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The Art & Science of Herbal Formulation: An Introduction

  • Sebastian Pole
    Sebastian Pole

    I am a registered member of the Ayurvedic Professionals Association, Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine and a Fellow of the Unified Register of Herbal Practitioners. I qualified as a herbalist with the aim of using the principles of Ayurveda (the ancient art of living wisely) and the Herbal tradition to help transform health. I have been in clinical practice since 1998.

    Having co-founded Pukka Herbs in 2001 I have become experienced in organic herb growing, practitioner grade quality and sustainable value chains. I am a Trustee of the FairWild Foundation, a Director of The Betonica School of Herbal Medicine and an Advisor to The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and The Sustainable Herbs Project. Fluent in Hindi, a qualified Yoga therapist and passionate about projects with a higher purpose, I am on a mission to bring the incredible power of plants into peopleā€™s life. And that is why I started Herbal Reality and what it is all about.

    I live in a forest garden farm in Somerset growing over 100 species of medicinal plants and trees. And a lot of weeds!

    Author of Ayurvedic Medicine, The Principles of Traditional Practice (Elsevier 2006), A Pukka Life (Quadrille 2011), Celebrating 10 Pukka years (2012) and Cleanse, Nurture, Restore with Herbal Tea (Frances Lincoln 2016).

  • 8:07 reading time (ish)
  • Herbal Research Western Herbal Medicine

Written by Sebastian Pole


The art & science of herbal formulation can be viewed as a pinnacle of clinical herbal medicine. And from a societal perspective, a defining factor in human intellectual and medical achievement as well. Every culture in the world has hundreds of species they rely on for their health and well-being; we can define the ability to recognise a few hundred species at every stage of growth, as well as know how to use every part of the plant, as a sign of high cultural intelligence. Our ability to have sifted through the 250,000 or so flowering plants, (along with numerous fungi, minerals and fauna), to refine a collection of the most therapeutic, and then be able to combine them for maximum efficacy is a wonder of human ingenuity and compassion.

All herbalists know that creating a differentially diagnosed treatment plan develops the building blocks to make a personalised formula that optimise the chances of clinical success. However, there are as many ways to prescribe herbs as there are routes up a mountain, be that as a single herb, in formulas, low-dose, high-dose, as teas, decoctions, tinctures, pills, salves, steams or subjects of contemplation to mention a few. And beyond the desired efficacy there are many important factors to consider in terms of quality, safety, sustainability, dosage, contraindications, interactions, side-effects, compliance, cost and taste. Its no surprise that the world of herbal pharmacy is complex; its dealing with the very heart of Nature and our interdependent relationship with that complexity.

The oldest recorded evidence of medicinal plant recipes has been found on Sumerian clay slabs from Nippur, dated c2500 BCE. Numerous prescriptions including a range of over 250 plants have been found. Further evidence of our growth in medical knowledge occurs in the Ayurvedic Charaka Samhita c150BCE and early Chinese teachings in the Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperorā€™s Inner Classic) and the Shanghan Lun, Treatise on Cold Diseases, from c200CE. Earlier formulations from around 3BCE have been discovered in China such as the Wu Shi Er Bing Fang (Formulas for Fifty Ailments) but they are more basic constructs lacking names, energetics and differentiation. Collectively, these seminal texts contain the earliest evidence of the first formula classifications based on differential diagnosis. As knowledge and experience grew the great herbal traditions of Greece, India, China, Japan, Africa, Arabia, and the Americas all developed insight into blending different species to gain more specific and enhanced effects. Whether you call it a blend, prescription, recipe or formula, its at the heart of clinical herbal medicine.

Sebastian Pole

I am a registered member of the Ayurvedic Professionals Association, Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine and a Fellow of the Unified Register of Herbal Practitioners. I qualified as a herbalist with... Read more

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