Whys, Hows, And Wherefor(m)s!
I was filling a bottle with a glycrine extract of licorice root for my new, Caesarian-born granddaughter and got to thinking about why I was using it in that form; my son had asked me to bring it to him since he had only an alcohol extract at his house. A child has a really hard time processing alcohol, and it 'burns' the mouth, so glycerine is better for any kind of regular use. In my EmHERBencysm kit I do use alcohol extracts, since they go directly into the bloodstream; I have personally used licorice extract internally to overcome shock and 'allergic' reactions, and topically for itching. For regular nutritional use capsules are fine, and licorice works well and tastes alright as a tea, even for children. (It's traditionally used for constipation, coughs, and 'stress'; it stabilizes the adrenal glands and soothes mucous membranes.)
Using an extract allows you to get the value of more herbs in less volume. When I was pregnant with my first child the midwife insisted that I drink a quart a day of red raspberry leaf tea. Unlike raspberry flavored 'herbal' teas, raspberry leaf tea just tastes like dirt. Not a thrill to choke down in that quantity. On the other hand Nature's Sunshine has a glycerite of red raspberry blend that also has hibiscus leaf, high in bioflavanoids to help you absorb the iron inherent in red raspberry, and other herbs that complement the intestinal and reproductive tracts. During my second pregnancy-the only one where I suffered with morning sickness on a regular basis-I would cover the bottom of a mug with the extract and add hot water for a tea that was ready-made and higher in nutritive benefit than the brewed tea would have been. It's a little astringent, much like the flavor of black tea, so it also quells the I-am-going-to-throw-up-any-minute waves.
Glycerine provides essential fatty acids, so it tastes sweet but is not a sugar. That is why the things I want on hand for kid care are usually glycerites; NSP's Ultimate Echinacea, Catnip & Fennel, Dulse (really high in trace minerals), VS-C (SO great with chicken pox and shingles) and Stress-J formula. The red raspberry blend that is so great for moms is also super support for kids with diarrhea or intestinal bugs. My children's health book (available for download shortly) goes into more detail about how I use them.
There is a difference between an extract in alcohol or glycerine and a standardized extract. The first is made by soaking plant matter in the extraction medium-usually vinegar, in which the acid breaks the matter down and gets thing into solution; alcohol, which is effective at drawing out some types of components but reduces or eliminates the effects of volatile oils; or glycerine, which draws out most aspects of the base plant. Varying degrees of heat and time are also factors in how complete the extraction is. Standardized extracts add 'active ingredients' to keep a consistent numerical value of one factor from the plant, which skews the balance that existed in nature. Think about the difference between an out-of-season tomato and one fresh from a summer garden, and between one organically vs commercially grown and you understand that nutrient content varies from plant to plant and season to season-but that variation is there for all the nutrients, not just one. I have said before that a "standardized" or "potentized' 'herb' is a drug, and I stand by that concern.
One interesting extraction/concentration process I do think is great is the TCM process NSP uses to create it's Chinese and herbal concentrate capsules. Traditional Chinese medicine generally brews herbs into a broth or strong tea for consumption, integrating the properties of all the plants combined. The concentrated capsules are made by soaking the dried herbs in a strong solution of the same brewed herbs, then re-drying. That is why one capsule of ATC black walnut or licorice equals three or four of the regular herbs. The process changes the TCM formulas from simple herbal compounds to energetic medicines; in the Muscle Test Kit I offer a separate add-on for the TCM Chinese formulas because they act in a completely different manner, more akin to homeopathic remedies, than their regular encapsulated counterparts.