The Art of an Herbal Formula


With so many herbs out there how do you blend them into an effective (and hopefully delicious) formula? Something I've learned from my teachers is that creating formulas is a deeply intuitive process that strengthens the more you work with herbs. Which to me is great news since the more you allow yourself to be creative and to listen to your intuition, the deeper your connections to the plants becomes. So, if you've got a pretty solid understanding of 'the roots of herbalism' formulations are the next step to practicing your knowledge of all those different herbs you've been reading about and using as tea.


First thing you want to do when creating a formula is write out a statement. Why are you creating this blend and what are you looking to address? For example, "an acute respiratory infection with a cough, soar throat and nasal congestion." This way, you can refer back to this statement when deciding what herbs to use and it keeps you focused on your main concerns.


One of our herbal teachers, Rosemary Gladstar, uses the William LeSassier method of formulation that includes 3 main points in a formula. To help visualize the formula you can also draw a triangle.

Point 1 | Primary or Specific Herbs

These are your heavy hitting herbs and the ones that most directly address the statement about the formula. All other points support the primary action and will always refer back up to this main point. Point 1 will be 70-80% of the formula and can include more than one herb.

 Elecampane | St. john's wort | Echinacea | Osha | Reishi | Mullein 

Point 2 | Supporters, Builders + Nourishers

These herbs help to tone the body system thats addressed in your statement. Often times they act as a buffer for the stronger primary herbs and help to soothe tissues. More than one herb can be used as the toning agent and is 10-20% of the formula.

 Licorice root | Marshmallow root | Chamomile | Cornsilk | Milky Oats 

Point 3  | Catalysts + Activators

These herbs play an important role because they activate  both the organ system and the other herbs used in the formula. They can warm up the organs, break up congestion or stagnation and help the body eliminate what it no longer needs.  To give you an idea of which herbs to use think about what herbs have these actions -- laxatives, diuretics, diaphoretic, stimulants and expectorants. Action herbs make up 10-20% of the formula.

Cayenne | Ginger | Yarrow | Cleavers 

Let's go back to our statement ---"an acute respiratory infection with a cough, soar throat and nasal congestion." Here is a formulation with herbs in Point 1,2 &3.

Point 1 | 50% Mullein leaf + 30% Echinacea root--- Mullein is great for bronchial infections with coughs and sore throats. Echinacea is helpful for treating the first signs of a cold or flu and boosts the immune system into action.

Point 2 | 10% Licorice root --- Its demulcent and soothes soar throats along with being an adaptogen specific for supporting the adrenal glands.

Point 3| 10% Ginger rhizome --- Spicy and delicious, ginger is warming and helps drain congested sinuses.

A few things to keep in mind...

+ Keep it simple | Using a small handful of herbs that you have experience with will be far more effective than using a ton of herbs haphazardly. The more you know where and why you're using an herb the more effective the formula will be.

+ Keep leaves & roots separate | If you're making an infusion or medicinal tea, use the roots of herbs or the leaves and flowers rather than mixing the two since they involve different preparations. If you're making  a tincture blend, you don't have to worry about mixing the two since part of the magic of tinctures is preserving the medicine at the peak of the season.

+ Make it tasty | Think about who you're making a formula for and what tastes they enjoy. If the most effective  formula calls for really bitter herbs, creating a tincture blend that can be taken with water or juice is a great way to keep everyone happy.

* Adapted from The Herbalist's Way & Rosemary Gladstar's Syllabus of Workshops and Classes