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The dos and don'ts of capsule making.

A question on the herblist in January 2003: "Are ground herbs in capsules potent?"

I answered back then, too, but I've updated that reply here:

    1. powdered herbs are usually bottom of the barrel. That means they're older than the rest of them. The other problems with storebought powdered herb are:
    - is it the right herb? It's easy to tell different herbs apart when you have cut'n'sifted leaf, flower, or root; it's rather difficult when the herb is powdered.
    - is it adulterated? This is a problem with the more expensive herbs: the temptation to put starch, lactose or cheaper herb in there might be overwhelming, especially when we talk really expensive herbs, like ginseng.

    2. powdered herbs might have hung around as powdered herb for quite a while. If there's air, some constituents oxidize, making the herb even weaker.

    3. most capsule filling machines fill the capsules with powdered herb and a lot of air. That's even more oxidizing. Keep that capsule on the shelf for half a year, and we're talking almost inert herb.

For full-strength capsules you either want to use herbs that don't oxidize even when powdered (for instance, uva-ursi leaf doesn't contain oxidizable actives), or you should powder high-quality dried herbs yourself - and make your capsules by hand.

When you make capsules by hand you can make sure the capsules contain as little air as possible. That is, there's no "chk-chk" -like sound as the herb mass slides back and forth in your capsule when you wave it back and forth. No excess air means slower oxidizing.

Oh, and I use vegecaps for my capsules. Some of my clients are vegetarians, and vegecaps are fairly easy to get from UKian bulk herb houses. And there's that mad cow disease, still hanging over gelatinous products ...


What do you recommend for a preservative in capsules? Some of the ingredients I intend to use may not last a long time without refrigeration--or some preservation material mixed in.

I'd appreciate your ideas.


John Adkins

Melbourne FL

Minimum air in those capsules ensures maximum shelf life. Adding preservatives takes capsules out of the realm of the herbalist and into the realm of the pharmacist.