VITAL SIGNS: How to do a simple test to find higher potency TCM

that will, without a doubt, improve your clinical success rate.

An Herb Can Be Powerful Medicine

…Or it can be too damaged to be useful. It’s easy to layer on complexity. It’s how mass manufacturers can produce 1000’s of bottles daily. But there’s a tradeoff between mass-production volume, and the freshness and power of hands-on simplicity. To unaware and overly trusting clinicians: Caveat emptor. By the time a clinic receives a dry herbal extract concentrate, it doesn’t seem to have an imposing residual power. Is this true with all such products? Which one’s are best? We’ll show you an easy way you can test them.

We can’t rely on the people selling something for unbiased information about what they’re selling.

It’s so seductive to follow the leader. But when choosing a brand of herbal extract concentrates, if we’re not personally testing, we’re guessing – without any solid intelligence, relying on familiarity or biased influencers. It’s gambling in a marketplace where the potency differences are broadly spread. Our patients expect more – and it’s not a smart way to run a business.


        Can a clinician compensate by increasing the dosage level on weak herbal extract concentrates?

3 times the Wonder Bread ≠ whole wheat bread… Faulty preparation/preservation will degrade certain herbs in a formula more than other herbs in the same formula. This creates an imbalanced prescription that cannot be compensated for by simply increasing the dosage. The therapeutic effect would be unpredictable.



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. “Concentrate” means “really strong.” With very few exceptions: if it doesn’t taste like much, it won’t do much. Taste-test as described below; you’ll find the stronger brand and better results. Your patients will thank you.

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. A raw material and a finished product are worlds apart, and we’re testing the latter. 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 . . .

Fragrance is medicine. With aromatic/fragrant herbs, the therapeutic response is rapid and significant. 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” is largely to blame.

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, question the brand’s effectiveness. If you do feel the oils when testing a moistened dry product (pill/powder), it’s logical to assume that rancidity is present unless there are preservatives added.

As clinicians, testing the herbal medicine we prescribe is essential — especially in a marketplace plagued by over-hyped, industrially processed, herbal extract concentrates of little or no clinical value. 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. “It’s the most important thing they didn’t teach us at the university.” -L.Ac.


Simple comparative analysis requires a formula from brand A and the same formula from brand B. Can be a dry or liquid product.

Place a recommended dose from brand A in a cup. If tablets, add just enough water to dissolve it into a mud; this will take time. If powder or granule, mix into a mud. In a different cup, do the same with brand B. Then, using a spoon, place the entire brand A dose in your mouth and don’t swallow. Focus your attention on the taste. Rinse your mouth. Do the same with brand B. Compare the VITAL SIGNS.


  • Which brand had a stronger taste? Simple.
  • The more you test, the better your testing abilities become.
  • Eventually, just chewing on a tablet will tell you what you need to know.
  • 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 leading to better clinical outcomes.
  • 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.

As clinicians, we are attracted to product labels that

we recognize, mistaking familiarity for quality.

We feel safe, but our comfort zone can put our needs last.

Attraction to the familiar keeps us stuck.