Phytochemistry and Formulation
In the Holistic Herbalism program at the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine, one of Sarah's favorite classes was Demystifying Phytochemistry with Mimi Hernandez, then Executive Director of the American Herbalists Guild (AHG). This class introduced the unique properties of various medicinal plant constituents.
Knowing which type of constituent(s) are present in a plant-- essential oils, alkaloids, polysaccharides, tannins, phenols, and more-- can give clues about its effects on the body. For example, essential oils are antimicrobial. Tannins are astringent and bitter. Mucilage is moistening, soothing, and "drawing."
When we know which type of constituent(s) we are seeking in a plant, we can determine the best extraction methods for the desired constituent. For example, most alkaloids are not water (tea) soluble. Polysaccharides are generally not alcohol soluble. Essential oils will evaporate and escape in very hot water, but tannins are better extracted this way. More mucilage is extracted in cold water than hot.
Finally, effective formulating is assisted by basic phytochemistry. Some combinations of herbs help to increase the potency of the formula. Other combinations render the formula less effective. For example, tannins bind to alkaloids, decreasing the effectiveness of both constituents. Combining cinnamon (tannic) and blood root (alkaloidal) in a mouth wash would be a less than ideal formula.
At Sweet Flag Herbs, this information is used with humility. A whole plant consists of much more than a few chemical constituents, and a plant's effect is often greater or different than the sum of its understood parts.
Ganora, Lisa. Herbal Constituents: Foundations of Phytochemistry. 2009. preview: www.herbalconstituents.com/images/Herbal_Constituents_Preview.pdf
Hoffman, David, FNIMH, AHG. Medical Herbalism. Rochester: 2003. pp. 36-216.