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Herbs can be prepared at home in many ways, using either fresh or dried ingredients. Herbal teas and infusions can be steeped to varying strengths. Roots, bark or other plant parts can be boiled into strong solutions called decoctions.
Honey or sugar can be added to infusions and decoctions to make syrups. In stores, herbal remedies can also be purchased in the form of pills, capsules or powders, or in more concentrated liquid forms called extracts and tinctures. They can be applied topically as in creams or ointments, soaked into cloths and used as compresses, or applied directly to the skin as poultices. Herbal remedies are not regulated and come in unpredictable strengths, the amount of the active ingredients varies greatly, depending on whether more than one species of the herb is used, and how and when the herb is gathered and prepared. Because some herbs can be toxic or carcinogenic, all herbs should be used under the guidance of a health care practitioner familiar with herbal medicine.
Across the spectrum of alternative medicine, the use of herbs is varied: Naturopathy medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, and Ayurvedic medicine all differ in how diseases are diagnosed and which herbal remedies are prescribed.