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FAQ / Herbal Medicine

Chinese Herbal Medicine is very different from other systems of herbal medicine. At Mystic River Acupuncture we prescribe in the traditional manner. We purchase herbs from reputable sources. We treat all sorts of problems, and often combine herbal treatment with acupuncture. Our herbalists continually deepen their understanding of Chinese Medicine by participating in advanced level seminars. Chinese Medicine can be effective for some things which “fall through the cracks” of standard western treatment. 

How are Chinese herbs different from regular western herbs?
Single herbs are rarely given in Chinese Medicine. Herbs are combined in a special way in a formula to enhance herbs other’s therapeutic effect and to decrease the chance of side effects.

Instead of only treating symptoms, Chinese herbs change the pattern in your body that lets those symptoms happen.  Chinese herbs heal by both dealing with symptoms and bringing your body into balance.

With Chinese herbs, your formula changes as your condition changes. For example, if you have migraine headaches, you will be given a certain formula. As the headaches change, the formula changes. As the symptoms change s`ome of the herbs will remain the same, and others will be added or removed. Formulas in Chinese medicine match your state of being at any given time. When the migraines are under control, you can be take a maintenance formula which doesn’t change.

A Chinese formula has two parts to it. The first part contains herbs that address your diagnosis and symptoms. The second part contains herbs that address why you personally are having this problem. For example, two people with insomnia who come for treatment may receive two different formulas. Their make-ups are different, and their bodies will react differently to illness or stress. The reasons they have insomnia may be different. Some of the herbs in their formulas, the insomnia herbs, will be the same. The second part of their formulas will be different. These herbs will match the reasons that they in particular are having trouble sleeping. This is how Chinese Medicine gives more than just symptomatic relief for diseases. For this reason you should never give your herbs to someone else without consulting your herbalist first.

How long does it take for the herbs to work?

For most chronic conditions you will notice results within one to two months. Relief for acute conditions can be more immediate.
For a chronic condition such as arthritis, you may need to take a maintenance formula after your pain diminishes. With issues like insomnia and anxiety, you may keep a formula with you to take if you need it. Sometimes you will need to take a formula seasonally, for instance with allergies in spring and fall. For menstrual problems or PMS, once your cycle normalizes, you may need to take herbs each month. Other times you may only need herbs for a few days, such as when you feel a cold coming on or have a stomach virus. Chinese herbs can be used on a one-time basis in certain situations, such as for sports injuries.

Where do I get my Chinese herbs?

Mystic River Acupuncture is proud to have a complete Herbal Apothecary on our premises.
You can go home with your formula. If you choose to go to another herbal pharmacy we will be happy to provide you with your prescription. Most acupuncture offices carry at least a limited assortment of the more common Chinese or Asian herbs. Full pharmacies are found in Chinatowns in larger cities.

Should I stop taking my medicine when I use Chinese herbs or acupuncture?
NO. You should never discontinue medication prescribed by your doctors without their permission. Both acupuncture and Chinese herbs work very well with most western medicines. Be sure that your herbalist knows you are taking pharmaceutical drugs, and let your doctors know that you are using Chinese herbs or receiving acupuncture.

How do I take my herbs?

There are a number of ways you can take your herbs. Below are some commonly used methods. You can download the following pdfs for additional information (if you need acrobat reader for pdfs, you can find a link to download it here):

How to Decoct Herbs

Preparing Powdered Herbs

Preparing Rice Congee

Traditional Decoction
You would take a packet of herbs to decoct or simmer into tea. Using this method you can make a week’s worth of herbs at once and refrigerate them. Typically you drink one portion twice a day. You can mix the decoction with apple juice or add sweetener to make it taste better. Many formulas taste good on their own. Download and print information on how to decoct herbs here.

Ground Herbs

The pharmacy grinds your prescription into powder. For each dose you simmer a tablespoon of powder in water for 5-10 minutes, let it settle before drinking the tea. You can either prepare each dose individually or make a day’s worth at a time. Powders are easier to prepare and cook. If you prefer powders, we can grind your formula for you in our pharmacy. Download and print information on preparing powdered herbs here.

This is the easiest way to take a custom formula. Dissolve a teaspoon of granules into liquid and drink it or mix the granules with some food such as applesauce, yogurt, or oatmeal. With granules the usual dose is one teaspoon three times a day. If you wish to take granules in capsule form we can provide you with gel caps to fill. Granules are an easy way to take herbs while traveling. 

Pills, Tablets, and Patents

This is easiest way to take herbs, although they cannot be customized for the person. Most formulas come in tablet or pill form. The term patent herbs refers to traditional formulas that are made into little pills. Typically you take eight pills, three times a day. Chinese patents are popular because they are simple and inexpensive. 

Will you fill a prescription I got from somewhere else? Do I have to be a patient of yours to buy herbs from you?

Yes, as long as we know that you got your prescription from a qualified herbalist, we will be happy to fill it for you. We stock a variety of Chinese herbs in pill or tablet form and carry a number of ointments and liniments. While some of these do require a prescription, others can be dispensed after a short conversation with you. If you need a bulk or granule prescription filled, we will need the formula with exact dosages from your herbalist. 

What kinds of side effects are there with Chinese herbs?

Because these herbs can have a strong effect, you need to be in touch with your herbalist when starting a new formula. Sometimes the herbs are hard to digest. You may notice a difference in your sleep. Your level of fatigue may change, and sometimes symptoms may seem to fluctuate or be on a different schedule. If you have any uncomfortable side effects or any of your symptoms increase in severity, you should contact your practitioner. If this happens, you may need a small adjustment to your formula or a different schedule of taking it. 

Are Chinese herbs safe?

Yes. At Mystic River Acupuncture we purchase our herbs from reputable distributors who inspect their products.

What about news reports of unsafe herbs?

Most of the time the herbs in these reports have been misused.
Either they are used for the wrong purpose, used in the wrong dosage, or used alone when they should be combined in a formula. 

An example is the herb ephedra, which was in the news when it was included in weight loss supplements, and again when athletes used it to enhance their performance. A Chinese herbalist would never have used ephedra in these circumstances. It is not a weight loss herb, and is not intended to increase stamina or enhance athletic performance.

Ephedra is an herb that is mostly used in respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic respiratory problems, or common colds. It “opens the lungs” so people can breathe better. It helps create a sweat in “externally contracted” illnesses. Ephedra is used in very specific small amounts, and is skillfully combined with other herbs that enhance its healing properties and reduce any toxic tendencies it may have. Ephedra is not an herb that is given alone. To use ephedra improperly can be dangerous. Used properly it is invaluable and has no substitute.

It is important to go to a qualified, trained herbalist who can prescribe for you individually.

Chinese Herbal Medicine
image of lotus flower
How to Take Herbs
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