I personally gather the majority of herbs I dispense. Collecting trips take me throughout the western US, though occasionally I travel also to the Plains or either of the coasts. All in all, it doesn’t really matter where any particular herb comes from (barring scarcity, contamination, and/or environmental issues); what matters is whether it’s gathered, prepared, and dispensed properly.
Certainly there are non-regional herbs that I’m unable to gather (Garlic, Turmeric, Ginseng, etc.). For these I seek out quality bulk sources and then they are prepared accordingly.
I tincture many plants fresh – particularly if that herbal medicine needs to relay physiologically complexity and/or nuance. For instance, dried Lobelia (herb) is largely an upper gastrointestinal stimulant (nauseating); however when prepared fresh, Lobelia’s subtleties remains intact. In this form it delicately influences an array of parasympathetic nervous system activity. Also, herbs that influence emotional states (depression, anxiety, etc.) tend to be better prepared fresh.
Of course, some herbs should be dried. Whether it’s muting an irritating principle and/or focusing a plant’s physiological direction, at times, the drying process is important. Tea and dry plant tinctures, tablets/capsules, and most topical conveyances are prepared with dried materials.
An essential oil is the fraction (mostly terpenes) that is rendered when a plant undergoes steam distillation. Essential oils are best used topically (and in some cases, internally), and nearly always diluted, for their various medicinal qualities. Consider them a concentrated botanical isolate – significant in application, but prone to toxicity if improperly dosed. I prefer to use them as an accent element in combination with other internal/external herbs.
Water-based teas need little introduction – however their best areas of influence often go undefined. It’s the where and less of the what that helps decide if a tea preparation is picked, instead of a tincture or capsule. Problems of the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts respond better to teas (as long as the herb’s constituents are water-soluble); mainly because the tea’s volume either coats (GI) or is eliminated (UR) through these two systems.
More on the nuances of caps/taps, fluidextracts, and a bevy of topical preparations, at a later date.