Active Ingredients vs Whole Herbs

When researching or using herbs you may have come across the terms “active ingredients” or “active constituents”.

Probably the most know active ingredient is the curcumin contained in turmeric, so much so that curcumin has become another name for turmeric root.

Other active constituents in common herbs are carvacrol in oil of oregano, allicin in garlic and silymarin in milk thistle, to name a few.

Our advances in science, not only in studying the plants but in having a better understanding on how medicinal herbs react upon the body has led to the isolation of these active constituents.

Many widely used pharmaceutical drugs have been developed from isolating active ingredients including codeine, morphine and quinine (for the treatment of malaria). 

The Good and Bad Side of Active Constituents

A benefit of knowing active constituents is when you are shopping for herbs, if a company lists a standardized percent of the active constituent on their label you know that your dosage will be standard bottle to bottle and you are assured to some extent of the quality of the herb being used. 

Although listing the active ingredient isn’t the only factor, there are other things one should take into account like the overall formula, whether there are additives like binders or fillers and whether the ingredients are organic.

There is a downside to an over emphasis and isolation of active constituents.  While one element can be shown to have a certain effect on the body, herbs have been used for thousands of years in their whole form.

Plants contain hundreds of different constituent chemicals that interact and react with each other.  An herb cannot be broken into a few constituent parts and have the full effect of the whole herb. Modern scientific methods have not yet been able to duplicate the full value of a plant that has developed its strength through the millennia.


It is important in looking for herbal products to find products and companies that have a traditional approach and use the whole herb so that you can benefit from all the intricacy and natural effectiveness of that herb.  


*This article is intended for informational purposes. The statements above have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.