TSW: How Are Herbal Medicines Prepared?
In a previous article, How does TCM customize treatment for TSW? we delved into how we match herbal formulas ingredients to a person’s individual TSW presentation at each stage of the treatment process. Today, let’s look closer at how a formula is actually made.
VACUUM PACKED IS BEST
The most effective form of herbal medicine is vacuum packed liquid herbal formulas made from a specially built pressurized processing machine. This machine and process were invented over 50 years ago in South Korea when studies showed that maximum extraction of medicinal properties happened more quickly and effectively when herbs were boiled in water under pressure.
Since then, the herbal pressure cooker was perfected to meet the various temperature needs of different herbal ingredients. And because it was built to maintain a sterile environment throughout the process, it allowed for the purest extractions possible. Not surprisingly, this form of herbal medicine is the best choice for TCM dermatology.
TO INFUSE OR DECOCT?
To make an herbal formula, an herbalist will prescribe a custom formula for each patient and submit this to an herbal medicine pharmacy. The pharmacy then puts all the requested individual herbs and their requested doses into the machine with filtered water.
Because cooking times and extraction methods are influenced by the ingredients used, a few different extraction methods can be used. The two most common extraction methods are infusion and decoction.
Infusion is steeping herbs in water that is already heated. This method is ideal for obtaining volatile oils from aromatic herbs and when using delicate ingredients such as flowers or leaves. However, this approach does not yield much from denser materials like fibrous barks and roots.
When using denser herbs, a decoction method is used which includes soaking the herbs in water, bringing them to a boil, then simmering for a period of time to capture the active extract. Some ingredients like minerals, shells, or animal derivative herbs often require even more extensive decoction time for the same result.
It takes a formula an average of two and a half hours to process from raw ingredients to cooked finished product. When complete, the liquid is dispensed into individual vacuum sealed packets. These look like the soy sauce packets from Chinese restaurant take-outs, only larger, like the size of a cell phone.
The packets used to hold the herbal medicine are made of BPA and BSA free food grade plastic, with the internal layer made from biodegradable plant material. The packet contains one treatment dosage and a typical herbal treatment requires two packets per day. Because the herbal formula never comes into contact with air, it is quite shelf stable. If left in a cool place without direct sunlight, vacuum packs can last for 30 days, and for 60 days or more with refrigeration.
Most TSW patients at Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions are given 2 weeks-worth of formula at a time so that we can continuously match your current condition with the appropriate herbs needed to continue healing. Therefore, if you’re taking your herbs consistently, you’ll use up your vacuum packs long before the expiration date!
Herbal decoctions can also be used as a TSW wash. Many non-dermatology focused herbalists may use other forms of herbs such as patented herbal pills or capsuled formulas or herbal granule powders. These forms of herbs contain hygroscopic incipients, ingredients that are meant to keep the pills and granules dry. But because these ingredients also pull moisture out of the skin, they are not a good idea for TSW challenged skin. Since vacuum pack decoctions use no preservatives or binders and therefore, just pure herbs and filtered water, they are a better choice for sensitive TSW skin.
Therefore, depending upon your presentation, another type of external herbal formula may be prescribed. These are decocted herbal formulas or individually decocted ingredients that are mixed with an all-natural oil or emollient, making them easy to apply externally. By using a combination of liquid (ingested) formula and topically applied-herbal formula, we can treat the skin from both the inside and outside.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne patients throughout the US in person and via video conferencing using only Chinese herbal medicine. Outside of the office, Olivia serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists and is a faculty member of the Chicago Eczema Support Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.
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