Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbal therapies are generally formula-based - single herbs are rarely used. TCM holds that every medicinal substance has strengths and shortcomings, and each ingredient in a formula should be carefully balanced in quality and quantity, in order to accentuate its efficacy while reducing side effects.
The herbs are not combined cumulatively but are mixed according to particular principles. A diagnostic process is undertaken, with physicians discerning subtle patterns according to the symptoms of the individual. This then guides them to determine therapeutic strategies and to design or select proper formulae.
Because TCM physicians always focus on patterns of disharmony, herbal combinations should address these disharmonious presentations exactly. Because a TCM formula contains multiple interactive ingredients, it is customary to rank the compositions in four groups when analyzing the role they play in the formula.
The Monarch is the ingredient that exerts the major and leading effects in a formula.
The Minister is also known as the associate ingredient and usually refers to two different functions. Firstly to support the monarch drug and secondly to improve and treat accompanying symptoms or coexisting disharmony patterns.
Assistant ingredients can play one of three roles in a formula. They can either:
Reinforce the effects of the monarch or minister drug or treat the less important coexisting patterns.
Eliminate the toxicity of the monarch and minister ingredients, or modulate their harsh properties, Provide paradoxical assistance.
Guides have two different functions. One is to force the actions of the formula on the target meridian or area of the body; and the second is to harmonize and integrate the effects on other drugs.
After centuries of practice, scholars have perfected various formulae for common disharmony patterns, and these classic combinations have become the basis for modern day use. Many are so popular that they have been manufactured as patent remedies and are available in health stores.
Appropriate formula prescriptions based on accurate differential diagnosis can only be made by qualified TCM physicians. It is important to consult a qualified TCM physician to help you select the most appropriate formula.