Most acupuncturists study Chinese herbal medicine as part of their training because acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine share a similar history and similar theories. As such, they work extremely well in tandem. It is common for an acupuncturist to prescribe an herbal formula after an acupuncture session in order to reinforce the effects of the acupuncture.
Each formula has two goals: to go to work relieving the immediate issue right away, and to treat the underlying imbalances that are contributing to or resulting from the condition. For example, a formula for fever has ingredients to immediately reduce fever. Also, it always contains other ingredients to replenish body fluid lost during the fever. If the formula treats the underlying imbalance that caused the symptom, it will help prevent further development of the overall condition.
Chinese herbal medicine is based upon the theory that each ingredient (plant, mineral, or animal product) has a healing property. A formula is composed of ingredients to direct the human body to respond in a well-balanced way and therefore have few or no side effects when taken as prescribed. Through a few thousand years of empirical knowledge, popular “recipes” have become classics and are given names such as “Four Gentlemen” and “Free and Easy Wanderer”. The names usually indicate ingredients or their effects on the human body.
Different Types of Formulas
Bulk herbs: This is the old school, hard-core way of taking the medicine. You basically brew tea from many bulk ingredients. It usually stinks up the whole house, but it is the most potent form of the medicine, and it is custom-made for you. A practitioner always provides specific brewing instructions when prescribing a bulk formula.
Granule herbs: Chinese herbs also come in granule forms that are easily dissolved in water. A practitioner can mix ingredients to make a formula for you or prescribe a ready-made formula in single serving packages. This is the most popular type in most acupuncture clinics because it is easily prepared (just add warm water) without the smell of brewed herbs, and yet it is still very potent.
Patent Formulas: The above-mentioned “recipe” formulas are made into pills by herbal manufacturers.
They tend to be less potent than the bulk or granule type, but they are popular form due to their convenience. They are also popular with people who have a hard time with the strong, distinctive taste of the above two forms.
Safety of Chinese Herbal Products
I purchase herbal products only from reputable U.S. based companies that test the mercury levels of their products and follow FDA guidelines.
The Cost of Herbs
Bulk herbs: The cost varies depending upon the ingredients.
Granule herbs: Ready-made formulas are usually around $20 per box. One particular Japanese brand I like has 42 single packets per box (a two-week dosage).
Patent formulas: They are about $10 per bottle, which is usually a one-week dosage