How to Customize an Herbal Formula

Chinese herbal medicine packets and potHerbs are customized to each patient and what condition you are coming in for.

Chinese Herbal medicine is given in formulas consisting of 5-12 herbs.  The herbs are combined in specific ways to address your condition and improve health.

The characteristics of each herb is considered when included in the formula.

Tastes and Temperature

The taste and temperature of each herbs has been determined by pharmacists and doctors throughout the history of Chinese medicine. Sometimes it is obvious, mint when you taste it is cooling and hot pepper when you taste it is hot.

When you taste huang lian (copitis) you know it is very bitter! This herb is also cold. While the cold feeling is not so obvious all the time, it is based upon the function of the herb as well as its effect on the digestion.

Huang lian, for example, is powerful to address heat and damp heat diseases. These are often bacterial infections or inflammation. Huang lian has been shown in many studies to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

On the other hand, herbs such as ginseng are warming.  This is both because it can make your body feel warm when you take it, or too hot if you take too much. Also because it boosts the body’s Qi which in effect has a warming effect in the body.

Treatment with the Opposite

Chinese herbs for digestion
Honeysuck on bottom right and Copitis on top right

Chinese herbal medicine works to correct the underlying imbalance in the body to help you feel better. After the consultation we will identify the disharmonies in the body.  The herbal formula is formulated both on the function of the herbs and their nature.

A cold disease is treated with hot herbs. A hot disease is treated with cold herbs. For example, lower back pain is often caused by damp cold. Warm herbs will be used to treat this condition. But eczema is often caused by wind damp heat.  Warm herbs will be used to treat this condition.

The Structure of an Herbal Formula

Formulas are organized like an with certain herbs directing the function of the formula and others supporting that role.

Some of the supporting herbs help balance to make sure it is not too much heat or too much cold. These ingredients buffer the very cold or very hot herbs.

No herb is perfect for everyone. Which is why it is important to be cautious when taking very popular herbs such as ginseng, ashwaganga, astragalus or others. It is true that certain properties of these herbs are healthy.  But I have seen many patients develop unusual side effects from herbs that were too hot, or cold, or an them.

It is always best to get advice from a trained herbalist before taking herbal medicine.

Joseph Alban, L.Ac.
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