Chinese Herbs 101

I want to tackle one of my favorite aspects of Chinese medicine that is rarely spoken of (or really, at all) in Western medicine, and that’s the use of Chinese herbs.

Not all acupuncturists are herbalists. (I am! I actually pride myself on my skills as an herbalist, following in the tradition of my mother and grandmother.) In Chinese medicine school, you can choose to train solely in acupuncture or in both acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

Education in Chinese herbs is important because it involves learning about each and every medicinal herb, which includes their functions, indications, temperature, uses (and non-uses), and most importantly, how they should and can be combined. In contrast to Western medicine, Chinese herbs are never dispensed singularly but in a personalized formula.

Formulations can contain anywhere from two to 20 herbs, and each one has a specific purpose.  Because they work in balance of each other, negative side effects are minimal. The purpose of taking herbs is the same as acupuncture: Resolving the root causes of physical problems, called patterns.

The five most common underlying patterns that hinder pregnancy are blood deficiency, Yin deficiency, Qi stagnation, Qi deficiency, and Yang deficiency. Properly formulated herbs directly work on resolving these patterns.

Herbs are often given in a powdered form that can be dissolved into hot water and drunk as a tea. I’ve been drinking Chinese herbs my entire life, but I understand it isn’t the tastiest beverage. Because of this, and having worked with so many women over the last 11 years, I have started exclusively using tinctures, or elixirs. Elixirs are liquid herbs that are more potent than the powdered kind (and faster to consume!). You either drop tinctures into your mouth or take them like a shot by mixing it with a bit of water. The initial taste won’t be spectacular, but you get it over with in one gulp.

In China, people don’t take herbs only when they’re sick but also as a preventative measure.  Personally, I tend to have Qi stagnation, so I’ve been taking the same formulation to combat that pattern for many years (since living on my own in New York City and attending acupuncture school!). That specific blend has helped tremendously with regulating my cycle as I have PCOS. Without the herbs, I’d go months without a cycle.  

I should clarify that there we don’t have herbs for PCOS, or for egg quality, or endometriosis. That’s a very Western-medicine way of thinking, matching symptoms with medicine. Instead, we work off of your pattern, because we know that no matter what your situation is, as long as we know your pattern, your problems can be resolved.  

Many of you ask me for opinions about the herbal formulations that you’re taking, or maybe you’re not taking herbs but you’re wondering if they will help you. I don’t comment on other people’s prescriptions because that’s not fair to them — I don’t have a chance to talk to them directly about their thought process, and if I disagree with the formulation, there may be a good reason for it.

Because I disagree with a lot of formulas out there, I started creating signature blends for women participating in the Fertile Period Lab.  Because of the ladies’ success in addressing their fertility issues with the elixirs (including the one I take for Qi stagnation to help with PCOS — I’ve called it Peaceful!), I’m excited to say that I’m expanding to sell these pattern-specific elixirs — five varying formulas — at 2elefants.com.

This isn’t a venture I took lightly. I spent the majority of last year vetting manufacturers to ensure there is no heavy metal contamination in our tinctures.  All of them are made in the U.S.A. with a manufacturer that is an FDA-registered facility and GMP-certified, which means each ingredient can be traced from beginning to end, there are third-party testings to ensure purity and that they’re free of heavy metal, microbes and pesticides. One thing I was very adamant about was that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice quality for anything, so I couldn’t be happier that we found this company.  

I should note that these elixirs are not magical cure-alls, and they’re not for everyone. They won’t have the desired effect if you eat a crummy diet or exercise excessively. If you’re starting a medicated cycle, like taking medication to help with ovulation and doing IUI or timed intercourse, or you’re in the IVF process, you should not be taking herbs. You also shouldn’t be taking certain herbs if you’re taking blood thinners like aspirin or prescription ones like Lovenox or Heparin, as certain herbs will have similar properties and you definitely don’t want extra blood-thinning.  

But, in general, Chinese herbs taken independently, and in conjunction with healthy lifestyle habits, are very safe and can be taken long-term without ill side effects— and they’re so powerful in correcting pattern imbalances.

If you want to know what your Chinese Medicine pattern is and which formula would be recommended to address those underlying issues, check out the pattern quiz at 2elefants.com. And browse through the site— let me know what you think, I’d love to hear your feedback. I think you’ll find our story fascinating! 

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