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SEVEN Strategies for Combining Herbs

Single Herbs are rarely used by themselves in traditional medicine. They are most often combined with other herbs for both efficacy and to treat mixed presentations involving multiple systems based on a functional diagnosis. This means more than one problem area and more than one system being treated (e.g. chronic headaches plus painful periods caused by a congested liver and poor circulation). A functional diagnosis is a diagnosis based on the function (or lack of normal function) in the body that is causing the symptoms. The herbs selected will be based on the system being treated. In contrast, conventional care will treat headaches with pain relievers without any investigation of cause.

Conventional care is good at ruling out something more serious (like a brain tumor) but if there is nothing serious then they prescribe one-size-fits-all drugs for symptom only treatment. For that reason, it is good to use conventional care for red flags but to use holistic care for chronic conditions requiring individualized assessment.

Here are the SEVEN strategies or considerations for combining herbs.

Mutual Accentuation:

This is when two herbs are combined that have similar functions that results in an improved therapeutic effect.

Ex: Rhei Radix et Rhizoma and Natrii Sulfas for purging

Mutual Enhancement:

This occurs when two herbs with different actions are used together and one herb enhances the function of the other herb.

Ex: Poria and Astragali Radix for edema

Mutual Counteraction:

Some herbs are toxic or can have unwanted side effects. Mutual Counteraction is when one herb's toxicity is reduced or neutralized by another herb. We sometimes call this a moderating herb.

Ex: Pinelliae Rhizoma preparatum and Zingiberis Rhizoma

Mutual Suppression:

This strategy refers to the herb in the last strategy that is actively doing the neutralizing.

Ex: Zingiberis Rhizoma nullifies (suppresses) the toxicity of Pinelliae Rhizoma preparatum

Mutual Antagonism:

This occurs when two herbs neutralize each other's functions.

Ex: Crotonis Fructus antagonizes Pharbitidis Semen

Mutual Incompatibility:

This describes when two herbs, that are safe individually, become toxic or cause side effects when combined together. The strategy would be to avoid these types of combinations.

Ex: Aconiti Radix preparatum is incompatible with Fritillariae Bulbus

Single Effect:

This refers to when a single herb is used by itself.

Ex: Ginseng Radix

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