack of concern over licorice among Chinese practitioners.

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Myth 3
You should use tinctures if you want the most potent medicine.
Tinctures are no more potent than any other herbal preparation. Not only that, they often cost more than other forms, if we compare identical doses. In some cases, alcohol (used to make tinctures) may even damage some constituents, including volatile oils, and cause others, including polysaccharides, to precipitate, or separate from the solution. Finally, while the total amount of alcohol consumed in tinctures is small, some people prefer to avoid alcohol completely.

This isn’t to say that tinctures aren’t effective. We just shouldn’t automatically assume they’re superior to other preparations. When you do choose medicine in this form, save money by purchasing your tinctures in the largest size available and go with the typical European dose of 15 ml per day (half of a typical one-ounce bottle) for the best healing results.

Myth 4
Licorice is a dangerous herb because it raises blood pressure.
Licorice root, one of the most common Chinese herbs, appears in the majority of Chinese herbal formulas. Yes, it has been known to raise blood pressure in some folks. But just how common is this? The Food Reference website (www.food reference.com) claims that as many as one third of people will experience hypertension from licorice. But can this really be true? And if so, why haven't Chinese practitioners ever noticed it?

Much of the concern comes from the media picking up stories like this one from The New England Journal of Medicine: “A 70-year-old man was admitted to San Francisco General Hospital because of weakness, mental slowness, and significant weight loss. It was found that he had been eating 25 to 40 licorice candies a day for four to five years. Some of his symptoms persisted for four months after he stopped eating licorice.”

Glycyrrhizic acid, the component responsible for many of the herb’s benefits, also causes the blood-pressure side effect. But response to licorice varies by individual. A study in The Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology found that even the most sensitive people didn’t experience problems until they took a dose equivalent to 50 g (1.8 oz) per day of licorice candy. Most everyone will have problems if they eat 200 g (7 oz) of daily candy. (Note that most licorice candies are flavored with anise, not licorice, and therefore don’t pose a health concern.)

As PDR Health, from the publishers of The Physician’s Desk Reference, advises, “At recommended dosage levels, licorice is unlikely to produce any side effects. However, when taken in high dosages (more than 20 g of licorice extract or 50 g of licorice root daily) for an extended period of time, it will lead to excessive loss of salt from the blood, water retention, high blood pressure, and heart irregularities.”

So what can you do? Be reasonable. Don’t take licorice if you have blood pressure problems, and check your blood pressure after a month of using it. Go with a recommended daily dose, either the European suggestion of 2-6 g per day; the approved German dose, 5-15 g of root; or the Chinese dose of 3-12 grams of root—all ample for therapeutic purposes.

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