Written by Sebastian Pole
Ayurveda has a theory that anything can be a food, a medicine or a poison, depending on ‘Who is having How much of What and When‘. We all know when we have had too much of something, be it cold wind, hot sun or pizza. But do we really know how to use herbs in the right way and at the right dose? For example, fresh ginger root is a delicious flavour in food and helps digestion. It can be a stimulating medicine when used for therapeutic purposes, such as in a hot tea to ease a cold or induce a sweat. However, if too much is taken it can cause acidity, hence acting as a poison in the wrong circumstances. That is why there is no absolute right dose per se, there are some long tested methods used in herbalism.
‘There is nothing in the world which does not have therapeutic utility in appropriate conditions and situations’. Charaka Samhita
Just as ‘One person’s meat is another person’s poison’ a therapeutic dose depends as much on the specific nature of the herb you are using as on the person’s age, sex, constitution, digestive capacity, strength, stage of the disease and the season in which the treatment takes place. All these need to be considered to ensure ‘you’ as a complete entity are seen in context.
(Very) Generally speaking:
- Low dose (0.5-3g of herb powder) balances and nourishes the natural functions of the body.
- Medium dose (3-9g) stimulates a specific therapeutic effect that treats a systemic imbalance.
- High dose (9-30g) either drains or tonifies the whole system.
The effect of taste on dosage
- Low: restores homeostasis.
- Medium: nourishes vata nervous system, has a mild laxative action and cools pitta via its anti-inflammatory effect.
- High: calms the CNS, alleviates vata and relieves pain whilst also aggravating kapha.
- Low: stimulates the appetite but may aggravate pitta acidity.
- Medium: moistens dryness and benefits undernourished vata but aggravates pitta inflammatory tendency.
- High: contracts the organs.
- Low: stimulates digestion and can aggravate pitta acidity.
- Medium: moistens dryness but can aggravate kapha tendency to fluid retention and is a mild laxative thus benefiting vata‘s tendency to dryness and constipation.
- High: breaks accumulations, can cause vomiting and diarrhoea and aggravates all three doshas.
- Low: stimulates digestion and increases digestive fire agni.
- Medium: stimulates circulation, penetrates the tissues and can aggravate pitta acidity.
- High: causes sweating, dries sticky ama and dries fluids, therefore aggravating vata and pitta.
- Low: stimulates digestion, clears stagnant kapha and awakens the nervous system.
- Medium: detoxifies the liver and blood.
- High: drains downwards through the bowel and bladder, cools the system, clears pitta, slows digestion and aggravates sensitive vata.
- Low: cleans the mucus membranes and clears kapha and pitta.
- Medium: holds tissues and organs in place.
- High: binds and constricts the movement of blood, liquids and prana in the channels, thus aggravating vata.
General dosage levels
Adults (12-60 years old):
Medicinal Tea: Hot Infusion (Phantha) 30-60ml of a 1:8 infusion 3 x daily; this means 5g of herbs in 40ml hot water infused with a lid on for an hour. Another method is a 1:16 ratio; soak 30g dried herbs in 500ml freshly boiled water and leave to infuse for 4+ house. Very good for nutrient dense herbs such as Nettles, Red clover, Clivers etc. For a regular cup of supportive herbal tea the ratio is 1:100 (2g in 200ml).
Medicinal Tea: Cold Infusion (Hima) 30-60ml of a 1:6 infusion 3 x daily. This is useful for mucilagenous plants such as Marsh Mallow root and some aromatics.
Medicinal Tea: Hot Decoction (Kvatha) 30ml of a 1:16 reduced to 4 parts 3x daily. This method is best for roots, resins – and generally ta good way to take herbs. Main method used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda.
Pills/tablets/gugguls: 250-500mg 2-3 x/day.
Tincture: Average dose of 1-15ml of a 1:5 ratio 3x/day or 1-9ml of a 1:3 ratio 3x/day. A good method to extract a broad range of the polar and non-polar compounds from flavonoids to volatile oils to fatty-resins. Most common method used by Western herbalists and phytotherapists.
Children (5 –12 years old):
There are some specific rules for determining dosages for children. Age is one consideration, weight is another, and physical constitution is another. Slight or frailer vata-like children require less. Heavy or robust more kapha-like children can use more. Use your intuition and their weight as guides. Dr. Clark’s Rule is very helpful:
To determine the appropriate fraction of an adult dose, divide the weight of the child in kilos by 75. Example: 25Kg child divided by 75 = 1/3. Therefore the child’s dose is 1/3 of the adult dosage.
Another method is Cowling’s dose: divide the age at the next Birthday by 24 to determine the fraction of dose.
Rules of Thumb:
12 year old gets an adult dose;
6 year old gets ½ an adult dose;
3 year old gets a ¼ adult dose;