Herbs Are Powerful Medicine.

But factory processing is brutal: overcooked, spray-dried, months old… By the time a clinic receives dry herbal extract concentrates, they just don’t seem to have real power anymore. Worse yet, some herb types are degraded more than others, making formula construction far from accurate. To unaware and overly trusting clinicians: Caveat emptor.

Mass-production factories need to improve what really matters – but they’re too big to change. They produce 1000’s of bottles daily, distributed to so many different brands and outlets; the claims of virtue are printed on paper for us to accept…

But clinicians are beginning to bypass the marketing distractions, choosing instead to personally test multiple products for easily observable potency levels using the method below. It’s self-empowerment.

Advertising is designed to slip below the radar of critical thinking. It’s time we all took charge; no one can look after our interests better than we can. …”It’s the most important thing they didn’t teach us at the university.” -L.Ac.




     Vital signs:

A person’s vital signs are the evidence of the current physical functioning of the body.
An herbal extract concentrate’s vital signs are the evidence of the current usefulness of the product.


VITAL SIGN 1: A potent herbal extract concentrate should have a strong taste . . .

With any herbal product, the intensity of its flavor is a palpable measure of its potency. This makes it exceedingly easy to compare two brands: Taste-test as described below; it will will lead you to the stronger brand. Use that brand for better results. That is the one your patients want.  “Concentrate” means really strong; so, with very few exceptions: if it doesn’t taste like much, it won’t do much.

VITAL SIGN 2: A potent herbal extract concentrate should have a rich color . . .

Let’s not be led to assume that a product is potent just because the herb specimen pictured in the seller’s ad looks potent;  we’re testing a finished product, not a raw material: the two are worlds apart. When comparing 2 concentrate brands, the one with a darker color that is true to the herbs within, is likely more potent. It’s just one sign…

VITAL SIGN 3: A potent herbal extract concentrate should have a distinct fragrance . . .

With aromatic/fragrant herbs, the therapeutic response is rapid and significant. Fragrance is medicine. If an ad states “best quality”, but you can’t smell fragrance in the bottle containing “concentrated” fragrant herbs, be wary, the herbs used may have been picture perfect at harvest, but evidently, they’re no longer potent. The industrial processing technique called “spray drying” does the most damage.

VITAL SIGN 4: A potent herbal extract concentrate should have oils you can feel . . .

If a product label lists a substantial % of seeds (tao ren, xing ren, etc.) and/or rich natured herbs like tonics, you should notice an easily perceptible oily, viscus feel by simply rubbing the wet concentrate between two fingers. If you can’t feel oils, the brand’s effectiveness is minimal. If you do feel the oil when testing a moistened dry product (pill/powder), logically then, the concern is the oil’s rancidity level.

Testing the herbal medicine we prescribe is essential because over-hyped, industrialized herbal extract concentrates of little or no clinical value plague the marketplace. A TCM practitioner can easily guess wrong and choose a product line that is weak, out of balance, and incapable, leading to years of mediocre practice and frustration.

We clinicians are attracted to product labels that are familiar. Attraction to the familiar keeps us stuck. We feel safe, but our comfort zone can put our needs last.


Simple comparative analysis requires a formula from brand A and the same formula from brand B. Place a dose from brand A in your mouth (chew, dissolve, or crush, if testing tablets); don’t swallow. Rinse your mouth and repeat with brand B. Compare the VITAL SIGNS. This is time well invested in the future of a practice. –And this is what our patients expect from us.

  • Does a product taste strong or does it taste weak? Simple.
  • Check for medicinal oils. See Vital Sign 4 above.
  • Don’t stop there, make periodic testing a lifestyle; test and retest often.
  • Simply ask for sample concentrates whenever you can.
  • -All brands, dry and liquid. Every encounter is an opportunity for education.
  • Take charge; manufacturers will respect you (or fear you).
  • It’s ok to say, “Nice ad, but nope, still tastes bland and lifeless, keep trying!”
  • Compare to find the products with stronger vital signs.
  • Use new-found, stronger products to invigorate your practice.
  • Try not to lament years using a product with an exaggerated opinion of itself.