"My opinion, however, is that they (herbs) are superior 95% of the time to any pharmaceutical drug!" - Dr. Robert E. Willner, M.D.
What's in a Formula?
Xiao Yao San—or Free and Easy Wanderer—is one of the most commonly prescribed Chinese herbal formula. One of its many indications is when the Liver overacts on the Spleen, causing symptoms such as loose stools, diarrhea, depression, anxiety, and premenstrual syndromes. Because the Liver is excess while the Spleen is deficient, Xiao Yao San is also indicated for Liver excess symptoms (headaches, hypochondriac or flank pain, breast nodules, wandering pain, itchiness, belching, nausea and vomiting, alternating chills and fever, irritability, and dizziness) and for Spleen deficiency symptoms (abnormal bleeding, prolonged menstrual bleeding, cough with sputum, anemia, poor appetite, poor digestion). The main function of Xiao Yao San is to harmonize the Liver and the Spleen.
Every ingredient in Xiao Yao San plays an important role in the overall design of the formula. The chief herb, Bupleurum (Chai Hu) is especially powerful in soothing the Liver and spreading Liver Qi so that it does not stagnate. The assistants, Dong Quai (Dang Gui) and White Peony (Bai Shao), reinforce the actions of Bupleurum by nourishing and moving Blood while moistening and softening the Liver. White atractylodes (Bai Zhu), poria (Fu Ling) and licorice (Gan Cao) act as deputies; their main actions focus on tonifying the Spleen while supplementing Qi which promotes Blood production. Ginger (Sheng Jiang) and mint (Bo He) are often left out of many Xiao Yao San formulas, but their inclusion is important as ginger warms the middle burner so that the Spleen functions better while mint soothes the Liver by venting the heat created by stagnant energy.
Different Herbal Options
Chinese Medicine can be prescribed using raw herbs, granular, and patent formulas. Though more labor intensive, raw herbs provide the most potent form of herbal medicine. While most convenient, some practitioners believe that patent formulas are least potent, with estimates around 60-70% of raw herbs potency. In between the two forms is granular herbal medicine, which has the convenience of patents and the potency and flexibility of raw herbs.
Both raw herbs and granular herbs can be modified for individualized herbal prescriptions.
The cost of raw formulas can be high because some ingredients such as Ginseng (Ren Shen), gastrodia (Tian Ma), or Mantis Egg Casings (Xang Piao Xiao) are expensive individually. When combined into a formula to be decocted into patents or granular powder, the cost is reduced. If a formula must be taken over a long period of time, patents are recommended. For travel, patents or granular formulas are convenient. For complex cases requiring nuanced prescription, raw and granular formulas are most useful.