Starting an Herbal Pharmacy

Establishing an herbal pharmacy in your practice allows you to give the best possible care to your patients. With an herbal pharmacy, you can prepare formulas immediately, even while patients wait, and you can customize formulas for individual needs. Treasure of the East provides Pharmacy Starter Kits with pharmacy essentials to help a new practice thrive. 

 What You Need to Start an Herbal Pharmacy

  1. A small set of popular formulas and single herbs as modifiers, or 100-150 of the most commonly used single herbs to mix your own custom formulas.
  2. An easy-to-clean calculator or calculator sealed within a plastic bag
  3. A scale with a capacity of approximately 400g
  4. Weighing papers or reusable weighing mats (can be made by laminating sheets of paper with your logo printed on them)
  5. One or more laboratory scoops or long-handled spoons (such as ice tea spoons)
  6. One or more small funnels
  7. Empty bottles and caps with tamper-evident seal
  8. Adhesive labels
  9. A heat gun (available at hardware stores) and plastic heat shrink wrap
  10. Plastic measuring spoons to provide with each bottle
  11. Baskets or bins able to hold approximately 15 bottles of herbs
  12. Face masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies
  13. An ergonomic, easy-to-clean work surface
  14. One or more bookcases with adequate shelving for all herbs and supplies
  15. Capsule filling machine and gelatin or vegetarian capsules (optional) 

Having pre-mixed popular formulas is beneficial to an herbal pharmacy, especially for the sake of convenience. However, single herbs allows for flexibility to modify or custom design a formula to best fit a patient's needs.

A calculator is required to calculate the correct dosage of each herb. In order to do this, practitioners must divide the herb amount by the sum of the formula and multiply by the amount of grams they need of the given formula. More information on how to calculate and mix formulas can be found here: How to Mix an Herbal Granule Formula

It's important to have a scale measuring in grams up to at least the tenth decimal. This will allow for more precision when measuring dosage. When patients order several bottles of herbs, practitioners will be able to make multiple bottles of the same formula with a scale that has a larger capacity.

Many practitioners measure and mix with bowls. However, weighing papers are more versatile. Not only can herbal pharmacists use them atop scales to measure herbs but they can bend to funnel herbs into other vessels.

Laboratory scoops or long handled spoons are different from the ones that go into a patient's bottle. These will be used daily to help measure herbs on the scale. Make sure to use a spoon that's easy to clean and reusable, not a plastic spoon. Plastic spoons are more likely to break or retain herbs that were used in prior formulas. Cleaning and sterilizing metal spoons between herbs and formulas prevents unwanted herbs or contaminants from going into separate formulas.

Without funnels your pharmacy will be a mess. They're necessary to put herbs and formulas safely and easily into bottles.

When patients require custom formulas, you will need bottles. When you order herbs in bulk bags, they'll need to be stored in bottles. No matter what, an herbal pharmacy will need bottles, and if they have a tamper-evident seal it will assure patients that the herbs they're ordering are reliable. 

Pharmacies must label all single herbs and formula bottles they have in order to keep track of inventory and stay organized. Prescriptions for individuals must be labeled with the type of formula, date, amount in bottle, daily dose, and patient name. 

Much like the tamper-evident seals, using shrink wrap around the bottle cap assures patients their herbs have been stored safely. They also prevent bottles from breaking or leaking during transportation.  

Plastic measuring spoons in each bottle are for patient use. Sometimes patients can be uncertain about the amount of herbs they are meant to take. It helps to have a small spoon for them to use as reference. Patients won't usually have a way to measure their exact dosage in grams, but it's simple to communicate how many scoops they will need. 

It can be overwhelming organizing a pharmacy and separating single herbs for various formulas. We recommend dedicating a specific bin for each formula to  avoid confusion over which herb was pulled for what purpose. There can even be a bin designated for herbs that need to be re-ordered, or re-shelved. Bins or baskets can serve a variety of organizational purposes in a pharmacy. 

Keeping a pharmacy clean should be one of the highest priorities. Wearing protective gear (like gloves and a surgical mask) and cleaning regularly prevents unwanted germs from spreading to patients. The pharmacy should be regularly wiped down with food-safe cleaners of the variety that you'd use in your kitchen.

When first starting a pharmacy, choose a practical, flat workspace for building formulas. Make sure there is plenty of room and keep it clutter-free. 

Shelves may seem very specific, but cabinets and drawers are not practical for herb storage. With shelves, one is able to see the herbs clearly and grab them easily. It's not just convenient storage, it allows pharmacists can work quicker and find specific herbs with ease. 

Open bottles of herbs that are stored in humid environments or for long periods of time may clump over time, making them difficult to measure and add to formulas.  Seal your bottles tightly, use a dehumidifier, or, if needed, add desiccant packs within each bottle. 

Dissolving herbs into a decoction is how many practitioners recommend ingesting herbs. However, sometimes patients are more comfortable taking capsules. A semi-automatic capsule filling machine is not required, but can speed the process. To catch and store the excess herbs that may fall from the machine, leave a weighing paper below the it. Baskets, funnels and bottles would also be necessary to catch and store the capsules. Aidan Kaye of Integrative Medicine Center provides a helpful demonstration in our blog, How to Encapsulate Herbal Extract Granules.  

Photo by Res from Jasmine Stine's Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine

For more information, please see frequently asked questions, how to mix an herbal granule formula, and how to encapsulate herbal extract granules

There is also a helpful article to read from AHPA about Good Herbal Compounding and Dispensing Practices!