The Classical Herbalist

Online In-Depth Herbal Training Program

Practitioners of Chinese medicine may wonder how the great doctors of the past created formulas that remain relevant today. The truth is, they did not create formulas meant to be used as unmodified building blocks or revered for eternity. The formulas we call classical are valuable because of the traditional perspective of the doctor who devised them; remarkable in approach, and not defined by the ingredients.

The guiding principle of herb theory presented in the Huang Di Nei Jing states the flavor and nature of herbs influence the qi in a specific manner. Thus, classical herbal formulas combine herbs with the appropriate flavor and nature to result in warming, cooling, dispersing, moving, building, slowing, draining, drying, gathering, astringing, descending, softening or permeating effects in the body. The appropriate affect leads to resolution of symptom or disease by influencing the qi and rebalancing yin and yang.

In contrast, modern practitioners tend to start at the end of this process - selecting herbs to treat a specific illness or symptom. Matching herbs to conditions or patterns perpetuates a system of memorization and one to one correlations, and is especially problematic when a formula does not work for an illness it is reported to resolve.

Thus, herbs are best understood by the terms presented in the classic books; the yin-yang quality of the herb that leads to a change in the yin-yang dynamic in the body. The appropriate change leads to a resolution of symptoms, while the inappropriate affect may worsen the condition or lead to other symptoms. The difference between these approaches may not seem so profound, but it is actually the basis of the Chinese medicine aphorism, ‘因人而異’ (‘[treat each situation] according to the person’).

From a classical Chinese medicine perspective, treatment revolves around the appropriate way to affect the patient's qi, rather than an herb or formula reported to treat their disease or symptom name. This classically based principle underlies every lecture and clinical case example within this comprehensive course. By focusing on classical principals as the basis for the understanding Chinese medicine, clinical results are not only improved; what seemed mysterious becomes obvious, and the skills of the famous doctors of the past no longer seem so hard to fathom.

This in-depth online training course is designed to be paired with a hands-on, in-person herb immersion workshop. We strongly feel tasting, examining, experiencing and discussing herbs is the best method to truly understand the theory contained in this course and become a confident and effective herbalist. While in person attendance is not required for purchase of the course, we again stress the importance of practical and experiential learning. Please visit traditionalstudies.org for in-person herb immersion workshop dates and locations.


Presented by JulieAnn Nugent-Head, the Classical Herbalist training program is an online, self paced course designed to take participants back to the way herbs were understood and prescribed by Huang Di, Zhang Zhongjing, Sun Simiao, Zhu Danxi, Li Dongyuan, Zhang Jingyue, Ye Tianshi and other great scholar-practitioners through time.

Module 01: The Foundations of Chinese Herbalism

Module 01 lays out the foundations of Chinese herbal medicine from the Huang Di Nei Jing and the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing.

Classical herbalism is defined by understanding that flavor and nature dictate an herb’s actions and indications, and are the primary consideration for herb usage. This module also stresses the importance of the Shen Nong Ben Cao, its methodology of herb classification and understanding of herb strength/toxicity.

Module 02: Putting Theory into Practice

Module 02 begins with a walk through of the "eight functions of qi" and defines how herbal treatment should be considered simply affecting the movements and functions of qi toward their optimal state. Module 02 reviews classical theory as the backbone of all classical formula, and guides modern practitioners to stay within these classical paradigms to create custom formulas for each patient. Reviewing common herb pairs, the 18 incompatible and 19 antagonistic herbs and varied herbal preparation methods, this module takes theory into the clinic.

Finally, Module 02 finishes with an examination of major materia medicas through Chinese history, discussing when and what changes happened, and the significance it has had on the contemporary study of herbs today.

Module 03: Examining Classical Formulas

Module 03 provides and in depth look at formulas recorded by the father of clinical herbalism, Zhang Zhongjing. Beginning with the Shanghan Lun Preface, and followed by an overview of the Shanghan Lun & the Six Divisions, students will walk through the Shanghan Lun in depth and garner both understanding and historical perspective. Module 03 offers an exhaustive examination of the single herbs and formulas in the Shanghan Lun and the Jin Kui Yao Lue, to grasp the importance of flavor and nature in herbal selection and formula modification. This module aims to remove the mystery of some of the most important formulas in clinical practice.

Module 04: The Formulae & outline of Sun Simiao’s Qian Jin Yi Fang

Module 04 marks The Tang and Song Dynasties as both a high point for Chinese medicine as well as the end of the Classical Period. This is the time of the Wai Tai and Sun Simiao, as well as the great gatherings and revisions of older texts and formulas from ancient times into the editions we have today. Looking at the books of this time to treat OBGYN, pediatrics, and other specialties, we can see the application of flavor and nature to these specific conditions as well as the shift in herbal perception itself.

Module 04 also examines the first schools or styles of practice of Chinese medicine. Founded by four different doctors during the Jin and Yuan Dynasties, we see the creation of what is commonly called the Spleen School, the Fire School, the Yin Deficiency School and the Purging School. Module 04 examines their strategies and formulas to see the evolution of herbal use into a style of practice.

Module 05: From the Wen Bing to Modern Chinese Medicine

Module 05 examines The Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Wen Bing both as a theory and as a style of practice. It also marked the influence of western medicine in China, which grew with the establishment of the Republic of China and completely changed the way herbs were taught and used within the educational system. Module 05 examines both the formulas and strategies of the Wen Bing School as well as how herbs are taught and used modern, along with a final commentary on the push to return to classical herbalism happening today.

Module 05 wraps up our in depth course with a discussion on the history and changing perspectives in China over the last 250 years that have led to the action and chemical-component focus predominant in herbal medicine today.

Your Instructor


JulieAnn & Andrew Nugent-Head
JulieAnn & Andrew Nugent-Head

Andrew and JulieAnn Nugent-Head are vocal advocates of classically based, clinically relevant, tangible and effective Chinese medicine. With more than 30 years experience living in China and working with the old doctors born and educated before 1949, JulieAnn and Andrew have both experience and practicality that shines through in their approachable and entertaining teaching style.

The Nugent-Heads teach internationally, manage this online educational site, run a not for profit teaching clinic in Asheville, North Carolina, and have begun to develop their property into a medicinal herb farm. Completely immersed in Chinese medicine in each facet of their life, they are a dynamic duo with a mission to demystify and raise the bar of Chinese medicine.


Course Curriculum


  Introduction & Syllabus
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