In my practice, and in the practices of my teachers Lise Wolff and Matthew Wood from whom I learned this, we use pulse testing to help determine the right remedy/ies to give our clients. I'm going to give an explanation of this today, though I'm no expert so it may be flawed...
Pulse testing is essentially a way to read the body, and it works quite simply but does involve intuition as much as anything.
My typical client consultation involves first the client discussing their concerns and what they'd like to heal with herbs. I ask them about physical and emotional stresses, and we go through their various organ systems to determine if there's anything going on with, for example, the bowels or anywhere else in the body. During this discussion, I'm mainly listening and taking notes and often writing down herbs I think might apply to the client's situation.
I use mostly herbal tinctures in my practice. Most of them I've made from local plants, many wild but some cultivated. A typical dose of tincture in my practice is 1-3 drops, as I was taught by my teachers who use the same dosage.
After the client is done telling me their situation, I start pulling out my little tincture dropper bottles and line them up for pulse testing. For the sake of efficiency, I usually line them up by what I think best applies, but often that doesn't matter at all. It's the client's own body, in the long run, that gives me more information than the discussion we've had or my own intellectual approach to the situation. Here's how it's done:
I have my tincture bottles with the dropper part unscrewed but sitting in the bottle, and waiting; I have tissues available; and then I feel the client's pulse. We use three fingers to feel the pulse at the wrist, and there is something in Chinese medicine that says there are actually three pulses present here that correspond to different organ systems. I don't really pay much mind to that, but you can look it up in TCM manuals if you're interested.
After getting a feel for the pulse, I then use my other hand to take a dropper of tincture (and I use simples only, one herb at a time in a tincture). I then drop a drop of the tincture on the client's arm or hand or anywhere between the wrist and elbow. I feel the pulse's response.
There are many possible pulse responses to the drop of tincture, such as:
1. No response--the herb is likely not helpful or harmful.
2. A quickening of the pulse, or what might feel like an irritation--the herb is probably not helpful
3. An electrical feeling--could be good
4. A relaxing of the pulse, sometimes even a dissapearance for a moment, sometimes the client will report it feels "cold"--this is what I look for
But here's where intuition comes in. What feeling do you want the herb to give? I usually want to relax the client, since a relaxed body can more easily overcome illness or stress. My teacher Lise Wolff looks for the pulse to "blossom" or feel really good, but that's strictly an intuitive response from what I can tell. The herbalist has to use intuition to "get" the right remedy from the pulse. In many ways, you are testing on an energetic level here. However, the simple relaxing of the pulse can also be felt physically and can be a good indication of the right remedy. And when a remedy feels "cold" to the client's touch, that is often an indication of a relaxing response as well.
I also test dosage using this method. If one drop of the tincture feels good, then I'll drop on another. If that feels good, I'll try a third. Often the 2nd or 3rd drop feels irritating so then I leave the dosage at one or two. I can think of one case where up to 5 drops (of Red Clover this time) felt good, so I told the client he could take 3-5 drops. Usually we do not go above 3 drops! But, his was such a clear case for Red Clover (Trifolium praetense) that I felt certain in my mind he needed it. And Matt Wood in his Book of Herbal Wisdom says sometimes more Trifolium is needed, and for longer periods, than usual.
Often the client ends up with from 1-4 different tinctures that felt good on the pulse. I then test which remedies can be taken together, by dropping them on together (oh, and drops get wiped off with tissue after being tested...). Usually 2 at a time go together. Each remedy combination is taken twice a day, eight hours apart. Here's what it looks like for remedies that need to be alternated, with timing approximate:
8 a.m. Red Clover with Cleavers
Noon Chamomile alone
4 p.m. Red Clover and Cleavers again
8 p.m. Chamomile again
Do you get the idea? It sounds complicated when I type it out. The main thing to do is practice it as much as possible, using family or friends as "guinea pigs" and then clients who are okay with it. It can take a long time to get the hang of it, but then again you might find it a breeze.
You can also test supplements, homeopathic remedies, foods, anything one ingests in this way. Simply place the item in the person's hand while feeling the pulse before and after. If testing homeopathic remedies or flower essences, you can leave the remedy in the bottle and place the entire bottle in their hand as these remedies are more energy-based than physical and their effect can be felt through their container.
Some advantages to this method:
1. You get really superb remedies geared exactly to your client (in many cases--as there is still margin for error)
2. It teaches the herbalist to listen to the client's body and "read" things that have not been said in the consultation. It also gives great clues to what the client's body REALLY wants to work on, sometimes despite what they say
3. This method uses less plant and alcohol material since it's possible to use tiny doses of 1-3 drops when the remedy is targeted so perfectly.