Most Chinese herbs are concentrated food substances found in nature - twigs, leaves, roots, seeds, flowers, berries, some animal products, seaweed, and shells. Each has a certain energetic propensity to address the pattern of imbalance. Unlike Western herbs, Chinese herbs are prescribed for the energetic pattern rather than treating the manifestation of disease. Single Western herbs might be prescribed for conditions such as hot flashes and night sweats, whereas a Chinese herbal blend would be prescribed for yin deficiency with heat. When we know the reason for the diagnosis, we choose the formulation based on the underlying energetic blockages or deficiencies. Chinese herbs treat underlying patterns, not manifestations. We prescribe numerous herbs to treat deficient blood flow, excess heat, not enough energy flow, or whatever the imbalances are. It is their synergistic properties that make them so safe and effective. It is also why herbs are more difficult to study in a laboratory setting. We cannot use double blinded placebo controlled repeatable studies on different energetic properties. The myriad patterns of life do fit into a lab.
Chinese herbal tonics must be prescribed according to an accurate diagnosis, or they will be capable of side effects. For example, if estrogen is deficient, blood and yin tonics can improve the ovaries ability to produce estrogen. However, if you have adequate estrogen and supply the body with more, the excess can lead to fibroid formation.Likewise, if the yang energies are insufficient, and you tonify them, it can increase progeterone production. However, if the body already has too much heat, the extra unopposed yang supplementation may cause shorter cycles, early ovulation, or raised testosterone levels.
The standard of care in Chinese herbal medicine is to prescribe teas, which are decocted from the raw herbs. The herbal pharmacy can prepare the herbal tea for you and send them to you in premade bags. This is often easiest, strongest, most effective, but also the most expensive way. You can also receive the raw herbs to prepare at home. They are soaked in water for at least two hours, then boiled and simmered for at least 45 minutes. The tea is strained and drunk three times per day. This method is the next strongest, but a little more time consuming. One of the advantages of making the tea is that you are involved in the preparation. You can use it as a meditation, becoming involved in each aspect of the healing process, including making the medicine yourself. Other herbal preparations include powdered concentrates, capsules, tablets, pills and tinctures. These are less effective, but easier to obtain and prepare. Safety depends upon adequate diagnosis, and also where the herbs are grown, harvested, and distributed. Many Chinese herbal pharmacies try to obtain organic herbs whenever possible; many have to be imported. Because growing practices in China do not have to adhere to US guidelines, the herbal pharmacy can ask the FDA to inspect the herbs in their pharmacy to make sure they do not contain toxins like heavy metals. Certain herbs are not recommended during pregnancy, and a knowledgeable fertility practitioner will ensure your formulas are safe during pregnancy.
If you are undergoing assisted reproductive treatments, be advised that your reproductive clinic often will not condone the use of herbal substances during a cycle because they are unsure of its effects. I find it somewhat comical that many physicians are comfortable prescribing hormones with known carcinogenic effects and propensity for birth defects, while they are uncomfortable with herbs, which research has been unable to prove harmful. While I am very comfortable prescribing the appropriate herbs during a stimulated cycle, I will do so only with the doctor's permission, so as to not cause stress for the patient.