Effects too hard to predict.


Traditional vs. Conventional – continued from Home Page


To further complicate matters, conventional factory processing can cause each individual herb in the recipe to lose potency or change character to varying degrees: some a lot (excessive cooking “sterilizes” certain herbs), some not at all, and others somewhere in between. . .


Consider a formula of six herbs; each herb is there for a reason, in a relative quantity for a reason. In order to do its job and do it without side-effects, this imagined formula requires an equal amount by weight of each raw herb . . .

But in the end, conventional factory-processing has altered each individual herb in the six herb formula differently:

Herb #1 – factory processing decreased potency 20%

Herb #2 – factory processing decreased potency 5%

Herb #3 – factory processing decreased potency 70%

Herb #4 – factory processing decreased potency 100%

Herb #5 – factory processing decreased potency 0%

Herb #6 – factory processing decreased potency 35%

The formula has clearly lost its balance. And what if herb # 5 was a carminative to prevent the undesired side effects of #4, a rich, difficult to digest tonic… Would increasing the dosage help or hurt? -It’s a problematic and not well considered strategy with cheap, low potency products, to try to compensate by increasing volume.

In the example formula containing six herbs, consider the ingredient percentages written on the box useless because that only states bulk herb percentages by weight that they started with and not the functional (medicinal property) percentages remaining after factory processing.

Obviously then, the actions of this formula would be unpredictable and would not correspond to the ingredients listed on the label or to its traditional application. Advertised ratios like 5:1, 10:1, don’t tell the whole story.


A challenge in foretelling potency – 5:1?, 10:1?, 10,000:1?

Pictured here is perhaps the world’s most widely used herbal combination, Xiao Yao San. But this could just as well be any popular herbal combination or single herb. Each glass contains a different brand Xiao Yao San, each listing the same ingredients in the same proportions. Each glass contains one serving.


Three of the pictured formulas are popular, factory-made brands. Starting at your left, we have a liquid concentrate (tincture-type) added to water. The middle two are dissolved pills in water. Curiously, though one of those two claims to be a 5/1-concentration ratio and the other a 10/1 (twice as potent), they both appear nearly the same. None of the first three display expected deep colors and as is easily then deduced none of the three possess a rich taste or fragrance. Only the fourth, a traditional handmade tea (dried herbs / hot water) retains “potent” color, taste, and fragrance to indicate its freshness and higher capability. If you were choosing a brand of concentrated extracts, the popular one on the left is an obvious bad choice. Simply reading the numbers on these products’ labels is a waste of time.

Traditional herbal formulas have a stronger taste . . . Recall that each of the five flavors in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) will perform a specific function. To what degree can you “taste” those functions in a comparative test of brands? Taste level is a palpable measure of potency, and in TCM, the right taste matters. In short, if it doesn’t taste like much, it won’t do much.

Traditional herbal formulas have a richer color . . . Color helps us to find the best produce in the market. A pale colored orange would raise suspicions – a dull taste would confirm them. In a vegetable soup or in an “herbal soup”, a rich color is revealing. When accompanied by a rich flavor and fragrance, high potency is defined. Red flag: dark colored herbs listed on the label . . . but light colored pills, powder, or liquid, found in the bottle.

Traditional herbal formulas have more fragrance . . . Our sense of smell is a thousand times as sensitive as our sense of taste. Some of the most important and commonly used herbs in culinary endeavors and in TCM are quite aromatic, i.e. fragrant, and capable of rapidly causing a response from the body. Inhaling some aromatic herbs can help relieve a headache – other aromatic herbs can cause one. That demonstrates how influential the smell of an herb can be. In the bloodstream, aromatic herbs are said to perform with similarly significant action. What about herbs that were fragrant when harvested but not fragrant out of the bottle? -They have no potential; useless. If the rosemary intended for the soup has no flavor, then there’s no reason to add any. Beware: it is not unheard of to open a bottle of dried concentrated extract and smell oxidized oils; the smell is rancid. Check, especially if seeds are included (this would be less likely in a liquid preserved in alcohol). Rancid oil is poison.


Same Formula, Seven Different Top Conventional Brands Tested.

All seven of the products pictured share the same formula title – Rehmannia 6 / Liu Wei Di Huang Wan. All contain the same ingredients in the same proportions. One of the pictured glasses contains a traditionally handmade version and the remaining six were made from popular herbal extract concentrates manufactured in mass-production factories. We simply added water back to recreate the tea from which those concentrates were originally made. Three of those six had been tablets or capsules, one a granular, and two fluid concentrates – one from a little dropper bottle.

Can you spot the one that’s traditionally handmade?


It’s the darkest one. It was traditionally handmade and it retained all the potency markers: the strong tastes, smells, and in this case, a very dark color. -Common sense tells us that a formula with a high percentage of Rehmannia/Shu Di Huang should be dark in color. If not, that’s a red flag. The mass-manufactured one next to it displays a reasonable color but possesses a weak, stale flavor. The feeble one on the other end is a tincture; premium quality herbs but far too weak (not half as strong as the tea at a Chinese restaurant). -At least patients rarely complain about a weak taste . . .

5/1, 10/1, 10,000/1? On the popular products pictured above, numbers like these don’t mean anything useful at all.


Test Herbal Products In 5 Minutes

Commercial brands can have great marketing appeal, but anything more?
How to . . .

Below is a simple method to compare two product brands. They can be pills, capsules, tinctures, etc. With practice, we can evaluate by simply dissolving a pill in the mouth.

  1. Choose a formula or choose a single herb. Acquire a sample of that same formula or single herb from different concentrate manufacturers.
  2. Place a dosage of each brand in separate clear glasses; each cup containing about four ounces of room-temp water. Liquids are easy; tablets may take a couple hours to dissolve. After all have turned back into the teas they once were, stir…
  3. Consciously taste the potency expressed in its flavor, and hold it in your mouth. Those flavors are meant to course through your bloodstream altering the balance or challenging pathogens. Is the flavor strong or weak? This tells us if an herbal combination is strong or weak. Dull, stale, tasting turmeric is not going to make delicious curry or invigorate the blood.
  4. How does color and fragrance compare? Fragrances reflect potency. Which brand is more vibrant with color and fragrance? Use the strong one for better results. Garlic, as with many other herbs, loses strength the longer it is cooked! Note: Liquids with high alcohol content will irritate the tongue causing the herbs to seem stronger than they are.
    Test regularly! Be honest with yourself! Keep them honest!


Concerning those Cheap Little Pills…

The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of cheap price is forgotten.

Not recommended: Dispensing the cheapest mass-market herbal pills, also known as “tourist TCM”; like those little circular, brown, pills, and trying to compensate for their low potency by simply increasing the dosage.

Recommended: Thinking about why those “tea pills” when dissolved in water, do not taste similar to a tea of the same formula made from raw herbs…


—–“We must not blindly kowtow to ostentatious marketing” -JM