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The Practical Herbalist

Structure of Herbal Formulas

Historically, herbal medicine has much more in common with cooking than most people understand. Most people, and some herbal supplement producers often assume that you simply mix various herbs together and the result is good medicine. The truth is that various herbal medicines were traditionally prepared in a variety of ways for very specific reasons. This is no different from proper cooking traditions.

A good example is bread. Basic bread, cake and noodles all basically have the same ingredients. They are simply prepared differently. Likewise how you cook the ingredients is essential to the final product. Some herbal formulas need to be cooked, or cooked in specific ways, others need to be raw powders. The proportions of the ingredients also determines how the formula functions.

In many herbal systems the way herbal recipes are composed is very specific. There is often the central or “King” herb that is the focus of the formula. Often this is the the herb that comprises the highest percentage of the formula. Various other herbs in lesser quantities are added to moderate or control the main herb. Often there are other herbs added in small quantity to harmonize the herbs together or to counteract a known side effect of the main herb. These herbs are often called assistants or envoy herbs, depending on their function.

A few formulas are set up as a “rotate the king”. This is where the formula may be made up a few specific herbs that work well together, and the highest dose “king” herb is determined by the predominant symptoms of the patient.

Good herbal manufacturers make it clear in one way or another how the ingredients are assembled in the formula. Without this information, it is impossible for a herbalist to properly use a herbal medicinal formula. Herbal mixes where it appears that all the herbs were mixed in equal quantities is usually a sign of a poorly made herbal formula.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066