Starting Your Herbal Pharmacy, Part One

Fo Ti Tieng Herb

This blog is part one in a series on starting your herbal pharmacy.  I will cover the important areas of consideration when starting to build your herbal pharmacy as a licensed healthcare practitioner. 

As a new practitioner it can be daunting to start an acupuncture practice in addition to building an herbal pharmacy.  You may consider some of the following questions when thinking about the kind of pharmacy you want to have in your practice.

  • What brand of herbs should I use and what are the differences between the companies?
  • What is my patient population and the conditions that I will be treating most?
  • What are patients most likely to comply with (pills, granules, raw herbs for tea)?
  • What are my options for prescribing herbs to patients if I can’t afford to keep the stock on the shelf?
  • How are the herbs processed and packaged?
  • What equipment will I need starting an herbal pharmacy?

One of the first things to determine are is what brand(s) of herbs you should use and the differences between companies to determine who you will use to stock your pharmacy. Doing a little research will give you peace of mind when deciding which companies are a trusted source to use for your patients.  What exactly are the things you need to look for when doing your research?  You want to make sure you are getting a good quality product that is free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other toxicities.  Consider how the company sources the herb, tests it, processes it, and packages it for use by the consumer.   What is their authentication protocol? What type of testing is essential to ensure the product is safe and of excellent quality?  Quality control testing usually includes some of the following equipment: High Performance Thin layer Chromatography (HPTLC), Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) and Microscopy.  HPTLC detects contamination, incorrect parts of the plant, and correct identity.  GC-MS combines the feature of gas without decomposition of the substances to analyze the form. HPLC separates ions and molecules to quantify components and gives a chemical fingerprint to each herb.  Microscopy is another form of examination under the microscope to look for pattern of I was pictured (first one from the left) when we visited the state-of-the-art lab in Tianjiang Pharmaceutical.herbs any contamination.  Another thing that you want to make sure of is that the company complies with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).  Chinese medicine manufacturers in mainland China are all under China’s pharmaceutical GMP to ensure that products are produced and controlled according to CFDA. Manufacturers in the US need to be in compliance with current GMP (cGMP) under the FDA requirement.  If you want to know detailed information about a specific herb or formula manufactured by the company, ask for a Certificate of Analysis (COA).

Last year, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to China with TCMzone and do an advanced herbal training at the Longhua hospital in Shanghai, China.  During that trip, I also visited their manufacturer, Tianjiang Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd (I was pictured in the photo here, first on the left, when we visited Tianjiang QC lab).  I felt comforted in knowing how they sourced their herbs, examined, tested, processed and packaged their herbs.  Getting an education and tour of the facility was an amazing experience to me.  I was so impressed with their state of the art technology and felt comforted knowing that I was supplying my patients with one of the best quality products Chinese Medicine has to offer.  Tianjiang Pharmaceutical is known to be the world’s largest manufacturer of premium Chinese granule herbs.  It is the main supplier for the doctors and hospitals throughout China.

Because Tianjiang is TCMzone’s herbal manufacturer, they carry pharmaceutical grade herbs.   The herbs are harvested by good agricultural practices (GAP) by growers in areas where they traditionally grow in China and undergo quality assurance methods such as HPLC and GC-MS to certify safety and efficacy of the finished product.  They assess the appearance, moisture, solubility, microbiological, fungal, bacterial and heavy metals of the herbal specimen. TCMzone also complies with cGMP standards and provides a COA for each batch of product they carry. I have been using TCMzone herbs for over 7 years now, and I find TCMzone’s pharmaceutical grade herbs are a trusted source to use in my herbal dispensary.

How I became a Chinese Medicine Practitioner:

Often, I get asked the question: What made you get into this field of medicine? The answer might surprise you, but it’s actually pretty simple. It was in my self- interest to look for alternatives to my own physical health.

My journey to Chinese Medicine began in my late 20’s. At the time, I was working in Cardiac Rehab as an Exercise Physiologist in a hospital setting. I had been working there for about 4 years since graduating with my Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education with a specialty in Exercise Science and a minor in Health. Like many late 20’s graduates, I was pondering my next step in my life and thinking about going back to school for an advanced degree, but in what field? Nursing? Physician assistant? Cardiologist? Not surprisingly, the answer came to me through my own physical health.

During this time, I became chronically ill with bronchitis, sinusitis, and reactive hypoglycemia. My doctors prescribed multiple rounds of antibiotics, to the point that when I stopped the drugs, my symptoms returned within 5 days and my recovery was stunted. After about a year of this, I needed sinus surgery for a deviated septum, blocked sinuses and a chronic cough, that had been persistent for the entire year. On and off of antibiotics, I was also prescribed inhalers such as flovent and serevent, which left me feeling slightly nauseous and dizzy most of the time.

I was getting tired of feeling tired and out of it so I decided to view my heart rhythm on the EKG monitor by placing some electrodes on myself. The EKG read that I was in a sinus tachycardia at rest of 110 bpm (beats per minute). Normally, my resting heart rate is about 60-65 bpm. It was clear that these powerful western medicines that were treating my symptoms were also making me more ill at the same time. My doctors were treating my medical symptoms and not my whole self. It was time to look for other solutions.

The first natural medicine practitioner prescribed herbal medicine as well as dietary recommendations that addressed my allergies along with my various medical conditions. In place of the powerful drugs, she prescribed herbal remedies for my sinuses and dietary changes such as eliminating sugar, white flour, pasta, yeast, and dairy from my diet. I ended up moving forward with sinus surgery since there was structural damage such as blocked sinuses and a deviated septum that needed treatment, but I had also discovered that I could treat my broader symptoms with the age-old reliance on herbal medicine and dietary adjustments.

Improving my diet and augmenting it with herbal medicines, I noticed immediate improvements in my overall health, and decided that the path of natural medicine was indeed the path for both my personal and professional future. I became passionate about helping people who were struggling with the same vicious cycle of stronger and stronger drugs that I had experienced. I wanted to learn more about how to treat the body naturally so that recovery would not be a temporary band-aid for 5-7 days but a permanent improvement.

If it worked for me, I knew that other people could get to the root of their problems and resolve the repetitive cycle of illness that plagues many of us. I learned that plants and natural cures can heal, and my field of advanced study would become natural medicine and its many uses — namely a graduate program in Oriental Medicine.

In my first interview at a graduate school I learned that Oriental Medicine is rooted in Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine, but I also found that studying hundreds of years of natural and alternative cures was much more challenging than I had ever anticipated. Most importantly, I learned that to become an Oriental Medicine practitioner you have to be an herbalist first because the first line of treatment in Oriental Medicine is herbal medicine, then acupuncture, cupping and other modalities. Herbal medicine has always been my love and passion and I continue to learn things about the medicine every day through my study and clinical experience.