Many people ask if there just one herb that can be used to treat an ailment or assist in weight management. Why are herbs put in formulations? Couldn’t a whole variety of herbs just be added together to make it stronger and work better? The concept of combining herbs has a long history in Chinese medicine which dates back to over 2000 years. Historically in the west herbal medicine has evolved more along the lines of using a single individual herb and this can be exemplified in Culpepper’s Complete Herbal.
It has only been more recently in the western herbal tradition where a number of herbs are combined. Swedish Bitters is one such example which contains 11 herbs. There has been a recent trend where western herbal companies use a traditional Chinese herbal medicine combination and rename it with a western name and market it as treating a specific complaint that westerners can relate to. Names like ‘Immuno-Plus’, ‘Chemo-Support’, ‘Adrenal-Strong’ are forthcoming and other companies give them exotic names like ‘Formula 101’ or ‘Sailuotong (SLT).’
There are numerous herbal combinations that are now available commercially and have been designed purely from a marketing perspective and not from a therapeutic benefit perspective. For example, the marketing teams in herbal companies think Ginseng is well-known and popular now, so is Royal Jelly. Echinacea is good for the immune system. Milk thistle is good for the liver. Everyone has heard of Angelica Root – so let’s throw them all together and market it is a wonder pill. This makes about as much sense as saying, sticky date pudding and crème brulee are great desserts and roast duck and Singapore fried rice are really good tasting mains – let’s blend them altogether in a smoothie along with french onion soup and oysters – then it will taste extra good.
Individual herbs in Traditional Chinese herbal formulas have been designed to balance and help each other. For example, the herb Rehmannia may be selected to treat dysfunctional uterine bleeding. However if a person has a weak digestive system, the herb can cause bloating and loose stools so another herb, Poria, could be selected to balance out the greasy nature of Rehmannia and make it more palatable.
Traditional herbal formulas can have as many as 20 herbs and a hierarchy has been developed over the years which emphasises the priority order for specific herbs. The main herb is sometimes classified as the Emperor herb and then we have Assistant herbs and Envoy herbs. When they are on their own, may have little benefit – but when strategically added in a formula to balance the action of another herb, the results are enhanced.
The effect of herbs is also dependent on the proportional dosage that it has when it is in combination with other herbs. Look at the example of Bupleurum. It has three very different uses. When it is used in small doses in combination with Cimifugia it treats prolapse and conditions like diarreah. When Bupleurum is used in a medium dose combined with Radix Albus Paeoniae Lactiflorae it treats irregular menstruation and symptoms associated with pre-menstrual tension. When Bupleurum is used in a large dose combined with Scute, it can treat the symptoms of malaria.
Unfortunately the misguided marketing people from herbal companies don’t understand this and sell Bupleurum on its own as a liver tonic and cleanser, which in many instances is merely damaging the yin of the patient and causes them to have night sweats and hot feet.
Let’s take a look at individual herbs – where they are grown and picked.
Though the herb may look the same, grown in different places the effect can be different. Though these differences may be subtle, it does make a difference in the therapeutic effect. Look at grapes grown in different wine growing areas. Grapes grown in the Gimblett Gravels region in New Zealand has a high standard rating so you need to understand that if wine can taste different so can the effect of herbs grown in a different geographical regions. Many herbs in China have a higher rating if they are grown in specific provinces. Other herbs used by Chinese herbalists have a higher ranking when they have been sourced from other countries. Saffron from Iran is always regarded as more superior than Saffron coming from Spain, for example.
Now I can hear people saying, what nonsense, an orange is an orange no matter where it grown. For these people, I suggest have a think about Manuka honey, a well-known New Zealand export. Australia also has plenty of Manuka trees and bees make honey from the same flowers. But the honey doesn’t have the same UMF content in the honey and the scientists just can’t work out why.
Not only does the geographical area and soil where the herbs are grown have an effect on the medicinal quality of the herb, but also other herbs are growing with them or near them. American Ginseng for example, tends to grow near maple trees and growing this herb commercially is taken into account. How these two plants have some kind of synergistic effect is not yet clear.
When herbs are picked is also a crucial factor in determining the potential maximum therapeutic benefit. Should herbs be picked in the spring or late autumn? Of course it depends on which herbs. Observation and clinical experience over many centuries has helped.
Once the herbs are picked, are they used fresh or in a dried form?How are they dried? In the sun? In the shade?
Once ready for use how are they prepared? Some herbs are left as dried roots or twigs and cut into slices used in a boiled up decoction. Other herbs are soaked in alcohol. What type of alcohol? Brandy, rice wine or high grade medicinal alcohol.
There are many factors that go into getting the right combination and dosage to target the specific ailment.
Gracilis Tincture was formulated by Heiko Lade who has had many years of clinical observation before it has been made commercially available to the general public. Heiko has been assisting people with weight management in his clinic for many years.