Whole Herbs and Standardized Herbs: What’s the Difference?

by Melissa Chichester

Herbs have been used for centuries for their aromatic and wellness properties.

These plants are used to flavor food and for health, and many parts of the plant can be used. 

In recent years, herbs and their benefits have exploded in popularity. When choosing herbal supplements, it can be helpful to know the difference between different types. For example, you may see labels that say “whole” or “standardized” herbs. So what’s the difference?  

What are whole herbs?

Whole herbs are exactly what they sound like. They’re usually dried and milled into a powder and then encapsulated. Whole herb supplements are made from ground plant parts and may include the roots, leaves and/or stems of the plants. 

Whole herbs contain active constituents and nothing has been extracted from the plant. Some whole herb supplements such as saw palmetto can be opened to use as tea.

There are some factors that impact the integrity of whole herbs. This includes the quality of the soil it was grown in, when it was harvested, and how it is processed. Even the weather can impact whole herbs.

>>Your Guide to Herbs

What types of whole herbs are available as supplements? 

Many whole herbs are available in supplement form so you can receive their benefits. Puritan’s Pride’s whole herb products use ground plant parts to provide the beneficial components found within.

>>Click here to discover more herbs

What are standardized herbs?

Standardized herbs provide a guaranteed potency of the marker constituent, used to help ensure the quality of the herbal extract. The standardization process produces a known percentage of the marker constituent from the whole herb. The marker ingredient is typically a component that is responsible for the desired benefit. 

For example, an active constituent in ashwagandha is withanolides. Ashwagandha Extract 500  mg is standardized to contain 1.5% withanolides for its traditional benefits. 

These percentages vary from plant to plant. That’s because the stability of the active component must be just right when it is extracted. More is not always better when it comes to herbs or any other supplements and nutrients. 

Think of it like cooking tomatoes (and other vegetables). When tomatoes are cooked properly, the amount of some beneficial nutrients increases. However, if you cook tomatoes for too long, they can greatly diminish in nutritional value. 

>>What Are Standardized Supplements?

What types of standardized herbs are available as supplements? 

Just as many whole herbs are available in supplement form, there are also many standardized herbs besides ashwagandha.

Are whole herbs better than standardized herbs?

Whole herbs and standardized herbs both have their place in the market. One is not necessarily better than the other. Each type has benefits depending on what you need. The most important part of selecting herbal supplements is discussing them with your doctor first based on your personal needs. Herbal supplements can be a useful addition to your healthy lifestyle when combined with exercise and a nutritious diet.