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Hello patients!

This document is designed to help you understand Chinese Herbalism as a process.  This is as opposed to the single-dosing fits-all mindset of pharmaceuticals or one-size-fits-all-forever mindset people have about vitamins and supplements.

In the ancient days, herbalism was either prescribed for a set condition, or there was a local apothecary which the townspeople would frequent on a daily or every other daily basis. Whatever was cooking that day would be some variation of several formulas that were needed, and it would be based on the changes in the weather, moon, and wind.  

So for example there would be a general tonic, an arthritis formula, a headache formula, etc… and it would be adjusted every day or every week by the doctor’s assistants according to prescriptions early in the morning after the doctor did Qigong. Of course when the doctor was in, they would also see patients and prescribe custom formulas for the next two to five days, but the patient would need to return to them.  There were not many doctors, so it was considered a real blessing to have a doctor in the same town you lived in (usually you had to send for him and he’d travel perhaps up to 100 li on cart to visit).

These days people want herbs to be used like steroids, antibiotics, or statins, and it just isn’t this way. Would you take ibuprofen daily? You take it (and aspirin) as needed, both coming from an older time in western medicine which exactly reflected the above. It’s the square peg and round hole.

Herbs are meant to be custom and to change, with the Changes (Yi or I Ching)

The best way to be a good herbal patient is to slowly collect several different cabinet formulas (I have perhaps 20 or 30 of these in my own home), starting with emergency formulas and rescue formulas. The next best way is to learn to cook and use herbs.

I do not charge to review the tongue and pulse and change a formula. When I prescribe a custom formula, my expectation is that you will return to review the progress, and to alter the formula. I also cannot remember how many people are on what formula. It may seem, because in acupuncture we get to know each other so very well, that I would remember everything, but that is a sense you have, not reflecting the facts of how many different cases are going on.

When we start a custom formula (or even a patent formula), you have to come in – just drop by, don’t make an appointment – wait in the lobby, and let me review your case and see what needs to be changed or done. If you don’t come, I won’t remember you are even on a formula until you ask me again.

Herbs are not drugs, vitamins, or cure-alls. They are a complex chemistry designed based around macro-effects to reprogram your body. The best always are taken raw/decocted (tang) or granular (san) or infused (yin) or in an herbal wine (jiu) and touch the tongue. Next best are tinctures. Then are capsules and pills (wan).  You can open a capsule and make it a san, by pouring it into warm water. You should use a lot of capsules this way if you are very far out of balance.

In general the best is always raw or granular or herbal wine. If you take the raw formula, you have to drink it. Just as with drugs and vitamins, there is potency, absorption, bioavailability, dosage (in blood), and excretion. The stomach destroys part, then the blood brain barrier blocks the next bit. So you have to allow time for penetration and absorption.

If you consume anti-therapeutic foods, beverages, and poisons (prescriptions) you aid the enemy of the herbs, so you can’t expect them to be as effective. You have to allow for time to change your chemistry. Remember your previous choices got you here; herbs will get you there, but not on your clock.

Herbal Delivery Options

  • About Patents
    • Pre-made
    • Cabinet medicine vs Rx
      • Emergency formulas
      • Rescue Pills
    • If Rx then take whole bottle
    • If capsules, best if opened and dumped into warm water or tea
    • Can be combined with tea, especially ginger, mint, or green
    • Tea-pills contain honey and sometimes gluten
    • Different companies = different quality and place of manufacture
  • Capsules and tea-pills (Wan)
    • Capsules are granules in a pill
    • Higher bioavailability
    • But processed already (vs Raw)
    • Tea-pills (black pebbles) are coated
    • Need to take more tea pills to get same dosage
  • Custom Granular (San)
    • Rx comes from Crane Herbs
    • Shipping
    • Encapsulation is optional $$
    • Can be represcribed remotely
    • Mailed to you
    • Paid by your card to them
    • If you don’t have a card, we can help you get your Rx and you pay us
  • Raw Decoction (Tang)
    • Most expensive route these days
    • Shipped from Louisville
    • Most potent option
    • Smelly and tastes bad
    • Takes time and storage
    • Can be a lot of fun
    • Even holding the herbs is a therapy
    • Works as a family of herbs
  • Infusions (Yin) and Tea
    • Usually 1 or 2; not boiled
    • Classify by simple means
    • Up vs down; hot vs cold Qi
  • Herbal Wines (Jiu)
    • Use rice-wine/sake
    • Pay for raw
    • Takes time to make
    • Good for the elderly
  • Liniments and Dips (Ditda-Jow)
    • Cannot drink/external only
    • Same as Jiu otherwise
  • Plasters, balms, and salves
    • Pre-made is easiest
    • You can make with vaseline or egg whites

Cooking Raw Herbs

Packets arrive in two possible arrangements: mixed or herbs by themselves. When the herbs are mixed this means you will be boiling your herbs and using them.

You will need:

Stainless or Ceramic pot – no aluminium!

6-8 cups of water; filtered or spring water is best

Storage Container (like a large bowl or lidded tupperware)

Strainer/fine collander advised


  1. Place 6-8 cups of water in stainless pot
  2. Bring to a rolling boil (not a high boil!) or simmer
  3. Dump 1 packet of herbs in
  4. Allow to boil for 30-45 minutes for typical formulas, 15-20 minutes for flowery formulas (very aromatic!)
    1. Or until ⅓ – ½ water remains
  5. Strain into container
  6. Replace water for the boil
  7. Place herbs back in water
  8. Cook half the time
  9. Combine the new amount into the bowl
  10. You may retry for a third time for 10 minutes to get your $$ worth
  11. Throw away herbs, unless you know which are edible
  12. Take warm, as often as possible.
    1. In a thermus all day long is best
    2. 3x/day > 2x/day > 1x/day
    3. Concentrated like a shot (very dark) is OK
  13. Store in refrigerator for up to 5 days, should only last 2 or 3 days
  14. Cook each pack individually, do not cook all at once

Notes: For herbal jiu you will also put all the herbs into the wine jar, but they may be separated to allow for spacing it out correctly. 1oz of one herb takes up different space than 1oz of another herb (eg: flowers vs roots). Store in cool dry place.

Gelatin (red) is NOT decocted, nor is honey or egg yolk. You stir them into hot water.

You may opt if having placenta encapsulated to have raw herbs added to the formula, but they are not ground up. You also have to pay for the raw herbs and the capsules on top of the process.

Ditda-jow is for external use only; when buying for the purposes of arthritic dip or an herbal wash, you must purchase all alcohol and containers separately. Store in cool dry place.

Plasters are pre-made but balms and salves can be customized by purchasing granular formulas (or capsules) and learning to mix them in.

© 2017 Shifu Careaga

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