IF YOU'VE GOTTEN AN HERB FORMULA….
The formulas of ITM, such as the Seven Forests and Pine Mountain Chinese herb combinations, as well as herb formulas from numerous professional supply companies, are designed for prescription by health professionals. This is because Chinese herbalism is a highly complex field that requires years of study and practice, and involves concepts and terms (yin and yang, qi, zang and fu, etc.) that are ancient, foreign, and not easy to explain. It is the responsibility of the practitioner that is prescribing the herbs to tell you what the herb formula is for, how it is to be used, and when you are to return to check on your progress (with the possibility that the dosage will be adjusted, the formula will be changed, etc.).
Due to the nature of Chinese herbalism, the explanation that is given to you may be quite limited and difficult to interpret. As an example, you may visit the practitioner because you have a certain disease condition that you wish to address using natural health care methods. The practitioner may not give you a prescription that is specific for that disease condition (there may not be any such prescription available); instead, you may receive a formula to treat a pattern of symptoms that is recognizable in the system of Chinese herbalism, with the hope and expectation that if the formula helps correct the underlying imbalance revealed by that pattern, your specific health problem will also be helped. Therefore, the formula might be described as addressing "yin deficiency with deficiency fire" or "liver qi invading the stomach and causing retroflow of qi," or "nourishing the liver and kidney (not referring to the organs as understood by modern medicine, but the organ systems as described in Chinese medical training) and settling internal wind." At best, the practitioner may give you such terminology and explain that by treating a disharmony, you will be brought into balance and the body will heal itself. By contrast, you may wish to have a modern medical explanation, which is usually not possible, or you may wish to have a full understanding of these terms, which would take far too long to explain.
When you receive an ITM formulation, it is generally not appropriate for ITM to give you information about the formula, because this information can only be a small part of the story. Instead, it is the years of study and experience that the practitioner has and their knowledge of the many details of your particular situation that makes any such information relevant to your particular case. Therefore, if you are dissatisfied with the explanation given by your practitioner, you should alert your practitioner to these concerns to see if a better understanding can be attained.
The ITM website has numerous articles about Chinese herbs, formulas, theories, and practices, and you may wish to refer to these to get an in-depth view of what practitioners read (most of the articles were written for practitioners) and get a sense of what this field is about. The articles may make you either more or less confident about personally using herbs, depending on your background and orientation. Chinese herbs are not a required part of anyone's health care. They are an option that is pursued by individuals interested in the philosophy, culture, and history of Chinese herbalism. If you are worried about using a prescribed formula, or unsatisfied with the explanation of its use, do not use it.
Ideally, Chinese herb formulas are a part of a comprehensive health care program, which includes improving life style choices and getting physical therapies (e.g., acupuncture). They will be understood, then, as making a contribution to the process of change that these other methods bring about, and not viewed merely as a one-to-one substitution for a drug or other modern medical therapy. In that way, one does not rely on the explanation of the herb function to sound like the explanation for a drug therapy.