Traditional herbal remedies have been helping people cure their ailments for centuries. The history of medicine evolved from using the medicinal properties of plants.  As of 2016, the global herbal medicine market is valued at US$ 71.9 billion and is expected to continue to grow.  Every herbal ingredient has its own function and use.  Herbal formulations can be based on a hierarchy of ingredients.   


Chinese herbology has evolved over the years of research and practical application.  Herbal plants with multiple medicinal properties can be used to treat a variety of conditions, and are more affordable for some other medicines.  One single plant can contain constituents such as phenols, glycosides, alkaloids, resins, or terpenoids that will work for more than one medical condition. 


 Herbs can be used to treat or aid in the treatment of almost any medical condition.  The combination of herbs can be used to promote overall health, and not just the patient’s complaint. 


Herbal Structure

When an herbal formulation is produced, there is a universal method for creating a balanced formula.  This method creates a chain of command that dictates the amount and use of herbal ingredients within a combined formula.  The herbs are categorized as “Chief”, “Deputy”, “Assistant”, and “Envoy”. The order of the herbs ensures a harmonious formula that is created specifically for an individual to treat their needs.  


Herbal extracts work best in combination with others in the formulation to be most effective.  The definition of the hierarchy of herbs is as follows:



These herbs are directed against the pattern of disharmony.  This is the main herb so it must be the strongest and of the most quantity out of the four.  


These herbs are lesser strength than the Chief herb. Deputy herbs have two jobs:  to aid the Chief herb and to serve as the main herb against a secondary symptom.


Assistant herbs have three functions:  to support the Chief and Deputy herbs, to reduce the side effects of the first two herbs in the hierarchy, or to counteract the effect of the Chief herb so the body can more readily accept it.  Similar to the Deputy herb, the Assistant herb is also in lesser strength than the Chief herb. When formulated properly, herbal medicines do not have any side effects.


These herbs are responsible for focusing the formula to a certain area of the body and integrating the actions of the other herbs.  This is the least in quantity or strength as compared to the other three herbs.  


Other Considerations

The formulation of herbs is a complex process.  While the hierarchy must be adhered to, the age, size, and constitution of the patient might also factor into the exact formulation.  Also, the antagonistic effect must be considered as some herbs cannot be mixed with others without creating a toxic effect.  


Each formula can be modified to target specific needs and conditions of each patient.  The herbs work in conjunction with each other in the hierarchy to produce an effective formula.