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Aug 16

How to Use Chinese Herbal Medicines

This article and short video will teach you how to use Chinese herbal medicines. There’s a lot of misinformation about Chinese herbal medicine on the Internet.

Basically Chinese herbal medicine and its history, is many thousands of years old. Chinese herbs have been used for more than 10 thousand years and the written herbal tradition is more than 2 thousand years old.

Just because something is old doesn’t necessarily make it valid, but its pretty safe to say that the Chinese culture is one of the smartest cultures on the planet. The Chinese invented the printing press, they invented paper, they invented gunpowder, they invented the compass, they also invented Chinese herbal medicine. And this continual usage over time is now being verified with modern scientific studies and other methodologies. There are a lot of problems with those methodologies and they are debatable when used for herbal medicine, but they’ve also been useful in proving that the medicine is very valuable. There are a few things about Chinese herbs to keep in mind if you’re online and you’re seeking out herbal formulas on the Internet.

First, there’s a history of patent medicines in China, which means a combination of herbs used for a particular condition, so a patent formula might be what we consider an over-the-counter formula here in the US. We call these formulas OTC for short. Some of these patent Chinese herbal formulas have become popular here in the United States. For instance, Yin Qiao San is a popular Chinese herbal remedy sold in many health food stores.

Many people who know a little bit about Chinese herbal medicine know a formula called Yin Qiao San that they use for colds and flus when a sore throat is present. But you might not know that the formula “Airborne” that’s sold at Wal-Mart, Target and other major chains in the United States is based on Yin Qiao San.

So it’s interesting to see how many modern products are taking older Chinese herbal formulas and then repackaging them into something new for a particular condition. That’s the idea of a patent medicine, it’s like an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. The Chinese would head down to their pharmacy and pick up a prepackaged herbal formula for their particular condition. So, you have pre-made formulas that you can buy for particular conditions. That is one way to use Chinese herbs. Patent formulas are very convenient.

Another way Chinese herbs are used is in bulk form.  In other words, typically you go see a medical Chinese practitioner, and they may have a pharmacy with roots and they may have twigs, leaves and flowers of particular herbs that they put together in a formula for you. You then boil those down in what’s called a decoction with water and then drink the finished product. That is another way to take Chinese herbs.

You have patent formulas, you have loose herbs or bulk formulas,  and there are also other ways to take Chinese herbs. For instance, Chinese herbs come in granulated form. Granules or powders can be just the powdered herb itself or more often, if you are taking granules, basically what your taking is a concentrated form of herbs more potent than just a powdered herb. Granules are herbs that are decocted in water and then the excess water is boiled off until there is a strong concentrate. The concentrated formula is sprayed onto a substrate that can be the used herbs or powdered starch material. Granules are more concentrated than powdered herbs. If you take a ginger root and you dry and powder the root that is a powdered herb. If you take ginger roots and boil them or heat them in water to extract the active ingredients with water, that is a water decoction. If you then grind up the remaining ginger root left over after decoction and you spray that concentrate back onto the ground up ginger root, you can sometimes concentrate the active constituents up to 5 times or 10 times the original herb. So if you see an extract and it says 10 to 1 or it says 5 to 1 it means that herbal formula is concentrated up to 10 times its original potency, so theoretically it would be 10 times more powerful then the actual herb itself, but that is debatable, and many schools of thought abound about the best way to take herbs.

So you have patent formulas, and they can come in granules, they can come in tea pills, you’ll often see small BB like pills in Chinese medicine. Those small pills, called “tea pills” because they are made by first decocting the herbs in water to make a tea, are decocted and the material is made more dense and then rolled into a ball. Chinese herbs can also be taken in tablet form, which is just a different manufacturing process that often uses ground up herbs that are not concentrated.

Chinese herbs come in tincture form as well. Tinctures are a form of Chinese herbs that I use with my company, TCM Nutra, and I’m really fond of tinctures. With tinctures, you get two powerful benefits: first you get the benefit of the water decoction, which is the way that all Chinese herbal formulas are traditionally made. And when you decoct an herb with water over time the water leaches out some of the active constituents of the herbal material. However with tinctures you get another powerful decoction method. Tinctures also use alcohol to extract the herbs, so then you take the physical herb and you put it into alcohol and that pulls out a number of other active constituents. Oftentimes the water cannot get out the oily constituents in an herb so with tinctures you get a broader range of the entire plant, you get more active constituents from the entire plant.

Tinctures are powerful because they are first water extracted then alcohol extracted, then combined to create a therapeutic herbal formula. The final product is preserved in alcohol, which has been used for thousands of years as a preserver. A lot of people are worried, especially those who are health-conscious, about the alcohol. Many people don’t want alcohol so they don’t want to take a tincture, but the reality of the tinctures is that the amount of alcohol per serving is usually less than the amount of a ripe banana.

So the amount of alcohol is really minimal and alcohol itself acts as a vasodilator and it helps the herbs to be absorbed. So tinctures are also a really good form of Chinese herbal medicine because the liquid delivery system makes them so absorbable and bioavailable.

There’s a lot of misinformation about Chinese herbs on the Internet. Yes, many of the herbs from China and many of the herbal products from China have been tested in third party scientific labs and they were contaminated. That is really important to know. So contamination is an issue. Many herbs from China have lead levels that are unsafe, or they have other metals including mercury and cadmium, or they contain herbicide or pesticide residue.

If you are buying herbs, you want to find a reputable company. I happen to use organic herbs in my formulas because I think organic is the best way to go. Not all of them are organic but the ones that are not organic we source very, very carefully in China to make sure they’re grown well and we always test our products in the lab to make sure there’s no pesticide or herbicide residue or heavy metals in the finished product.

You often can’t get a guarantee that products manufactured in China are safe that is why I prefer to have my products manufactured in the United States.

I hope this gives you some understanding of Chinese Herbal Medicine and how to use Chinese herbs. If you have any questions, you can always email me at and you can visit my website, where I have more information about herbs.


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