In addition to my private practice, I’m lucky to be able to work part-time at one of the top colleges in the country for acupuncture and Chinese medicine. This school runs the largest medicinary in the Pacific Northwest that is dedicated solely to Chinese herbs. While I was in school there I worked in the medicinary putting together the herbal formulas prescribed by the student interns, faculty practitioners, and outside practitioners, a great way to get hands-on learning with Chinese herbs. I currently work as a supervisor in this medicinary as well as teaching a required class called Herbal Practicum.
The Herbal Practicum class ensures that all students get this hands-on experience of putting together herbal formulas in a professional Chinese medicinary whether or not they get a work-study job there. Working directly with the herbs brings them to life in a way that is lacking in textbook study. The students also have a chance to see how the herbs are actually prescribed. They see how the formulas they learn in class are used and modified. Time permitting, we also analyze the herbs chosen and guess why the practitioner modified the traditional formulas they way they did. We also get the opportunity to have small-group discussions about herbs, either casually as questions come up or in our official assignments. For me, it’s a great way to stay engaged with Chinese herbalism outside of school, and it’s fun to interact with the current students. It also gives me easy access to the herbs for my own patients.
This week marks the beginning of the spring term, and so far I’ve had one of the two sections that I’ll be teaching this term. Their first assignment is to cook some bulk herbs at home, following our default cooking instructions, and to reflect on the process. Depending on the formula, this could be a relatively simple process of soaking the herbs in water for a while, bringing them to boil, simmering them, then straining off the liquid to drink. Oftentimes the strained herbs are boiled again to get more medicinal constituents out. There are sometimes also special preparations for individual herbs – cooking them longer (pre-boiling) to either reduce toxicity or get more out of a pricey herb, short-boiling to preserve aromatics and essential oils, or dissolving at the end after the rest are cooked for powders. It’s good for the students to go through this process (if they haven’t already) before they start prescribing bulk herbs and asking their patients to do the same.
Sound complicated? Luckily, some students have put together an instructional video for cooking bulk herbs, available through the school’s libary media page:
Interested in trying your own herbal formula? Talk to your local Chinese medicine practitioner (acupuncturist) about Chinese herbs, and they can prescribe an appropriate formula (usually after a detailed intake, and looking at your tongue, and feeling your pulse).