Just like western medicine, when you have a complicated medical problem, or you are just unsure what to do, you consult a professional. If it is a western doctor, she may write you a prescription for a specific medication. A TCM doctor will do the same thing, except that prescription is likely to be a customized mixture of herbs that you brew and drink as a tea, and is filled at at herb pharmacy or from the practitioner's own supply of herbs.
One of the benefits of a customized formula, is that it is made specifically for your condition and your body type. That is where TCM outshines the western drug market, where a drug is made "for everyone". These formulas as teas work amazingly well, but the down side is that the taste takes some getting used to! Patent remedies are more like western drugs- they take a standard formula that works well for most people and put it into a form that is much more palatable. Patents are readily available in Asian pharmacies and many grocery stores and can be thought of the same as western over-the-counter medicine.
Types of formulas
Tonifying or supplementing formulas are used for conditions of weakness or deficiency. Deficiency patterns may be seen in any of the organ systems, especially the Spleen, Lung or Kidney, with symptoms such as fatigue, poor digestion, low immunity and incontinence.
Harmonizing formulas restore balance and equanimity within organ systems, such as Spleen and Stomach, restoring digestive balances, or between organ systems such as Liver and Spleen.
Clearing and purging formulas eradicate pathogens, or dispel excess stagnation of a bodily substance. These formulas are for very specific patterns and conditions, such as Wind Heat invasion, Heat and Toxins, Blood stasis, excess Dampness, or Heat.