I have used my own formulation method for some time now and I thought I would share it here on the blog as I am editing my student handout today. My method has certainly been influenced by other teachers, but in the end I have my own ideas about things and thankfully I go to a college which supports critical thinking and self-direction, so they haven’t tried to impose some textbook method of formulation on me.
There are some basic things to keep in mind when formulating:
1. Keep a list of what you have on hand in your apothecary and try to work from there. Most of my herbal teachers agree that you can cover most of your bases with 20-25 herbs made into various preparations, if you pick your bioregional herbs allies wisely.
2. Have some sort of “specific indications” reference available and dosage references.
3. Keep in mind that the most artfully crafted formula is not going to work if you don’t focus on the diet and lifestyle sections of the program AS much as you focus on the herbs.
4. Continue adjusting for consistency and efficacy. Even if you find the perfect dosage and use the same source for your herbal preparations from year-to-year, the chemical composition of the plant will vary due to growing conditions. Hopefully as your client’s digestion improves, you will find that you need to lower the dosage.
5. Record every formula you make for every client and keep it in their records. Don’t assume you will remember even the simplest of formulas.
6. Formulating is sometimes a drawn out trial-and-error type affair. You have to be up-front about that with your clients. In the end, it results in a better match between the plants and the person, but it promotes a trusting relationship with your client if you are honest from the start.
The following formulation method can easily be adapted to any dosing strategy but it was developed based on the rationale that if a practitioner is giving 2.5 to 5 mL of a formula three times per day, a formula containing more than there herbs won’t reach the dosage recommendations in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia of 1983 which is considered the standard reference text by some herbalists, even today. The E/S/C/O/T monographs are another.
Also readers know I have an affinity for the number three.
Herb 1 – Condition Specific Choose an herb that is known for addressing a particular imbalance or for balancing the presenting tissue state.
Herb 2 – System Specific Pick an herb that is soothing, nourishing or otherwise supportive of the affected body system.
Herb 3 – Corrigent A corrigent is “a substance added to a medicine to mollify or modify its actions.”
Sometimes the first and second herbs are the same herb or you can choose to use two herbs that are supportive of both the body system and the condition and add a corrigent for balance. If I am really on my game, I can pull that one perfect herb out of my hat that meets all three criteria.
While you use less of a corrigent, it is an important ingredient. Corrigents may be herbal stimulants that improve the circulation and consequently the uptake of the formula. They can also be a means of energetically balancing a formula. Corrigents can also be herbs that improve flavor. Many herbalist find themselves wanting to add many flavorful herbs to formulas, especially tea blends, which is fine as long as the proportions remain the same. I always make sure that my corrigent enhances the actions of my other herbs. You wouldn’t want to use something for flavoring that counteracts the other herbs in the formula.
The percentage of herb varies depending on the client’s needs. An acute formula goes a bit heavier on the condition specific herb.
While chronic formulas focus more on the system specific herb.
On a rare occasion, usually when the corrigent is meant for energetically balancing a formula or addressing tissue state, I will use the following percentages. 40:40:20
As an example, say someone comes to you with a primary complaint of hypertension. While you are going to work to address the underlying lifestyle factors that might be contributing to this issue, it is also prudent to address the specific complaint. So for my condition specific herb I might pick yarrow as a vasodilator and hypotensive. My second herb would be hawthorn which also has an affinity for the cardiovascular system and has clinical support (even Mayo grudgingly admits it) for lowering blood pressure. Now for my corrigent–these are pretty bland herbs so I might add cardamom because it is tasty and there is some clinical support out there that it lowers blood pressure, as well. Or perhaps cinnamon
Another example of this would be my Lemon Balm Elixir. I specifically came up with this elixir thinking of calming a nervous stomach or viral gastroenteritis because sometimes it is hard to tell what you have going on right away. The Lemon Balm is both a nervine (system) and an antiviral (condition), but it is also a little vata enhancing for me. So I added the fenugreek and cardamom as warming, grounding corrigents that both taste good and balance that out for me, a bit.
I am not going to make comments available on this because I don’t want to get into the pharmacological, physiological, drop-dose debate. To each their own. 🙂