Question: Can you explain to me the term "herbal extract." How does one know the potency of an extract and whether it is good or not. Also what does that mean when it says on the label a 4:1 extract or a 10:1 extract?
Answer: Herbs can be used as a pure crushed powder (of the leaves, bark, root, flower, etc) or in more potent forms such as extracts (many of the active ingredients within the plant are concentrated in a lab). There are quite a number companies that make concentrations of various herbs and each one has their own method of extraction, concentration, and processing. Therefore the same herb can have dozens of different extracts depending on how it is manufactured.
One example is tongkat ali herb. It comes as regular powder and also in various extract potencies such as 10 to 1, 20 to 1, 50 to 1, and higher. In order to know which herbal extract concentration is more effective, each extract has to be tested in humans and compared to another extract potency. Since few such studies have been done, this makes the whole issue very complicated. Therefore, the only good way to know which herb is useful to a person and in what extract potency is for the individual to try it in different dosages and extract potencies.
It is not possible to tell from the supplement fact panel on the label whether one particular extract is better for you than another one. A 10 to 1 extract is more concentrated than a 4 to 1 extract but this does not mean the stronger one is necessarily better suited for the condition you are treating. Furthermore, one company may claim that their extract is a concentrated 10 to 1 whereas another company may have a 10 to 1 extract that happens to be much more potent since their extraction method yields different concentrations of the active ingredients. The whole topic is complicated and there are no simple answers, and few universally accepted guidelines. Also keep in mind that some companies may not be honest in their representation. They may claim their product is a high potency extract whereas it may be a weaker version.