Best Chinese Medicines logo

Tablets, Teapills, Tinctures, Oh My! Decoding the Types of Chinese Herbal Medicine

Are you wondering which form of a Chinese herbal formula you should choose?

Let's walk through the options.

Those who are new to Chinese herbal medicine are often curious about why there are so many different types of herbal preparations. Pills, tablets, tinctures – what’s the difference?! And which one is for me?

The short answer is that Chinese herbal medicine is an ancient practice. The methods and ideas that formed the medicine have developed over thousands of years. Unlike Western medicine, Chinese medicine scholars and doctors of the past didn’t simply throw out an idea once a new one has come along; they keep all the possible avenues for healing open. This has led to a wide range of treatment possibilities, diagnostic methods, and, of course, forms of herbal medicine.

Here we will explore the varied forms of Chinese herbal medicine to better understand the options we have for herbal healing in our modern world!

Decoctions in Chinese medicine

Decoctions were one of the first forms of herbal medicine used in China and were the most popular preparation in one of Chinese medicine’s most influential texts, the Shanghan Lun.

Decoctions are prepared by soaking and cooking a batch of herbs in water (often individually formulated and measured for each person) from 20 minutes to several hours. Afterward, the herbs are strained out and the patient drinks a cup of the liquid several times per day.

Today, many people find taking herbal decoctions to be relatively inconvenient, unpleasant, and unreliable. Decocted herbs tend to have a strong (often bitter) flavor that most Westerners are not used to. While a decocted formula tends to be the strongest, most potent form of herbs, few people have the patience to cook their herbs daily and take regular doses throughout modern daily life. As a result, many people fail to finish a full course of herbs and don’t get the results they are looking for.

However, decocted formulas are the most customizable and targeted way to use Chinese herbal medicine.

Granules or Dried Decoctions in Chinese medicine

Granules are a modern invention that helps to take the inconvenience out of traditional “raw herb” decoctions. These granules are essentially decocted herbs or full herbal formulas that are evaporated into a syrup. This syrup is then sprayed onto a powder carrier (such as starch) and dried further into a powder.

To use granules, one only needs to measure their dose into a teacup and add warm water. The result is a close replica of a traditional decoction without the hassle, mess, and a much more pleasant taste. Like decoctions, granules are highly customizable.

Tablets and Teapills in Chinese medicine

Some classic formulas in Chinese herbal medicine were not meant to be decocted but ground up into powders. As a powder, the formula was then either mixed with hot boiling water and drunk as a tea or rolled with honey into sticky tablets or balls.

Today, these same powders can be pressed into tablets, filled into capsules, or rolled into tiny teapills like our Plum Flower Abundant Qi teapills for low energy and fatigue. One famous powder, Yunnan Baiyao, can be sprinkled over a wound to stop bleeding, but that is not the typical use for most powdered formulas.

Shop Now

Tinctures in Chinese medicine

Tinctures, or liquid herbal extracts, re a relatively new way to reap the benefits of Chinese herbal medicine, but they are becoming increasingly popular.

An ancient version of tinctures did exist, however, as early doctors would steep herbs into wine and later drink the elixir. These were most commonly used for issues of blood stasis (menstrual disorders, severe pain, or injuries), cold conditions (arthritis, paralysis, post-partum disorders), or cough and asthma. In a Chinese medicinal wine, the wine itself is also considered one of the healing ingredients. Wine has a warming and moving quality, which is particularly helpful for unblocking stuck energy and encouraging blood circulation.

Today, modern manufacturers make tinctures, rather than medicinal wines. Tinctures are strongly concentrated herbal formulas (still extracted in alcohol) that require only a few drops for dose.

Being able to take a small bottle of your herbs on the go is a great convenience for many of us with busy lives. Simply drop your dose into a bottle of water or under your tongue. Tinctures are also excellent choices for children or pets who need an herbal formula as they are easy on the stomach and are unnoticeable in juice or water.

Oils, Liniments, Salves, and other Chinese medicine Topicals

Chinese herbal medicine is effective in treating both internal and external conditions. While decoctions and pills can be taken to improve the healing process of external issues like pain or skin disorders, many topical products can put the power of herbs directly on the troubled area.

Po Sum On and White Flower contain potent herbal extracts in an oil. As oils, these are great for areas of muscular pain that benefit from massage or pressure. These also double as headache relievers (dab a small amount on the temples or back of the head) and chest-openers (gently massage these oils on the chest to unblock nasal or chest congestion).

Another topical option is a liniment, like our pain-eliminating Zheng Gu Shui, which is excellent for bone and joint-related issues. Liniments are herbal extracts in an alcohol base and can be dabbed onto an area of pain or itching or used as a poultice. Unlike tinctures, these are for topical use only and are not to be ingested.

Shop Now

We can help you find your best Chinese herbal medicine formula

Chinese medicine is a holistic and comprehensive healing system. From classic formulas to modern additions, there’s an herbal formula suited to you and your health concerns. Shop our collection today to find your natural solution! Contact us if you need help understanding the different available options available for sale on our website.

Share the Health Benefits of Chinese Herbal Medicine

About the Author

Kaitlan Downes, MSAOM, L.AC

Kaitlan Downes, MSAOM, L.AC

Kate Downes is a Chinese medicine practitioner with a passion for herbal medicine. In fact, it was her love for plant and earth medicine that first drew her to study Chinese medicine.

Kate has a MSAOM (Master of Science, Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine) certification and practiced acupuncture in Indianapolis, IN for five years before packing her bags to roam the world. In order to stay in touch with the wellness community and continue to help others thrive with herbal medicine, she transformed her work from face-to-face patient care to spreading wellness through words. Her life as a remote herbalist and writer has allowed her to work with a variety of wellness brands, health pioneers, and her wonderful clients. She has a special interest in working with women’s health.

Kate thoroughly enjoys writing educational and useful pieces for Best Chinese Medicine. Her goal is to help the public gain a better understanding of the wonders of Chinese herbal medicine so they can be empowered in their own quest for natural, vibrant health.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.