Herbal extracts and whole herbs are frequently used in all major herbal medicine systems like Ayurveda, TCM, Unani, and others. Which is a more efficacious option is a question that has been debated for some time now.
Herbal extracts are concentrated preparations from specific plant parts, such as leaves, stems, or roots. They are standardized to contain specific active ingredients, making determining the exact dose being consumed easier. This can make herbal extracts more consistent in their effects and allow for greater control over potential side effects.
On the other hand, whole herbs contain a complex mixture of compounds, including active ingredients and other compounds that may have additional benefits or modulate the effects of the active ingredients. Combining whole herbs can therefore be more in line with traditional herbal medicine practices and may have benefits not seen with the isolated active ingredients.
Any plant body, including herbs, has the usual components in any living organism, like fiber, protein, carbohydrates, chemicals of various types – medicinal and non-medicinal, and fats. A plant extract would inevitably not contain those components that cannot be liquified and converted into an extract.
The synergistic action of various herb parts is believed to be responsible for medicinal properties. In herbal medicine, multiple herbs are used to strengthen the synergistic action of multiple bioactive compounds contained in various herbs.
The role of non-digestible components of plants in human health is now well understood. The indigestible fiber in plants helps create a healthy gut environment where microbiota can thrive. We now know that a healthy gut is critical to good health.
An herbal extract is likely to exclude fibers and other plant body components. Food technology, though, has made it possible for us to include fibers in juices that we can consume to obtain full benefit from a fruit. It will therefore depend on the technology used to create an extract that will, in some measure, determine if the full plant body of a herb or its extract will be more beneficial. Plant bodies can also contain harmful to health compounds. In the process of creating an extract, such chemicals can be excluded. A natural herb will contain all components that are found in nature. An herbal extract would not always fully reflect what we get from nature. Your need will, therefore, determine your choice – herb or an extract.