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Chinese Herb Choices beyond the Capsule
By: Cathy Margolin, L.Ac., Dipl.OM (NCCAOM)

Chinese Herb Choices beyond the Capsule:

Differences between Alcohol tinctures, vacuum packed extracts and individual packets of Chinese herb granules

There are many options beyond capsules to consume Chinese herbal supplements.  Since those capsules contain anywhere from 35%-50% filler (inactive starch) you may want to check into other options for your herbal medicine.  Here are three you might want to consider.

Alcohol Tinctures are made from herbs soaked in alcohol. Cooking processes vary with this modality.  This method has become acceptable in terms of taste but Traditional Chinese Medicinal herbs were and still are, cooked or decocted in water.  Scientific clinical studies done in China for the past several decades show proven effectiveness of herbs, herbs which have been cooked in a water decoction, not alcohol extracts.  Traditional Chinese Medicine community does not have the research to back up alcohol tincture herb formulas. Additionally, data such as herb to extract ratio is often not disclosed.  Since there is considerable difficultly in achieving a high concentration ratio through the alcohol extraction process along with the lack of research, it is presumptuous to rely on the effectiveness of this type of Chinese herb medicinal.
 
Another option when you're purchasing Chinese herbs is a ready to drink plastic pouch of vacuum packed extracts.  This high pressure cooking method pushes the decocted herbs into heat resistant plastic pouches. This method is often referred to as the Korean system of herb extraction.  The cooking process for these pouches is something akin to a home pressure cooker otherwise known as a home herbal extractor.  This method is widespread in both China and the Koreas but is not very popular with Americans.  The most likely reason this method has not gained popularity is Americans generally don't like the taste of herbs.  These plastic pouches are equivalent to about 1 cup of liquid. Drinking a brown herbal extract two or three times a day is simply beyond what most American will tolerate even to benefit  their health. This process of raw herb preparation is superior to the home stove top decoction process. Yet, the labor intensity of cooking and cleaning the machine, along with the overall expense of both the pressure cooker and packaging machine limits its use.  The issue of volatile oil loss during the cooking process (same problem with the home stove top method) also limits the strength of the final products.  Another downside is all raw herbs need to be added at the onset of cooking.  Your out of luck if you need to add aromatic herbs in at the end of cooking process, there is simply no way to do this.
 
Another modality and option for taking Chinese is individual herb formula granules in Individual packets? The Chinese herbs in individual of packets are fairly new to the US market but have been used in Asia for nearly ten years.  Chinese herb formula packets have the added benefit of herbs which are cooked together.  This method preserves the historically and proven efficacy of Chinese medicine.    Since the individual packets are air tight the herbs granules stay fresh and do not clump, without a starch or dextrin filler.  These Chinese herb formulas begin with a controlled low temperature cooking process which ensures maximum beneficial active constituents are extracted from the herbs.  Volatile oils are captured with sophisticated equipment and reintroduced back into the finished products.  The decocted liquid is then dried into granules and packaged immediately for freshness.  No starch additives are needed in this type of packaging.  The major benefit is both the high concentration ratio's of these products because no filler is needed and the ease of use.  These packets of granules can be carried easily and either poured on tongue to swallow like a pill or mixed in water or juice to drink.  Formulas sold in packets can be easily used by the general public for many different conditions.

Whichever modality of Chinese herbs you choose is not as important as actually taking the herbs on a daily basis.  So choose a mode of delivery that is convenience, yet effective.  Chinese herbal medicine is used by over a billion people on our planet and has been used successfully for nearly 2000 years of recorded history.  You can improve your health and vitality with Chinese herbs and sipping a cup of herb tea just might be more enjoyable than popping all those capsules of filler.
 
About the Author:
Cathy Margolin is a Licensed Acupuncturist in CA and has been certified as a Diplomat in Oriental Medicine.  She has specialized in Chinese Herbs and her company PACHerbs.com carries high potency herbal products sold in individual packets for freshness. She has visited herb manufacturers in both China and Taiwan and has extensively researched Chinese herb processing. As a health advocate with a passion for teaching, she enjoys impacting the lives of readers around the world who haven't yet experienced the phenomenal health benefits from the ancient wisdom of Chinese herbal medicine.