Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Taking herbal supplements: Should I or shouldn't I?

2/17/2020 by Amanda Davis, PharmD, RPh


Cannabidiol (CBD), St. John's wort, echinacea, ginkgo and garlic. You can find these herbal remedies in the vitamin aisle of any pharmacy, discount store and even your local supermarket. Many claim they will help with health problems using the "gentle, natural action" of herbs. 

Studies have shown that some herbal supplements are safe and effective. Effectiveness of others hasn't been proven, and some have been shown to be harmful. Natural does not always mean safe. 

Herbs may be popular, but are they for you? That depends on the herb and your health needs. If you're thinking about using herbal supplements, this advice may help: 

  • Talk to your health care provider about herbal supplements you're considering before you start taking them to make sure they're safe for you. This is especially important for higher-risk patients including those who are: 
    • Pregnant or breastfeeding
    • Having surgery
    • Younger than 18 or older than 65
  • Learn about the herbal products you're thinking about using from a trusted medication source, such as Mayo Clinic (search herbal supplements) or The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database
  • Read the label and never take more than the recommended dosage. 
  • Keep track of what and how much you take. Report your herbals to your health care provider to have an up-to-date and accurate medication list. 
  • Start taking only one type of supplement at a time so you can determine if it's effective for you. 
  • Don't expect immediate results and beware of claims that sound too good to be true. 
  • Be cautious about the herbal supplements manufactured or purchased outside the United States, where regulations may not be in place for safety. 

It may not be easy to separate fact from fiction when evaluating herbal remedies. To choose the best herbal brands, look for standardized herbal extracts. USP Verified on the label means that the product: 

  • Contains the ingredients shown on the label
  • Contains the amount or strength of ingredients stated
  • Will dissolve effectively so your body can absorb the ingredients
  • Meets requirements for limits on contaminants

Amanda Davis, PharmD, RPh, is a pharmacist in Primary Care Rochester/Kasson.