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Since ancient times, plants have been used as herbal medicines. Ayurveda has a 5000 years old rich heritage of the use of plants in the treatment of various human ailments as alternative medicines. Herbal extracts are primarily added to the cosmetic formulations due to several associated properties such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antimicrobial properties. Even today, people in rural and urban areas depend upon herbs for traditional cosmetics.
Ancient alchemists like Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus knew the power, plants have for improving our lives. They understood how the nutrients could be concentrated with the five elements of nature - water, earth, air, fire, and ether. Since that time, many have attempted to recreate their processes and unlock the full healing potential of herbs.
A Herbal Extract is a substance made by extracting a part of a herbal raw material, often by using a solvent such as methanol or water. The process of Herbal Extraction is usually designed to maximise a certain portion of the original chemical compounds found in the plant, many of which have a therapeutic action. Extracts may be sold as tinctures, absolutes or in powder form. Herbal Extracts are now used as a major part of alternative medicine in both Ayurveda and homeopathy.
Although herbal extracts come in many forms, they have one common feature. Extracts represent naturally occurring phytochemicals (plant produced compounds) that have been removed from the inert structural material of the plant that produced them. The main advantage of using extracts over raw herb is that once extracted from the plant matrix, the phytochemicals bypass the need for digestion and are far more readily absorbable. Liquid extracts also offer greater convenience than consuming an herb in its raw form.
Extracts are typically categorized by the solvent used to make them and/or by their form. Some of the more common solvents that are used include water, alcohol, glycerin, and vinegar. The inherent qualities of each of these solvents will attract different phytochemicals in an herb. Watery extracts made by infusion or decoction are used as teas, rinses and the base for syrups and other products.