What is An “Herbal Formula”?

Let’s dig into what exactly an herbal formulas is.

TCM, like lots of other medical traditions, uses herbs to fight disease, and improve health. Chinese emperors have preserved the text books and research done by TCM doctors over the centuries, so we have lots of evidence and knowledge to make the most out of herbal medicine!

Some herbs used in TCM are common spices and cooking ingredients that you use everyday, like ginger or cinnamon and others are relatively unknown to the west. Herbal formulas can come in lots of different forms, including:

  • Powders
  • Capsules or pills
  • Teas 
  • Extracts or tinctures

Herbal formulas use anywhere from 3-15 ingredients, or even more! There’s around 100,000 known herbal formulas in the TCM tradition. 

How do you make an herbal formula?

To make an herbal formula, you need one or more principle herbs that are meant to address the illness or problem at hand. Then there are minister herbs that work to make the principle herbs more powerful. There may also be adjunct herbs to make the formula more palatable or less harsh. And finally, neutralizer herbs help all of the different ingredients work in harmony. Together these herbs form a powerful synergistic blend that increase bioavailability that the individual herbs alone can not do.

Some of the more complex formulas are actually two or more of the simple formulas mixed together. Or sometimes one complete formula will be added to a second formula that’s been modified. There’s lots of moving pieces, obviously! That’s why having all that research preserved over the centuries matters so much. This is not something you can google search and have the right formula pop up, it takes years of studies to learn this craft.

What is A “Custom” Herbal Formula?

So what makes the most effective formula?

Is it the one with the most herbs?

Or the one that’s been around the longest?

The one that has the most hype?

No, none of those things.

The best herbal formula is the one that is made specifically for the patient, the one that works best with the body, the individual, and the energy, the constitution, and the current illness of the person taking it. 

TCM is all about treating the person as an individual. So on top of considering the kind of health issue the herbs are supposed to treat, you also have to take into account any other health issues or medicines that are already in play, on top of the person’s inherent constitution. 

So for a custom formula, your TCM practitioner or a Doctor of Chinese Medicine may take a commonly prescribed formula as a starting point but go on to customize it to your exact needs by taking out some herbs, and adding others, and adjusting proportions. And as the treatment goes on, your custom formulas might be modified again and again to keep up with the changing needs of your healing process.

What’s So Great About Custom Herbal Formulas?

From the TCM perspective, everyone has an individual pattern. Some have damp-hot energies, while others are dry-cold. Think of people like different kinds of habitats–like the desert, the snowfield, or the southern swamp. Each kind of person, just like each environment, needs a unique kind of care or treatment. 

Custom herbal formulas make this kind of unique personalized care a reality. The more a treatment is tailored to your needs and specifics, the more effective and powerful it will be.

The Future of Medicine?

Herbal formulas and the process of customizing them have been around for thousands of years. It is the oldest medicine recorded, but what can it do for the modern human?

Personalized health care is the future. In fact, personalization in general is the future! Technology is making it easier for everyone from businesses to Doctors to know more about their customers and patients. It’s also easier than ever to tailor care and services to reflect this newfound knowledge. It is easier than ever to reach a Doctor of Chinese medicine, the internet and videocall make it possible to connect with a Doctor no matter where you live.

Eastern medicine and Chinese medicine is making a name for itself in the West. More and more studies are being done to understand the effects of different plants and formulas. With that in mind, it’s easy to see that custom herbal formulas are going to explode in popularity any minute. And for good reason. We are all individuals. It makes sense that individualized medical care would be the most effective kind.

TCM has been around for a long time, and it’s not going anywhere soon. Herbal medicine is here to stay.

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