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Question:
With herbal supplements, what is the difference between root powder and root extract? Does it matter?

Answer:
When selecting an herbal supplement, you should be guided by clinical studies showing a benefit using a particular type of plant preparation. Things you need to be clear about are 1) the name of the plant and its species, 2) the part of the plant, e.g., the root, leaf, flower or bark, and 3) whether the product was made of the whole plant part (such as root powder, which is dried root made into a powder), or just key compounds extracted from that part of the plant (i.e., a root "extract") which are typically provided as a dried powder or liquid.

In most cases, you will be looking for an extract, in which case you will also need to know the % of specific compound(s) to which the extract should be "standardized" since there are many types and concentrations of extracts. Supplements made of whole plant plants, like root powder, are typically not standardized like extracts.

The "ConsumerTips" section of every Product Review on ConsumerLab.com covers this information, so you will know what to look for when selecting a product. Other information you find is dosage, how and when to take the herbal supplement, potential side effects, and interactions with drugs and other supplements. Of course, you'll also see whether ConsumerLab.com testing found each product to contain the listed ingredient(s) and meet additional criteria of product quality.

Here's a quick summary of popular herbal supplements, showing the type of preparation typically used:

Plant Form Commonly Used Clinically
Aloe Gel from inner portion of leaf or purified juice from whole leaf
Ashwagandha Root powder or root extract
Bilberry Berry extract
Black Cohosh Root (rhizome) extract
Black Currant, Borage, Evening Primrose, Flax Seed oil
Boswellia Extract of gum resin
Echinacea Extract of aerial (above ground) parts
Garcinia Extract of fruit rind
Garlic Bulb powder or extract
Ginkgo Leaf extract
Ginseng (Asian and American) Root powder or extract
Green Coffee Bean Bean extract
Green Tea Leaf extract
Maca Root (rhizome) powder
Milk Thistle Seed extract
Saw Palmetto Berry extract or powder
St. John's Wort Extract of aerial (above ground) parts
Turmeric (curcumin) Root (rhizome) powder or extract
Valerian Root extract or powder


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Robert11264   September 7, 2016
This important tip bears repeating.

The benefits to be derived from herbal supplements can vary greatly with the part or parts of the herb, how it is refined and/or concentrated, and even what other substances are formulated with it. The variations in biological value come not only from differences in concentration but from how well the particular formulation is assimilated. Many herbal supplements are not assimilated well in their basic form.

In perusing this list, I see at least seven herbs for which the consumer will find formulations that are virtually useless in the quantities or forms provided. If I could follow only one indicator, I would choose relative price within the range of options offered by a reputable brand sold by a reputable vendor. If the vendor is selling four different formulations of Ashwaganda or Curcumin within a single brand it is likely (but not certain) that the most expensive formulation is the best. Once you have determined that formulation, you can shop across brands and vendors to meet your needs.

A better strategy is to do you homework first with a service such as ConsumerLab.com and then do you shopping.

This CL Answer initially posted on 7/15/2015. Last updated 8/3/2017.

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