Chinese herbalism is special because of its long continuous history of active research and use. But, it also stands apart from other herbal traditions in its extremely elaborate and precise rules for formulation. Formulation is when multiple single herbs are put together before being given to a patient. The origin of formulation as it is practiced today is in the seminal text the Shanghan lun written by scholar-physician Zhang zhongjing. Eric’s particular herbal lineage centers its systematic approach to Chinese herbalism on this text, and another text written by Zhang zhongjing, the Jingui yao lue.
These texts, now available widely in numerous languages, despite being written in the Han dynasty are still entirely relevant for the treatment of disease in modern human beings. This is because the formulas and science behind them are focused on treating the reaction of the body to negative stimulus. Despite the fact that modern humans face external circumstances that are VERY different than that available in the Han dynasty, it is also the case that our human bodies haven’t evolved much in terms of their functioning and essential reactions. Therefore, even ancient ideas about how to moderate the body’s response can remain quite relevant.
The herbalism advanced in this lineage is systematic, rational and simple while being elegant. Some of the most powerful formulas contain only 3 or 4 ingredients, but formulas can also reach 12-15 ingredients and occasionally more. The full formulas can be combined together or modified in specific ways in order to adapt them to the condition and situation of the patient, but otherwise are used exactly as they have been used for thousands of years. Why change something that’s working?
The rules of combining herbs to create a formula are complex, but not difficult to understand. Herbs are put together for several reasons including to limit side effects of one of the herbs, to enhance certain effects of one or more herbs, to add a secondary or tertiary area of action for the formula, to guide the formula to a certain part of the body or sometimes even to improve the overall flavor of the herbs.
Classical herbalists like Eric Grey creation a specialized mix of herbs to suit the diagnostic information from pulse and tongue, the intake interview, consideration of any medications or supplements you’re taking, and your goals for treatment. These mixes are based on formulas that have been utilized safely for thousands of years, modified when needed to suit the particular situation.