top of page

All about herbs

We like to use herbs.

No... put the bong and the Allman Brothers album away for now, we don't mean those herbs...

Nor do we mean the herbs in tonight's spaghetti dinner.

We mean herbs as in Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture's under-recognized but über-talented half-brother.

So when do we use herbs as opposed to acupuncture? (Actually, the premise of the question is problematic. We get the best results from using both together, but moving on...)

Imagine your body is a garden. Acupuncture is especially useful when there are issues with the garden's irrigation system - essential resources (ie. blood, body fluids) are not flowing properly toward all the places they need to go. A LOT of problems can be solved this way, which highlights the importance of irrigation (circulation) in your garden (body) and the simple beauty of a therapy that works by adjusting it (acupuncture).

BUT, if you need to adjust the quality or content of the soil in your garden, your best bet is going to be something deeper - more internal. That means food (for early/minor issues), herbs (for more stubborn/significant issues), or drugs (for issues the first two can't fix).

Some history

The earliest extant medical records that mention Chinese herbal medicine date all the way back to the second century BCE, over two thousand years ago (though the use of herbs in medicine likely began much earlier, during a period where historical records were less complete).

Throughout its two millennia history, practitioners have done extensive study of herbal products and their effects and recorded their experience in various medical texts. Though a great number of these texts have been lost, a significant portion are available to us today. They inform modern Chinese herbal medicine practice and research, and they are even used as a resource in the development of new biomedical disease treatments, as in this story about the discovery of a treatment for malaria.

The herbs

Most Chinese medicine herbs are plants, but there are non-plant herbs as well. Here are some broad categories:


Roots and rhizomes, tubers, leaves, stems, flowers and flower buds, fruits and berries, seeds and seed kernels, bark, twigs, woody material, and pollen. These herbs can be used in their whole form, cut into smaller pieces, or ground into a powder.


Such as gypsum, stones, and even magnetite. To use these herbs, they are ground into a fine powder before being combined with other herbs into a formula.


Shells, horns, antler, exoskeletons, animal and fish bone, honey, and honeycomb. These herbs are less frequently used (some rarely or not at all depending on availability and/or ethical concerns). The animal herbs tend to be more potent and reserved for only severe conditions.

Herbs are typically processed in some way, such as dry-frying, cooking with honey or vinegar, or charring. These processes enhance or diminish certain medicinal properties within the herbs.

Medicinal properties

One classical medical text contains entries for over 1,800 herbs. They all have active properties, some known, some yet unknown. Here are some examples:

Analgesic, glucose-modulating, hormone-regulating, anti-inflammatory, cardio-protective, immune-enhancing, antiviral, antimicrobial, circulation-regulating, hepato (liver) protective, vasodilating, digestion-promoting, antihistaminic, anti-nauseant, anti-diarrhetic, antitussive, carminative, anxiolytic, laxative, soporific, adaptogenic.

Safety and availability

All of these herbs, with some rare exceptions, come from Mainland China. They are grown in very specific regions and most effective when grown in their native habitats. That being said, there is a growing movement of practitioners that are cultivating herbs in the United States, mostly on the West Coast. The movement is still quite small and can't supply the demand for herbs in practice, but it's encouraging nonetheless.

Since the herbs come from farms and cultivators in China, ascertaining the quality and purity of the product is essential. This is done through a variety of methods from the simple use of sight, smell, taste, and feel to identify the herbs to the use of detailed chemical analysis. Trusted companies usually employ multiple checks in combination.

Choosing a reliable company is important. The companies we source from have been serving the industry in the US for decades. They uphold Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP) and have been certified as such. They test the material they get from farmers and collectors for quality, purity, adulterants, and heavy metals; and they process the herbs in their own facilities.

One final but important caveat

The herbs in Chinese medicine (probably other herbal medicine systems as well) are best used in combination, not alone. We rarely dispense single-herb remedies. Most of our herbs are dispensed in combination with other herbs (formulas) in order to increase effectiveness and mitigate any harmful side effects.

Warm regards,

Hillary and Jonathan

PS If you think you might like to add herbs to your well-being routine, consider switching to one of our monthly plans. You get a free herbal formula at start-up and another every 8 visits (plus oh heavenly cupping anytime).

PSS: If you're new to Turtle Tree, check out our risk-free trial pack HERE


Recent Posts

See All

What is Qi and do I believe in it?

Eastern medicine is weird. A decade (or more) of regimented study is necessary to harness its power, but if one becomes too rigid in one’s understanding of it, its power eludes. It is a medicine of me


bottom of page