We eat herbs and spices every day in our food, but we don’t always reflect on the health-giving properties these plants offer. One of the many ways Traditional Chinese Medicine can boost overall health is through the judicious use of herbs as medicine—not just delicious flavoring for your favorite meals. But not all herbs are created equally, and there are many important safety considerations to learn about before you go ahead and start using herbal remedies. Spend a little time getting to know when, where, and how to use herbs, and you’ll make big strides in your overall health and wellbeing.

Here’s how you can start:

  • First, always consult with your TCM provider or medical doctor before taking new herbs. Many people incorrectly believe that herbs, because they grow in nature, are automatically safe to consume. While this is true in many cases, there is also a wide array of plants that can be very dangerous if taken internally or in the wrong dosage. To boot, some herbs may interact with medications you’re taking. Remember never to doubt that herbs are a potent, no-holds-barred form of medicine that should be treated with the same respect and caution as conventional prescription medications.

  • Pay special attention to dosage. Higher dosages don’t necessarily translate into faster action when it comes to the healing properties of herbs. Depending on where you obtain them and what form they come in (pills, powders, tinctures, etc.), your dosage might be very different from what’s recommended. Be certain to write down the exact dosage recommended by your healthcare provider—and don’t give into the temptation to increase your dosage to speed up results!

  • Get a good recommendation before buying a certain product. Because herbal remedies are regulated differently than pharmaceuticals, they may vary widely in their effectiveness. You may be tempted to buy an attractive box or bottle, but it’s better to save your dollars. Acupuncturists and TCM providers, as experts in holistic medicine, often have excellent recommendations for particular brands of herbs to buy.

  • If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, be extra cautious. Again, herbs are often a safe, gentle way to improve health—but all bets are off for women who are expecting and new mothers! Pregnancy changes what’s healthy for mom and baby alike, so it’s imperative to speak with an expert about the herbs to take and avoid during this special time.

  • Don’t expect herbs to work the same way as pharmaceuticals. Prescription drugs from your conventional doctor are made to relieve your symptoms, no matter the side effects. Herbs, on the other hand, tend to have a much subtler effect that may take longer to manifest—but will likely come with fewer side effects. This is one reason many TCM providers recommend herbs for chronic conditions. It may take a little while before you see results, but it’s gentler on the body and less likely to cause a chain reaction of undesired results.

There’s a world of herbs at your disposal that can bring amazing benefits to your body and mind. Ask your TCM practitioner what herbs are right for you, and get a good recommendation on where to get them. You may be surprised by how gentle, effective, and easy it is to improve your health with a few simple, honest herbs!