Herbalists and other complementary therapy practitioners sometimes use single herb therapies like those described above, but the general tendency is to blend several herbs into combination therapies. A naturopathic doctor, herbalist or a practitioner of Chinese medicine, Ayurveda or Aboriginal healing methods may create unique blends of herbs specific to your health needs. There are several reasons for doing this. Some herbs work well together by achieving the same goal in different ways. For example, several herbs that support the digestive system are combined in the Triphala formula.
Herbs may also perform different functions that, when combined, make the mixture more specific to a particular problem. For example, the herb eyebright has a tendency to travel to the eye when taken into the body. Combining this herb with an antiviral herb like Lomatium might, therefore, help prevent an eye infection.
Some herbs are combined simply because they are traditionally thought to work best together. Although the theory behind this connection is not always fully understood, practitioners are reluctant to change combinations that derive from many years of observation and use.
Some herbs are combined to make them easier to take. For example, adding ginger or licorice to an herbal formula that has an unpleasant taste might make the combination more appealing and encourage patients to follow their treatment more closely.
Several Examples of Herbal Combinations
Chyavanprash is a jelly used in Ayurvedic medicine. It contains 49 herbs plus the amla fruit, its main ingredient (for details, see the triphala formula section). Chyavanprash is used to boost digestion and increase muscle mass. It may also lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol and enhance the healing of tissue.
Composition A is a combination of Chinese herbs used in HIV infection. It contains more than 20 different herbs, including licorice, maitake mushrooms, astragalus, Atractylodes and ginseng. Composition A blends Chinese herbs used to treat toxic heat, which are often antivirals, with yang tonics that may support the immune system and marrow-strengthening herbs that may both stimulate the immune system and improve the circulation of blood cells. Composition A may be prescribed by a traditional Chinese medicine doctor. Its main side effect is gastrointestinal upset.
Essiac Tea contains burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm bark and turkey rhubarb root. Sheep sorrel and turkey rhubarb root are not indigenous to North America, although Rene Caisse, the original creator of this mixture, based her formula on the teachings of an Ojibwa healer. Essiac tea is sometimes taken by people with cancer. Although the name Essiac is a registered trademark of the Resperin corporation, several other manufacturers make similar formulas.
LIV-52 is an Ayurvedic formula containing herbs that are believed to treat liver disease and prevent liver damage. No side effects have been observed when LIV-52 is used as prescribed.
Sho-saiko-to is a traditional Japanese herbal remedy. It is approved in Japan for the treatment of hepatitis. A small study of combination therapy with sho-saiko-to and the antiretroviral drug 3TC showed that this mixture may be effective against HIV. A possible complication of sho-saiko-to is a serious lung condition called interstitial pneumonia. This complication is more likely to occur in people with existing respiratory problems. If you develop a dry cough or fever while taking sho-saiko-to, you should stop taking the preparation and seek medical attention immediately.
Triphala is a combination of three fruits - haritaki, amalaki and bibhitaki - used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is used to help maintain a healthy digestive system. It improves digestion and appetite and works as a laxative. Triphala is a good example of an herbal formula that combines several herbs with similar properties that work together. Haritaki (Termina chebula) is used extensively in Tibetan medicine. It is the strongest laxative of the three and helps to prevent cramping. It may also be active against intestinal parasites. Amla, or amalaki (Emblica officinalis), is used to rejuvenate the digestive system and improve appetite and digestion. It contains large amounts of vitamin C (3,000 mg per fruit) and is said to rejuvenate the circulatory system, helping to rebuild new tissue and maintain the red blood cell count. Bibhitaki (Terminalia belerica) tones and protects the stomach and is also used as an appetite stimulant. Bibhitaki is also taken for sore throats and respiratory illnesses. Triphala or other formulas containing haritaki should not be used by pregnant women or when a person is experiencing fatigue, wasting or diarrhea.
Note: the herbal formulas above have not been well studied in clinical trials.