Q & A: Herb, Vitamin, Mineral. What’s the difference?

“What’s the difference between a herbal medicine and a vitamin and mineral supplement? I am middle-aged and relatively healthy but feel I should be taking some additional nutrients”

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer answers.

Firstly, I think it’s great that you’re not taking your good health for granted and are mindful of what your body may need.

Put simply, vitamins and minerals are used to help maintain optimal health while herbal medicines are used to treat minor ailments.


With regard to nutrients, there are 13 vitamins, including the well-known ones, such as vitamin C, and 14 minerals including zinc, which have recommended daily nutrient reference intakes (also known as NRV’s – Nutrient Reference Values). This is because they are all deemed essential for good health.

A food supplement will normally include most of these nutrients to provide a daily top up. However, some products will just contain vitamins, and others just minerals. Many vitamins such as vitamin C and the B vitamins are water-soluble, which means they are not stored in the body, and are therefore needed daily, either through the diet or via supplements. Certain minerals including iron can be stored in the body, which is why it is not always included in supplements.

However, some vitamins and minerals like Vitamin D and calcium, both of which are essential for strong bones, are needed in higher amounts and are often deficient in the average diet. Therefore supplementation is a good idea. Vitamins and minerals all work synergistically, hence they are better taken in a complete multivitamin and mineral formulation.


There are a wide range of licensed medicinal herbs available. One example is black cohosh, which is used to treat menopausal symptoms. Herbs are powerful and can have a very positive effect on a whole host of minor ailments. The fact that they are licensed gives the consumer peace of mind that the exact strength and extract of herb is exactly as labelled and that they are produced to strict quality guidelines and not contaminated in any way. Always look for the THR logo on the pack to confirm they are correctly licensed.

Herbal remedies can become very useful additions to your medicine cabinet – find out more by visiting the Herbs section of our website.