More than three hundred herbs that are commonly used today have a history of use that goes back at least 2,000 years. Over that time, a vast amount of experience has been gained that has gone towards perfecting their clinical applications. According to Chinese clinical studies, these herbs, and others that have been added to the list of useful items over the centuries, can greatly increase the effectiveness of modern drug treatments, reduce their side-effects, and sometimes replace them completely.
In China, the two most common methods of applying herb therapies are to make a decoction (a strong tea that must be simmered for about an hour or more) and to make large honey-bound pills. Both of these forms meet with considerable resistance in Western countries. The teas are deemed too time-consuming, smelly, and awful-tasting to justify their use, and the honey pills (boluses) are sticky, difficult to chew, and bad tasting. Thus, modern forms that are more acceptable have been developed for most applications.
The two popular forms to replace the standard Chinese preparations are extract powders (or granules) and smooth, easy-to-swallow tablets or capsules. The extracts are made by producing a large batch of tea and then removing the water and producing a powder or tiny pellets; the resulting material is swallowed down with some water or mixed with hot water to make a tea. Tablets and capsules contain either powdered herbs or dried extracts or a combination of the two. Despite the convenience, one must take a substantial quantity of these prepared forms (compared to the amount of drugs one takes). For example, doses of the dried extracts range from 1-2 teaspoons each time, two to three times per day, and the tablets or capsules range from about 3-8 units each time, two to three times per day.
The herb materials used in all these preparations are gathered from wild supplies or cultivated, usually in China (some come from India, the Mid-East, or elsewhere). There are an estimated 6,000 species in use, including nearly 1,000 materials derived from animal sources and over 100 minerals, all of them categorized under the general heading “herbs.” Herbs are processed in various ways, such as cleaning, soaking, slicing, and drying, according to the methods that have been reported to be most useful. These materials are then combined in a formulation; the ingredients and amounts of each item depend on the nature of the condition to be treated.