About Kampo Medicine

Kampo medicine is part of the national health care system in Japan and originates from mainland China from the Han era.

Kampo Herb Image


Kampo medicine is believed to have arrived in Japan as a result of the visit by a Chinese monk named Jianzhen, a well-versed practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, during the 8th century. Its integration and acceptance into Japanese society began during the late Edo period (618-907CE). The name Kampo literally translates to “of the Han (people)”. It was given this name as a counter to the term Rampo (“of the Dutch”), the term used for the Western medicine that was brought in by Dutch travelers at this time.

Kampo was primarily based on two Traditional Chinese medical canons, The Shang Han Lun (Treatise on Cold Disease) and its companion classic, the Jing Gui Yao Lue (Essential Remedies from the Golden Cabinet). These texts were written by one of the most famous Han Dynasty physicians, Zhan Zhong Jing (150-219ce). They contain a very sophisticated understanding of the progression of disease in the human body, as well as how to treat it based on very specific and recognizable physiological presentations.

Kampo herbal medicine evolved for the most part independently after it was brought to Japan through multiple generations of traditional herbal healing schools. Kampo practitioners utilize a variety of stems, twigs, leaves, flowers, minerals and some animal products in their formulas.

Unlike most Western over-the-counter herbal supplements, Kampo and traditional Chinese herbal medicine work through an incredibly sophisticated understanding of the synergistic effects between herbs. These effects are a product of masterful formula writing which produces complex medicines when herbs are combined primarily via the decoction method, or boiling them down together.

In the simplest of terms, most formulas are structured based on a hierarchical set of functions and interactions. Many commonly used herbs serve in more than one capacity, and there are some formulas that do not require all the functional components listed below.

Basic Formula Structure

Primary Herb

Primary or “King” herbs have the strongest pharmacological or therapeutic effect on the body, such as inducing sweat in the beginning stages of a flu, improving digestive function or reducing inflammation.

Supportive Herb

Supportive herbs have a synergistic effect on the primary herb, improving its efficacy or supporting organ systems that may also be affected by a physiological imbalance.

Assistant Herb

The Assistant herb will either counteract any toxic components of the primary herb, or help offset any potential side effects. An example would be a cooling herb to offset the warming nature of the primary herb.

Carrier Herb

A Carrier or Delivery Herb is the herb that directs the above herbs to a targeted location, such as an organ or a region of the body such as the sinuses and nasal passages. Cinnamon twig, for example, has the capacity to direct other herbs to the micro-capillary system of the body. It is included in many formulas that treat issues with peripheral circulation.

Harmonizing Herb

A harmonizing herb harmonizes the individual herbs in a formula into a cohesive pharmacological unit. Modern testing has shown that harmonizers change the biochemical structure of the herbal combination. Without harmonizers, some herbal formulas would be considerably less effective.

Diagnosis, Prescribing and Dosage

Traditional diagnostic techniques based on palpation evolved and shifted over time in China. During the Han dynasty, abdominal palpation was a commonly used form of constitutional diagnosis. Although the technique is not commonly used in modern day China, it became standard practice in Japan.

As with most traditional and indigenous medicine, one size does not fit all. In order to correctly prescribe a formula, a practitioner needs to be able to identify a person’s “constitution.” In Traditional Chinese and Japanese herbal medicine, this is determined by the patient’s primary complaint, secondary symptoms, the location of their symptoms, their physical characteristics and their pulse, tongue or abdominal diagnosis.

Kampo medicine practitioners palpate the abdomen because the physical manifestations of imbalances present in the abdomen are much less ambiguous than those perceptible in the pulse, and leave less room for diagnostic mistakes. Many formulas can only be prescribed if certain findings are present, such as finding resistance against the hand when pressure is placed under the rib cage. Without this finding, certain formulas would not improve a patient’s condition and may even exacerbate their symptoms.

At Kingston Acupuncture, we use the powdered or granular form of Chinese herbs. Granules are a spray-dried form of boiled down or decocted formulas that are more convenient to take than having patients cook down the raw herbs themselves. While cooking the raw herbs at home is considered the highest quality of herbal prescribing, it is often challenging to get patients to consistently prepare and take the formula since it can be time consuming.

Granule dosing is typically 2 gram scoops in 1/2 cup of hot water 3x/day. During acute cases such as UTI symptoms, doses can increase to 3 grams every two hours until symptoms alleviate. During your treatment, your constitutional findings will be shared with you along with an explanation of the formula prescribed. A written formula info sheet is also provided.

Depending on the condition, formulas can be taken anywhere from a few days or weeks, or more consistently as a maintenance formula.

For nerds, blerds and researchers, here are some links used as a reference with more in-depth information about traditional Kampo herbal medicine and how traditional Chinese formulas are structured.

Synergism of Chinese Herbal Medicine

An Overview of Traditional Chinese Formulae (NIH)

Traditional Japanese Kampo Medicine: Clinical Research between Modernity and Traditional Medicine

Center for Kampo Medicine


16 Lucas Ave Ste 101
Kingston, NY 12401


t: 845-339-5653
f: 845-789-4097


Tues, Thurs and Fri: 12-6pm
Wednesday: 9am-3pm