A brief guide to dosing strategies for medicinal herbs

There are not widely accepted dose ranges for medicinal herbs, many people go on to develop their own views and style. Better than argue for a particular dosing style per se, it is perhaps better to examine the merits of each method and approach the situation with an open mind. Different herbs and situations have different preferred dose ranges. As important as dose and frequency is quality of the herbs. Generally, either fresh tinctures or those freshly dried are preferred, but this is not always the case. The longer you leave certain herbs to dry out they will lose their strength due to oxidation. Root extracts tend to last longer than those from the leaf or flowers. Many companies are not interested much in addressing these details.

The traditional Eclectic texts (Felter and Lloyd, 1898) typically recommend doses between 1-60 drops (where 60 drops is approximately 2ml), which I think is reasonable. I personally think it is best to start with lower dosing only using the high dosing method where necessary. It avoids wastage and over doing it. Lower dosage is my primary method (e.g. 5-20 drops per herb, 2-4 times per day). Then I will often use, for example, 4 herbs compounded together each with 10 drops worth per herb, so 40 drops total.

I have noticed frequent smaller doses, e.g. 3-4 times daily, 10 drops per herb are usually much stronger than infrequent heavy ones, e.g. 2 times daily, 60 drops per herb. For example, with the nervines, St. John’s wort, milky oats, and skullcap as a nervine tonic. I also find that a stronger effect doesn’t mean a better result, it is possible to go overboard. There is an art in finding the balance as in all things. Dosing medicinal herbs remains something of a dark art.

Some situations where we may want to consider a slightly higher dose range (20+ drops):

  • Activating the immune system with reishi mushroom
  • Lowering blood pressure with hawthorn berry
  • Trying to treat serious insomnia with skullcap or kava
  • Taking a painkilling herb for chronic pain like Californian poppy

Let us now examine the different dosing styles:

Tinctures

Lower (ethereal) doses

The Matthew Wood school of dosing which is along the lines of John Scudder, an Eclectic physician (Scudder, 1870), uses small doses, 1-5 drops, between 1-3 times daily (Wood, 2004). Jim McDonald uses doses a little higher, between 5-15 drops, 3 or up to 5 times daily. Where more regular doses are used to give a stronger therapeutic effect.

I am not a fan of homeopathy because of the aggravation potentially causing serious problems. What I describe here with these lower doses does not appear to involve aggravations so it is not homeopathy.

Higher (material) doses

There is the British Phytological School (Hoffman, 1988), where doses usually range from 1ml to 5ml, three times daily. This means 2 full droppers (25 drops each, 50 drops total) is approximately the starting dose, a little more than. Some herbs, like blue vervain or lobelia, only require very small doses so it does vary.

Dried capsule extracts

I often start with the directions on the packaging, but also get information from papers and text books.

Conversion Volumes

I made these myself using an A. Vogel bottle or a dropper and a measuring cylinder. A dropper can be 20 or 25 drops, both end up around 0.70-75ml. Herb Pharm bottles say on the back 0.7ml per dropper.

1 dropper = 20-25 drops = approx 0.75ml
2 droppers = 40 drops = 1.5ml
4 droppers = 80 drops = 3ml
6 droppers = 120 drops = 4.5ml (which is about 1tsp) (generally approx max dose)

A drop and a dropper can be variable, many people are saying 20 drops is 1ml, this is approximately true as you can see above.

References:

Felter, Harvey and Lloyd, John. King’s American Dispensatory, 1898.

Hoffman, David. Holistic herbal. Element Books, 1988.

Scudder, John. Specific Medication and Specific Medicines, 1870

Wood, Matthew. The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Doctrine, Energetics, and Classification. North Atlantic Books, 2004.