The practice of using herbal supplements has been prevalent for thousands of years. The use of herbal supplements is fairly common among consumers today. However, they are not for everyone. Because they are not subject to close scrutiny by the FDA, or other governing agencies, the use of herbal supplements remains controversial.  The global dietary supplements market is valued at $132.8 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach $220.3 billion in 2022.

Botanical Supplement InformationThe Basics of Botanical Supplements

According to the National Institutes of Health, a botanical is a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal or therapeutic properties, flavor, and/or scent. Herbs are a subset of botanicals. Products made from botanicals that are used to maintain or improve health may be called herbal products, botanical products, or phytomedicines (the use of herbs and other plants to treat disease).

Botanicals are sold in many forms: as fresh or dried products, liquid or solid extracts, tablets, capsules, powders, tea bags and other forms. For example, fresh ginger root is often found in the produce section of food stores; dried ginger root is sold packaged in tea bags, capsules, or tablets; and liquid preparations made from ginger root can also be found. Although ginger is prepared in many different forms, it is still considered a botanical.

Common preparations of botanical dietary supplements include (from the National Institutes of Health):

  • tea, also known as an infusion, is made by adding boiling water to fresh or dried botanicals and steeping them.
  • Some roots, bark, and berries require more forceful treatment to extract their desired ingredients. They are simmered in boiling water for longer periods than teas, making a decoction.
  • tinctureis made by soaking a botanical in a solution of alcohol and water. Tinctures are sold as liquids and are used for concentrating and preserving a botanical.
  • An extractis made by soaking the botanical in a liquid that removes specific types of chemicals. The liquid can be used as is or evaporated to make a dry extract for use in capsules or tablets.

Common Botanical Supplements

The following list of common botanical dietary supplements is for informational purposes only. It is best that you do not self-diagnose or take any botanical supplement without first speaking to your physician. Botanical supplements are not meant to treat any disease or disorder.

  • Echinacea

Echinacea is commonly used as a dietary supplement for the common cold. However, research on echinacea and the common cold has been inconclusive. One study suggested that at least some Echinacea preparations may reduce the risk of catching a cold by 10-20 percent. However, like most clinical research that has involved Echincea, further research is needed to make a solid recommendation.

Consumers need to be aware that the available Echinacea products differ greatly. The overwhelming majority of these products have not been tested in clinical trials. It has been shown that the labeling of Echinacea products can be misleading.

  • Evening Primrose

Evening primrose is a commonly used alternative plant therapy and a rich source of omega-6 fatty acids. It is best known for its use in the treatment of diseases marked by chronic inflammation, and is often used for several women’s health conditions, including breast pain, menopausal and premenstrual symptoms. However, studies have shown that evening primrose is likely ineffective for the treatment of any medical condition. Optimal dosing standards and treatment regimens await further clarification in clinical trials.

  • Ginseng

Ginseng, one of the most well-known oriental medicinal herbs, has been widely used as an herbal remedy for various diseases. Thousands of scientific literatures have described the diverse role of ginseng in health ailments such as cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, insulin resistance, and hypertension. Ginseng has also been shown to reduce the production of pro-inflammatory agents and thus, ameliorate the symptoms and the progression of inflammatory diseases. Be cautious with ginseng, however, as it could interact with many medications and cause adverse side effects.

  • John’s wort

St. John’s wort is a plant that has been utilized as a health remedy since ancient Greece, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. In some countries, St. John’s wort extract is widely used for treating patients with depressive symptoms. One study concluded that St. John’s wort was similarly effective as standard antidepressants, and had fewer side effects than standard antidepressants. However, more research needs to be conducted to make a conclusive connection, as St. John’s wort is not proven to help with depressive symptoms.

  • Gingko biloba

Gingko biloba extract is available to consumers as an herbal supplement in the United States, according to SCRIBD. People take it for a wide variety of mental health reasons, like improved memory. A study revealed a Ginkgo/ginseng combination presented a significant improvement on Index of Memory Quality in healthy middle-aged volunteers. However, conclusive research has not been completed on gingko biloba.

  • Milk thistle

Milk thistle is a flowering herb that is native to the Mediterranean region. Milk thistle has been the most well-researched plant in the treatment of liver disease. Available evidence is not sufficient to suggest whether milk thistle may be more effective for some liver diseases than others, or if effectiveness might be related to duration of therapy or severity of liver disease. However, milk thistle continues to be used to treat alcoholic liver disease, acute and chronic viral hepatitis and toxin-induced liver diseases.

Botanical dietary supplements in recent news

botanical supplementsAccording to this study, “Kratom isa plant that is indigenous to Thailand and Southeast Asia and produces opioid-like analgesic effects. In Asia, kratom has been used to stave off fatigue and to manage pain, diarrhea, cough, and opioid withdrawal. Recently, kratom has become widely available and popular in the United States and Europe. Kratom is considered illegal in many countries, but is still legal in the United States. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has placed kratom on its “Drugs and Chemicals of Concern” list.”

According to Reuters, “In August 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced it would temporarily reclassify kratom as a Schedule 1 drug, a class that includes heroin and marijuana. Schedule 1 drugs are considered to have a high potential for abuse. However, the DEA’s proposal generated public demonstrations and opposition, prompting the DEA to reverse course.”

Are botanical dietary supplements safe?

The FDA considers herbal supplements foods, not drugs. Therefore, they are not subject to the same testing, manufacturing, and labeling standards and regulations as drugs, so the amount of scientific evidence available for various botanical ingredients varies widely. Some botanicals have been evaluated in scientific studies. For example, research shows that St. John’s wort may be useful for short-term treatment of mild-to-moderate depression. Other botanical dietary supplements need more research to determine their value.

Precaution tips when using botanical dietary supplements

  • Never replace traditional medicine with complementary botanical supplements without consulting your physician first.
  • Educate yourself and learn as much as you can about the herbs you are taking by consulting your physician and dietitian.
  • If you use herbal supplements, follow label instructions carefully and use the prescribed dosage only. Never exceed the recommended dosage.
  • Be aware of allergic reactions.
  • Research the company whose herbs you are taking. All herbal supplements are not created equal, and it is best to choose a reputable manufacturer’s brand. Ask yourself:
  1. Is the manufacturer involved in researching its own herbal products or simply relying on the research efforts of others?
  2. Does the product make outlandish or hard-to-prove claims?
  3. Does the product label give information about the standardized formula, side effects, ingredients, directions and precautions?
  4. Is label information clear and easy to read?
  5. Is there a toll-free telephone number, an address, or a website address listed so consumers can find out more information about the product?

It is important to remember that herbal supplements are subject to regulation by the FDA (DSHEA, FSMA, etc.) but they are different from pharmaceutical FDA regulatory process. A common misperception is that there are no FDA regulations on dietary supplements, and this is often perpetuated by large pharmaceutical companies who are in the business of selling “drugs,” but this is frankly untrue.

As our columnist John Siefert stresses in 71% of Americans Take Dietary Supplements. Time to increase our Nutrition IQ, quoting from the FDA website “The FDA regulates both finished dietary supplement products and dietary ingredients. FDA regulates dietary supplements under a different set of regulations than those covering “conventional” foods and drug products. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA):”

In another recent post from Siefert called Snake Oil vs. Clinical Studies, he quotes from a report showing that two-thirds of dietary supplement companies have been doing clinical tests on their finished products.


Please note that this information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We insist that you always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical/health condition or treatment and before initiating a new health care regime. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the STYR app or on

If you are interested to hear more and receive personalized nutrition, check out STYR’s app, fitness tracker and suite of connected smart devices. Through the platform, you can track and log activity, food, hydration, sleep, nutrition, mood and more to personalize your nutrition needs based on data, science and access to registered dietitians, nutritionists and personal trainers.

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