Herbal capsules


Capsules make for a very convenient way to take an herbal remedy but taking an herb this way bypasses one of the major therapeutic pathways of the body – our sense of taste.

Taste and smell are both linked and send messages to our central nervous system that trigger the best digestive processes to digest the herb and extract its herbal constituents. However, some strong herbs that don’t rely on taste for their efficacy can be used in capsules. Cayenne is a great example of this.

Sometimes too, we want to bypass a patient’s stomach to prevent the herb from being hydrolysed in their stomach. For kitchen herbalists though, this is a bit technical.

What are they made from?

Capsules are made from gelatin (from animal products) or there are vegan options. You can get them in various sizes (volumes) and you can even get them enteric coated which means that they only start getting broken down in the intestines.

Gelatin itself has some health benefits and has been found to improve sleep, lift mood and help with joint pain.

Vegans and vegetarians have the choice of Pullulan capsules that are made from Tapioca roots or HPMC capsules which are made from cellulose.

There are hard shelled capsules (best for powdered herbs) and soft shelled capsules that are more suitable to oils – think of your squishy Fish Oil capsules. Soft shelled capsules are also called ‘gel-caps’.

Cap design

Whatever the source of the material that went into making them, hard shelled capsules are odourless and tasteless and come in two parts that lock together called the ‘body’ and the ‘cap’. You can even break open capsules to add the contents directly to food or smoothies.

Soft shelled capsules are a bit more complicated to make at use at home because they generally come in a single piece.



Capsules are made in different sizes. The ones most commonly used range from 00 to 1. I like to work in the middle and use size 0.

When working out how much herb to pack in, I work on 0.8 grams for each millilitre capacity of the capsule. Having a scale that works in milligrams is ideal but you can get by with a set of digital scales that go down to 0.1 gram.

Size and capacity

As mentioned before, capsules come in different sizes, each with a different internal volume that dictates their capacity for holding your herb.

Different herbs have different densities and weights and, depending on how coarsely you powdered them, will fill different volumes. I like to powder mine finely enough to pass through a 50 mesh sieve. The table below is a good one that shows the weight of the capsule, the volume in millilitres and the density of the powder each can pack in. I generally go for size 0 capsules and fill them at 0.8 g/ml or about 545 mg in each capsule (round all the numbers in the table for our purposes). If you look online, at different manufacturer’s websites, you may see minor differences in the weights or volumes, this is generally because of the thickness of the capsule walls made by that manufacturer.

I tried to get a table working in markdown but had no luck, so here's the link to a good one showing capsule size, volume and capacity.It's from Capsule Connection

Using a capsule filler.

You want to be consistent with your herbal capsules so forcing in as much herb as you can pack in isn’t a great idea. As a rough guide, one teaspoon will fill about 7 size 0 capsules.

You can pack each capsule by hand if you want but there are simple little capsule presses available for around $30 that will do 24 for you with ease. You can also buy capsule machines that will pack 100 capsules for you. I haven’t tried them because I so rarely make capsules that the small ones do me fine.


Some herbs only need a tiny amount of material to work. You can use a filler for your capsules. The most common filler for capsules is lactose powder. Some folks are lactose intolerant so I tend to use cornstarch instead, the there are milk powder or rice powder as options. That way you can use “0” or “00” size capsules with various weights of active ingredients.

Some herbs such as Turmeric work best in oil as that helps extract their constituents better. You can make a thick paste with the powdered herb and an the oil of your choice before packing the capsules. I like Olive oil because it’s nice and thick. Don’t make it too runny though.

To use a capsule press –

  • Start by counting out the appropriate number of capsules needed to load it fully or just as many as you need. Weigh the empty capsules.
  • Separate the capsule bodies from the caps.
  • If you’re being precise, weigh out the appropriate amount of herb as per the table above. I usually stick to 0.8g/ml. Calculate too if you want to add a filler.
  • Place the caps in the appropriate part of the machine and the bodies in the other. Give them a little press to ensure they’re sitting nicely.
  • Fill the capsule bodies to the brim and use the tamping tool to press them lightly, then add the rest of your herb or mix.
  • If you look at the part of the capsule maker that you are filling, there's an opening in the corner that allows you to neatly pour out excess powder.
  • Use the included plastic card to smooth the powder over the tops of the capsules evenly. I lost mine but just use an old credit card.
  • Place the part with the caps over the part with the bodies and press downward evenly and firmly. You’ll get the hang of how hard to press after a couple of runs. If you’re unsure, try a batch with just plain filler.
  • Remove the cap part and flip the gadget over.
  • Press down on the ‘spring piece to push out the capsules. There’s always one that gets stuck, I guarantee it!
  • Count them to make sure they’re all there.
  • Some folks like to give the capsules a little squeeze from both ends. You’ll feel a little click as they jam together. Usually, this isn’t necessary unless you haven’t pressed firmly enough in the earlier step. You may need to do this if a number fall apart.
  • That’s it, you’re done!
  • You’ll see the powder a little loose in the capsule unless you’ve used oil. That’s normal, we don’t want a solid, compressed lump, we want the herb to be easily assimilable once the capsule breaks down when it gets to where it’s going.


Storing your capsules

As your capsules are made from gelatin or other compounds with a similar consistency and texture, it is crucial that moisture is excluded from your containers. Make sure your container for both your empty capsules and your filled ones are airtight and always add a silica gel packet to it.

Store at a constant, low temperature, out of direct sunlight. This’ll preserver both your capsules and the herbs you fill them with.

There are recommendations on how long the capsules stay useful for but really, they just become a little harder. I was reminded to write and post this information because I needed to make some Cayenne, Ginger and Turmeric powder capsules for someone and the only capsules I had were purchased in 2017, They were still fine and are working a treat. I’m not sure if refrigeration helps keep the empty capsules viable but this lot were kept in the bottom of my apothecary cupboard for all of that time (that’s how often I make capsules).

I would hazard a guess that capsules containing oil will not stay as long as those with dry powders in them. The oil will eat at the capsule and may itself go rancid if not used in a suitable time frame.

Capsules should be kept in a cool (15 to 26 degrees C.), dry place (Humidity 45% and 60%) but don’t stress too much about getting it exact. The main problem is with humidity, If are allowed absorb to much moisture they will expand and be difficult to insert in capsule machines. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be a 2-way street, once expanded, I’ve never managed to get them to go back.

Buying capsules

You can buy capsules individually or in small batches from your local health food store or you can buy them in bulk online. Folks that I know who use them a lot in their practices buy them in quantities of 1000. My past batches have come from Nutritional Health Supplements. I bought gelatin ones because I was helping a number of folk with joint pain but, as mentioned earlier, there are other options.

I would stick to Australian made capsules, I honestly wouldn’t be sure what I was getting if I bought the cheap Chinese product from Ebay.

Some of you may have seen that I've been writing a series of posts about making herbal remedies at home. I want to share what I know of this topic so that, as the world gets crazier, folks will have other avenues of medical care, namely those of themselves and their community. If you look back over this blog, you can see heaps of info on the topic, plus loads and loads of posts on herbs and using Australian bushfoods from a white perspective. If you haven't been around on in the @hivegarden and @naturalmedicine communities for long, you may be interested in looking back. There's w-a-a-a-a-y too much there for me to repost and the Hive system doesn't let you vote on old posts so, if you're happy with what you find, I believe that there is now a tip option...





Never thought that it was possible to make it homemade


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Ok, makes sense.

Very informative post on capsules. I liked the suggestion of mixing powder and oil for the ones needing oil.

Thanks. Capsules do have their uses. Oil is a great solvent for some things and herbs like Turmeric work far better with it.

Please share the post around so other folks can find it.