Synergy refers to the idea that the sum of the parts adds up to more (or less, in some cases) than the whole. This idea is an important one for herbalism where it is essential to combine different herbs thoughtfully and carefully in order to maximize the benefit a patient will receive. When you combine different herbs, the result can be a great deal more powerful (and sometimes different) than any of the herbs taken individually or separately. A well constructed formula will therefore be harmonized so that your body will not respond negatively to individual herbs but instead be able to fully accept the desired actions.
Furthermore, synergy is enhanced when absorption and bioavailability of an herb is increased in a body. It should also be noted that while herbs can work very effectively in combination due to their synergistic effects, alone they can be far less effective and sometimes produce opposite actions. For example, Ginger has an anti-ulcerogenic action which is considered to be the work of a zingerberene compound within it. This compound was isolated and tested to measure its results. It was found that the whole ginger extract was sixty six times more effective than the zingerberene compound.
The synergy of herbal remedies can actually be quantified because less of a herb is required to achieve the same effect when it is enhanced by the action of other appropriate herbs. For example, when 60 mg of Valerian is combined with 40 mg of Hops the results are the same as if the patient had been given 400 mg of Valeriana on its own. This can be an important example as Valerian can cause stomache pain to many people in large doses, therefore the lower the dose of Valerian with the same result would be optimum in herbology.
Negative synergy can apply to herbal combinations. For example, the combination of Echinacea and Andrographis enhances the immune system and is very beneficial in acute infections, however, Echinacea and Astrogalis / Huang Qi in combination can only be used in chronic conditions requiring immune stimulation and will exacerbate an acute condition. This is why where herbal preparations are concerned it is wise to consult with an experienced and qualified herbalist rather than self prescribing.
Each herb enhances the ability or action of the other ones. If you combine Echinacea and angustifolia root you will achieve an immune enhancing result greater than taking Echinacea on its own. If you take Echinacea Purporea on its own you will receive an immune enhancing result. However, if you add the two types of Echinacea together you will obtain at least three times that effect, not twice the effect. Putting them together gives a greater benefit than the two of them separately would give. This is the essence of synergy.
Another example of how the action of herbs alters in combination is that of codonopsis (Dang Shen) and Astragalus (Huan Qi). Both of these herbs behave similarly to Ginseng and will raise your energy and tonify your Qi. However, when they are combined their main action is to increase immunity and increasing energy or tonifying Qi is secondary.
Synergistic results are also obtained when you give someone senna in conjunction with ginger. Senna will not only create a strong laxative effect, it can also cause griping stomach pains. To avoid this negative side effect of the herb, you can add ginger to the mix. By doing this, you will still obtain the laxative benefits but you will no longer have the cramping.
Synergy also lowers the cost of herbal medicine because ?assisting herbs? reduce the amount of expensive herbs required to achieve the same result. For example, Ginseng is an expensive herb but if you add ?assisting herbs? to create a much longer lasting formula that will also increase energy and tonify Qi you will be able to get excellent results, for the same or even lower cost.
Phytomedicine or herbalism relies heavily on synergy to create natural medicines that promote healing in the best possible way for the patient. The synergistic benefits of herbal combinations can be quantified and used but cannot be fully explained. That said, there is an enormous amount of evidence that synergy enhances the performance of herbs in the right combinations and is an important aspect of natural healing.
Yet the market is still full of single herb products. I believe this is due to the fact that companies rely on selling you herbs that you have heard of, not on making a forumla that is best suited for the ailment or condition. I continuously write on this subject, and the reason I learned Eastern and Western Herbology. I use the best herbs for the job in a carfully developed, and most importantly synergenic formula. There are times that Echinacea is not the right herb for the job, there is a suitable lower cost substitute for Goldenseal in many cases, etc. Feel free to learn more at Dimmakherbs.com