Extracts vs Powders

I recently went to visit a local Chinese Herb shop to get an herbal ‘tune-up’.  Many years ago, I found a great chinese herb shop and whenever I felt rundown, I would get my pulse read by the old resident herbalist and he would write out a prescription for the pharamacist to combine together and grind up.  I would then boil the ground up herbs and drink a cup twice a day.  I always felt like a million bucks afterwards and I recommended them to all my friends and family.  Unfortunately, the place burned down one night and I never saw or heard from them since.  I haven’t been able to find a good herbalist since. 

Anyway, I tried out this new place and when I went to pick up my herbs, I got a bunch of packets of powder I was supposed to mix into a cup of hot water and drink.  The herbalist told me this was the new way to dispense herbal prescriptions.  I didn’t really like this, but decided it was worth a try.

Extracts have some merit.  Always make a note if you are dealing with a raw herb or with an extract.  Extracts are just that..alcohol or water or some other chemical extraction of the chemicals in the herb.  Extracts are very potent and come in varying strengths such as 5:1, 10:1, 100:1 etc.  Extracts are usually standardized to contain a certain percentage of the known active chemical, which I guess makes it more like a drug, but guarantees you are getting a standard and expected dose.  As an example, I don’t think 500 mg of powdered gingseng is going to have much effect on anyone, but 500 mg of a powerful ginseng extract certainly could.

The problem with extracts is that they could be missing important chemicals that are not understood or known that are vital.  I always felt a water extract would miss chemicals that were not water soluble or an alcohol extract could miss ingredients as well.  But I’m not a chemist, so I’m not really sure about that.  I’ve noticed really powerful effects from extracts (which I’ll go into detail in future posts) so I know they work.  At the same time, I’ve had great effects from boiling bulk herbs too.  I can’t really think of a good experience with a raw powdered herb off the top of my head, I think they are largely ineffective because the dosage is so small.

In either case, one is probably not always better than the other and each will have it’s place.  For now, just make sure you know what you’re dealing with and what you’re paying for.   Read those labels to see if you’re getting an extract or just a few milligrams of a powder.

Oh, and my experience with that new herbalist was terrible.  I don’t think mixing individual extracts of the herbs into hot water is the same as the raw herbs.  I didn’t feel better, in fact I felt worse and threw the rest out.  I’ll never go back there.

By the way, and this is a topic for another post, I don’t think the herbs we get now are anywhere near what they used to be in the ‘old days’.  But I digress…

Jing Chi Shen

As I come across interesting theories and paradigms, I’ll be writing about them here.

One very helpful paradigm for comparing items on this site comes from  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and it’s view of the body’s energy system.    In TCM, there are three concepts called ‘Jing Chi and Shen‘.  There aren’t very good english equivalents for these terms, but loosely translated, ‘Jing’ means the core energy you were naturally alloted at birth.  One can think of this as the size of your energy battery you are given.  There are alot of really esoteric ideas concerning how this  ‘Jing’ size is determined but it largely is inherited from the parents and the circumstances around conception.  Interestingly enough, this concept is not unique to TCM, but is found in many Spanish cultures as well.  The bottom line is, according to this theory, when your Jing starts to fall short, you grow old and eventually die.  We’ll be looking at strategies to make the most of our Jing on this site.

Next is ‘Chi‘.  I’m sure everyone has heard of ‘Chi’ and it’s alternate spelling, ‘Qi‘.  Chi can be thought of as your energy level and ability to accomplish things in the world.  People who get a lot done and rarely get sick are said to have alot of ‘chi’.  Chi is also thought of as the ingredient of the flow of ‘energy’ in the body (primarily via fascia)  and many TCM doctors aim to get this flow properly balanced in the body through herbs, acupuncture, etc.  The amount of Chi we have can be augmented by diet, certain practices (which we’ll be exploring too) and through sleep.  However, the amount of basic Jing is an important driver for how much Chi someone has (according to this paradigm).

Just to be clear, I’m not crazy about vague terms like Jing Chi Shen, but just bear with me.  I think this is a good model to have in our arsenal for the quest.

The last concept, ‘Shen’ is loosely translated as ‘Spirit’.  This is often seen in the eyes and people call it ‘charisma’ or ‘aura’.  How much chi you have drives your spirit and charisma.

In TCM, many herbs are said to operate on one or all of these levels.

A very common analogy is a candle.  The wick is compared to Jing.  The wax is compared to Chi and the flame is compared to Shen.

I read this book many years ago and found it to have a good explanation of these concepts and pretty decent overview of many herbs and tonics medicines from China.