Are fresh extracts really better?

Plants, colloids and tinctures – nature’s pharmaceutics.

The modern science of biology is about living, not dead systems. The great seventeenth century traditional English herbalists such as Nicholas Culpepper and John Gerard agreed that fresh extracts straight from the garden should be sought whenever possible and regretted the fact that, in their day, they lacked methods to preserve the best of fresh natural materials. Culpepper in particular, lamented that the best and ‘greenest’ herbs were the most difficult to preserve. Herbal science continued to develop, particularly during the centuries of imperial expansion, using globally traded commodities that had been dried in order to bring them to market. At the same time, the ‘enlightenment’ notion that all scientific truths have a rational explanation have become gradually turned, particularly in medicine, into a false premise that things lacking a rational explanation are necessarily invalid (or even in extremis, untrue). As a result, regrettably many modern pharmaceutical scientists are no longer equipped to understand why so many herbalists find the application of fresh extracts preferable in clinical practice. Christopher Hedley, in this link, writes of his reasons for finding fresh extracts better.

At the same time, modern pharmacy was unravelling some of the complexities of colloid science in an attempt to improve the absorption by the body of water insoluble drugs. This is because solubilisation of bioactive compounds within colloidal ‘micelles’ may provide protection for these compounds from first pass (digestive) metabolisation (within humans and animals).

Here, for the first time, evidence is produced which shows that one fundamental competitive evolutionary characteristics of most, if not of all, plant molecular biology provides just such a universal mechanism for the enhanced protective solubilisation of natural biologically active compounds. Herbal medicines now really can be seen to be ‘more than the sums of their parts’ and fresh extracts really are demonstrably more vitalistic, more ‘alive’, than dried extracts. We provide for modern science a rational explanation of what many herbalists have experienced in their practices for many generations.

The reported mechanism critically relies on the ubiquitous presence of hydrated complexes of native proteins, sugars and lipids – some of which are ‘denatured’ (i.e. destroyed), or at least their complexity is reduced, by dehydration due to drying processes. These complex compounds display ‘amphiphilic’ qualities which means that they simultaneously display both soluble and insoluble tendencies that give rise in solution only to tiny, but robustly hydrated, three-dimensional macro-molecular micelles displaying high surface energy.  As is explained and demonstrated in this link:  “Plants, colloids and tinctures – nature’s pharmaceutics” , liquid micelles appear to give rise to ‘microemulsions’ in all herbal tinctures so far investigated.

The work reported shows that this occurs naturally when plant tissue is broken (either by a herbivore munching it’s way or by herbalists’ extractions). This evolutionary adaptation seems to be common to all those plants which use “secondary metabolites” in their competitive strategies. Furthermore, the investigations reported below show that extracts of the living plant cell, known as “fresh extracts” may, when carefully carried out, preserve some of these natural living mechanisms.

This realisation leads to the hypothesis that liquid structures called ‘microemulsions’ may be at least partly responsible, not only for optimisation of plant secondary metabolites in nature, but also for unique aspects of herbal medicine, especially of tinctures. It is claimed this characteristic may be the physical basis of the quality of ‘vitality’ that many herbalists apply to their medicine.

 Bicontinuous structures, in which two radii of curvature are equal but of opposite sign, are thought to exist in some emulsions (after Evans and Wennerström, 1999)

Bicontinuous structures, in which two radii of curvature are equal but of opposite sign, are thought to exist in some emulsions (after Evans and Wennerström, 1999)

The result of almost ten years university based research and practical experience growing, manufacturing and analysing commercial extracts at Rutland Biodynamics, this relatively simple breakthrough offers important new understanding to herbal pharmaceutics at a time when quality issues are under the spotlight by regulators.

To download an illustrated pdf copy of this research with full scientific detail, methods, results and conclusions by medical herbalist, Paul Chenery, with foreword to the first edition by Jack G Woolley, Emeritus Professor in Natural Products Chemistry, School of Pharmacy, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, De Montfort University, UK, please click here: “Plants, colloids and tinctures – nature’s pharmaceutics