Single & Compound Herbal Formulas
The Reasons for & Methods for Single and Compound Herbal Preparations
All major medical herbal healing systems of the past several thousand years—including the Greek, Chinese, East Indian Ayurvedic, Arab, Persian and Unani systems, American Indian and other traditional herbal methods—are united in several principles.
The first principle is that the body itself contains healing mechanisms within, and that the aim, purpose, and objective of the healing assistant (physician, herbalist, or whomever), should be to assist that internal mechanism in its role as maintainer of the health of the human body.
A second principle is that many, if not most diseases (the exception being breaks in continuity such as fractures, injuries by force, etc.) arise out of faulty or otherwise impaired digestion of nutrient substances.
A third principle shared by all of these systems, and extending back in origin to Hippocrates, concerns the existence of quasi-material forces or substances called humors. These semi-gaseous, vaporous substances may best be thought of as the innate temperament of each organ or body part in its state of health. The heart, for example, is characteristically warm and moist; phlegm cold and moist; nerves cold and dry; and so forth. While some today claim this theory has been “disproven,” in medicine there are still references to humours, such as the vitreous humour of the eye (although Unani has a much more elaborate system of identifying and balancing such factors). One of the areas of greatest interest among researchers today is that of humoral response of the immune system. Unani Traditional Healing has much to contribute in this area of research.
All ingested substances can thus be “matched” in temperament to the body part, and imbalance being contemplated for treatment.
It is easy to identify imbalances, or diseases, in their acute stages as being of an extreme tending to hot or cold, as the Unani medicine.
Regardless of the external terminologies, even the most superficial reading in the various systems of “traditional” medicine, demonstrates this unity of classification and evaluation of imbalances, otherwise called disease conditions.
Recent research has shown that those foods and herbs which in the past were simply called “hot” or “heating” can be shown scientifically to have higher concentrations of alkaloids, hus causing an increase in net metabolism on the cellular and sub-cellular level. Herbs and foods regarded as “cooling” can be shown to have lower alkaloid concentrations, and thus tend to effect a net decrease in gross metabolic action.
By identifying the normal or innate temperament of each organ or body part, and comparing the state of the same organ in a disease condition, it is relatively easy to see which type of herbs would be most effective in restoring to balance, to harmony.
Another interesting aspect of Unani Traditional herbal pharmacology concerns the distinction of herbs into several classifications: the things that the body entirely overcomes are called nutrients (apple); those things that entirely overcome the natural force of the body are called medicines (senna pods); those that at first overcome the natural force of the body, but ultimately are overcome by the body are called medicinal nutrients (ginger).
Thus, the practitioners of these various systems, as I have observed them for 20 years in clinical practice, on four continents, first would endeavor to adjust the diet; via increasing or decreasing the amount of nutrient and medicinal nutrients (“eat larger quantities of “cooling” foods; add more ginger and cumin to your rice,” etc.) it often occurs that simple conditions are corrected with no other treatment.
It is a mistake, on the part of practitioners, and for the sake of patients, to imagine that we have achieve a “cure” by utilizing an herb which lowers blood pressure in obese patients—if we also allow over-consumption and terrible dietary patterns to continue without remark.
It is interesting to note, also that the list of the 20 most prescribed botanicals in all of India and Pakistan’s Unani herbal clinics, almost 70 percent of them are nutrient substances: ginger, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, fennel, mint, black pepper, sesame seed, ginger and others.
It is vitally important to realize that none of these applications require “diagnosis” of a specific allopathic disease name, but rather are working on the broadest possible metabolic scale to restore all organ systems to balance, and full function.
Experienced traditional herbalist know that therapy with medicinal herbs is carried out both externally and internally; and, in the latter case, they tread with real caution in introducing herbal substances, singly or in combination, because of the delicacy and importance of the digestive process itself. There are many applications of herbs without reaching to the stomach: compresses, fomentations, affusions, embrocations. frictions, spreads, softening agents, powders, dressings, and ointments.
The purposes of internal therapy are three:
1) to evacuate something from the body, as by senna pods;
2) to prevent evacuation, as by quince; or
3) to modify the temperament, as with cold water during a fever.
An herbalist should not treat every minor change occurring win the body with an herb. Rather, he or she should first treat it by changing the method of life management with regards to patterns of sleep and wakefulness, adjusting various elements of the diet, increasing or decreasing exercise, and similar measures which can and should restore the body and mind to norms of a balanced and healthy person. “It is more difficult to quiet a stirring than to stir the quiet,” said the great Arab pharmacist Al-Samarqandi.
When a decision is reached to introduce herbal drugs, the first to be employed should be those of a nutritive quality, and, if compelled by medicinal herbs, and not go beyond application of simples (single herbal substances) as much as possible.
Eight Rules for Selecting Single Herbs
There are eight rules for examining the forces of simples.
1. Every simple (single) herbs should be free of any accidental force.
2. The illness on which the herb is employed should also be simple, single and not due to a combination of many factors.
3. The herb should be used on conditions opposite to its own force (heat against cold, wetness against dryness, etc.).
4. The strength of the herb should be equal to the force of the disease treated with it.
5. The effect of the herb must be followed up, or if the effect is seen at the time of administration. If it heats only after some time, and if it was at first cool, its heating is by accident. If it cools only after some time while it heated at first, its cooling is by accident.
6. Follow up the effect of the herb, if this is the same all over the body and at all times, its cooling or heating is a permanent property. If this is the case, its activity is by virtue of its nature; if this is not so, its activity is accidental.
7. Test the herb on the very object that it is claimed to heat or to cool, not on any other. Thus, if the herb is described as heating the human body, one should declare it hot because it heats the human body not because it heats another animal or another body. For example, henbane which cools the human body, does not necessarily cool the bodies of cantharides; also hellebore which is a nutrient of quail, is not necessarily a nutrient of man.
8. Discriminate between nutrients and pharmacological action, by realizing that a herb heats or cools the body by its quality, while an aliment does so by increasing the substance of the body and promoting its growth.
Fourteen Reasons for Compounding Herbs
There are reasons which compel one to compound herbs, primarily when there is an absence of a single herb to accomplish the desired result. This situation occurs due to three factors: 1) the nature of the sickness or disease; 2) the organ(s) affected; and 3) the nature of the herb.
Although it is advised and preferable to use a single herb whenever possible, there are reasons that compel one to devise compound herbal formulas. These reasons are due partly to the nature of the illness and disease, partly to the state of the organ being treated, and partly to the nature of the herb.
There are fourteen practical reasons for the use of compounded herbs:
1. The first reason for compounded herbs concerns the extent of the imbalance of the humor; that is, if there is no single herb with enough force to restore balance, it is compounded with others that are stronger (or weaker) in the component desired. Thus, the tendency of the humor to continue in the direction of further imbalance is opposed.
2. The strength and acuteness of the illness may be such that no single herb is sufficient against it. The herbs are compounded so that the ingredients have a synergistic action and effect.
3. Sometimes there is a variance between the action of the single herb and the nature of the disease, as when a single herb works in opposite actions at the same time, like ripening chest phlegm and hindering the growth of tumors. One would compound in order to avoid aggravating one or the other of these conditions, since the desire is to treat them in sequence, not at the same time.
4. Some herbs have such strength that they have toxic or poisonous side effects themselves. In such cases, a compound is devised that annuls the toxic effects.
5. The affected organ may be far from the site of administration, and herbs are added into the compound that speed the herb to the site of action.
6. The strength and importance of the diseased organ must be taken together. Usually an herb to dissolve a tumor is compounded with one to ease the symptoms.
7. Distasteful herbs are compounded with those that improve their flavor.
8. Excessive strength of an herb may be reduced by compounding with herbs of opposite effect.
9. An herb may be added to prevent harm from the treating herb, as in adding peppermint to senna to prevent cramping.
10. Sometimes a single herb is simply inadequate.
11. Additional herbs may be added to enhance or extend the time of action of the treating herb.
12. There is always a difference between herbs and their doses and usages. Sometimes the effects of both may be desired.
13. Sometimes in order to use an herb effectively, it is necessary to mix it with other ingredients, as in adding oil and wax to powdered herbs to use as an ointment.
14. The destructive properties of an herb may be destroyed by mixing it with other herbs, as by mixing saffron with yogurt.
Calculation of Amount of Compound Herbs
In the calculation of the weights of each herb to be included in a compound, there are seven simple determining factors to be considered:
1. Strength of the nature of the herb.
2. The effect of the herb.
3. Its benefits.
4. Its usefulness, alone or with other herbs.
5. Distance of the affected organ from the stomach.
6. Which herbs in the compounded formula weaken its effect.
7. Ill-effects on other organs.
All of the single and compound formulas given in the Unani Formulary have been selected with all of the various factors already taken into account. Therefore, one should try to apply them as closely as possible to the directions given. One need not discern all of the foregoing factors in adjusting the compounds or single herbs. Usually a fairly wide range of alternatives is provided, and these each will work with safety and effectiveness.
In a practical sense, these factors come together in the following examples:
The significance of the site of the disease is shown in the case of diarrhea and ulcer; if the ulcer is in the high intestine, which is the small intestine, we treat with orally administered herbs; and if the ulcer is in the large intestine, which is the lower one, we treat the patient with enemas.
In summer we use cooling agents, that are actually cold; in winter, we use tepid agents. If the superfluous or toxic matters need to be evacuated in summer, we evacuate from above by inducing vomiting, and in winter, we evacuate from below by laxation.
The use of herbs must also take into account the organ itself: the temperament of the diseased organ; the shape of the diseased organ; the position of the diseased organ; and the strength of the diseased organ.
In fleshy organs, for example, heat dominates; in nerves, cold dominates. If these organs are “diseased” a primary goal is to restore the normal, innate of healthy temperament. A consideration of the substance of an organ means that some organs, like the lung, are made of tissue that is loose and flimsy; others like the kidney are made of compact substances; others like the liver and spleen have a consistency between these two. The first type of loose, flimsy tissue cannot withstand treatment by very powerful herbs, while the second type can withstand the action of very powerful herbs.
The consideration regarding curvature of an organ means whether they are hollow or not. The stomach, arteries and veins of the hands and feet are internally hollow; others, like the nerves of the fasciae are only externally hollow; the lungs are both internally and externally hollow, for the lung is surrounded on its outer side by the cavity of the chest, while the branches of the trachea of the lung lie in its interior, and arteries are permeating and branching inside it. There are also solid organs which have no hollowness at all, like the nerves of the hands and feet. All of these factors must be considered when deciding upon specific single or compound herb(s). Organs that are hollow neither internally or externally need strong remedies; those that are hollow and loose they need only weak remedies.
The situation of an organ is important for two reasons; one, its specific location in the body; two, its relation to other organs.
Since the object of many herbal treatments is to assist the ripening and expulsion of superfluous toxic matters, one needs to know how adjacent organs matters might be affected when evacuating, attracting or drawing out superfluous and toxic matters.
If an organ is near enough for the herb to reach the site with its full force, we treat with an herb that is just strong enough to cure the organ; if the location is so remote that the medicine cannot reach with it full force, we increase the strength of the herb to the extend of the loss incurred in reaching the site of the diseased organ.
If treating the stomach, for example, we use only enough medicine to cure the illness, for the herb will reach the stomach easily, and without much loss of power. If we treat the lung, we strengthen the herb in proportion to the many structures it has to cross and through which its force has to pass.
This being the case with herbs which treat the lung, any treatment given from the exterior may lose its force during its passage through THE course mentioned below; and any treatment given to it from the interior loses some force in its passage through the organs lying between the mouth and the lung, and is also diluted by admixture with the matter existing in the organs it had to cross.
There are many other consideration that must be taken into account when selecting either a single or compound medicine, such as the sensitivity of the organ, whether the organ takes its energy from another, or supplies actions to other organs itself, and so forth. For a more extensive discussion of the factors influencing selection of herbal formulations, the interested reader is referred to The Traditional Healer’s Handbook.
Those suffering from a serious illness definitely need proper medical advice and supervision by the physician or practitioner of their choice. Sometimes the body has become so disordered or degenerated that natural methods are not sufficient to keep pace with destructive changes occurring within the body. In such cases, the use of chemical drugs with drastic effects and speed of action may be a necessity.
Ideally, medical doctors would possess all of the technical expertise they do have plus the knowledge of Unani Traditional Healing. I recommend that people seeking treatment look for a Unani practitioner or an open-minded medical doctor to provide perspective on the various events the body will undergo in its efforts to restore itself to health.