How to do a simple test to find higher potency TCM that will,
without a doubt, improve your clinical success rate.
“It’s the most important thing they didn’t teach us at the university.” -L.Ac.
An Herb Can Be
…Or it can be too damaged to be of much use.
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 – our fluid tea concentrates for example. To overly trusting clinicians, caveat emptor: By the time a clinic receives a dehydrated tea (dry herbal extract concentrate), it doesn’t seem to have an imposing residual power. Is this true with all such products? Which of the dry or liquid are the best? We’ll show you an easy way you can test any and all of 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.
TRUST, BUT VERIFY
Why is it not advisable to simply increase the dosage level on a weak herbal extract concentrate?
– For the same reason multiple slices of Wonder Bread will not equal the potency of one slice of whole wheat bread. Specifically, faulty preparation and 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 increasing the dosage: The formula’s effects and side effects 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 capability of the product.
- If the herbal product’s vital signs are strong, expect a strong effect.
- If the herbal product’s vital signs are weak, expect a weak effect.
- Use the method below to find the stronger brands.
IF THE VITAL SIGNS ARE WEAK, NOTHING ELSE ABOUT THE PRODUCT MATTERS
You don’t need to know the taste of each individual herb in the formula in order to test. For the experienced, testing is easy; for the novice, your culinary intuition will guide you.
VITAL SIGN 1: A potent herbal extract concentrate should have a strong taste . . .
The intensity of an herbal product’s flavor is a palpable measure of its potency. This makes it exceedingly easy to compare two brands. A “concentrate” should be really strong. So, with very few exceptions: if it doesn’t taste like much, it won’t do much. The bitter and sweet tastes are somewhat immune to processing excesses, but in a formula, they can be accompanied by ruined and rancid co-players. Rancidity too displays its own flavor: a nasty sour or bitter taste. Taste-test as described below; you’ll find the stronger brand and better clinical results will follow.
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, hints at more potency. It’s just one sign. If one product is darker but without a stronger taste, something’s not right.
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 you can’t smell fragrance in the bottle claiming to include “concentrated” fragrant herbs, that’s a red flag. The herbs used may have been potent at harvest, but the state of the herbs at the time it’s given to the patient is what matters. Industrial processing, especially “spray drying,” will absolutely ruin a fragrant herb.
VITAL SIGN 4: A potent herbal extract concentrate should have oils you can feel . . .
A product, listing a substantial % of seeds (tao ren, xing ren, etc.) and/or rich natured herbs like tonics, should have an easily perceptible oily, viscus feel. To verify, simply rub the wet concentrate between two fingers. If you can’t feel oil, question the product’s therapeutic value. If you do feel oil when testing a moistened dry product (pill/powder/granule), it’s logical to assume that rancidity is present unless there are preservatives added.
As clinicians, personally 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.
It’s your future; don’t leave it to chance.
HOW TO TEST FOR EASILY OBSERVABLE POTENCY LEVELS
Simple comparative analysis: chose a single herb or a formula from brand A and the same from brand B. Can be a dry or liquid product.
You are searching primarily for the intensity of the taste; get particular later if you are so inclined. Anyone can do this. You don’t have to know the taste of each individual herb or of the herbs in the formula in order to test.
Place a recommended dose from brand A in a cup. If tablets, add just enough water to dissolve it back into a liquid: maybe a teaspoonful – this will take time. If powder or granule, do the same. In a different cup, repeat 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. Remember, rancidity also has a strong taste.
- Check for medicinal oils (see Vital Sign 4 above). Note color and fragrance.
- Ask for sample concentrates whenever you can – all brands, dry and liquid.
- The more you test, the better your testing abilities become.
- Eventually, just chewing on a tablet will tell you what you need to know.
- Don’t stop there, make periodic testing a lifestyle; test and retest often.
- 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.