Chinese Herbal Medicine
Herbal Medicine is another modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Chinese herbs are derived from organic substances found in plants, barks, roots, flowers, and even minerals and animal products. They have long been used in China to successfully treat ailments and are an integral part of Chinese medicine. Over the succeeding centuries, the use of Chinese formulas has evolved and adapted to the changing needs of society and an integrative medical landscape. Since the inception of Chinese herbal medicine, the beneficial healing effects, side effects, and contraindications have been well documented. It is quite rare that an herbal formula will illicit negative or harmful side effects, especially when prescribed by a well-trained Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner.
For centuries and across large populations, herbal formulas have been prescribed to adults, children, the elderly, as well as pregnant and lactating mothers. When herbs are prescribed in conjunction with acupuncture, they complement each other quite nicely and produce very effective treatment protocols.
Herbal medicine and acupuncture are both rooted in the fundamental belief that there is an intrinsic connection between human beings, nature, and the cosmos.
Herbs tend to be highly specific in their actions.
They possess unique qualities and properties, much like human beings, and target different aspects of an individual’s disharmony.
Herbs have four major properties and functions:
Cold / Cooling herbs - clear heat, dispel fire, detoxify the body, and promote Yin energy
Warm / Heating herbs - warm the interior, dispel cold, and promote Yang energy
Mixing two or more individual herbs is similar to adding hot or cold water. It cannot be
too hot or too cold, unless the TCM practitioner is attempting to achieve this effect.
Herbs have five flavors that coincide with the five elements:
Sour (wood) – arrests, discharges, and acts as an astringent
Bitter (fire) – expels heat, reduces dampness, strengthens the Yin, and disperses fire
Sweet (earth) – strengthens the body, balances the Yin and Yang, and relieves pain
Pungent (metal) - disperses internal heat, and boosts circulation of Qi and blood
Salty (water) – moistens and has a purgative effect
Seldom does an herbal formula belong to solely one flavor. Generally, it may possess
a few flavors, but in varying degrees. Therefore, a formula oftentimes contains more
than one property, function and flavor.
Traditional Chinese Medicine takes many forms. There are medicinal soups, pills, ointments, medicated wines, and skin plasters. After a 60-year revolution, and as modern technology improves, so, too, has the making and dispensing of Chinese herbs. Today, we use a high quality filtration system that concentrates and cooks single raw herbs to create powders that are more powerful and effective at treating illness.
Medicinal soup (herbal tea)
The herbs can also be cooked in water and the dregs strained out to make a tea. However, modern technology has eliminated the time-consuming cooking process by concentrating pre-cooked single herbs into powdered form. People can simply mix the power in boiling water and the tea is ready to drink. This is the most common form of delivery. It is absorbed quickly by the body, hence results are rapid. Usually, acute illnesses are treated with medicinal teas.
The medicine is ground into a powder and water or honey is added so that it can be rolled into balls. This method will take a longer time to show efficacy and is used over a longer period of time. It is ideal for chronic illness and prolonged weakness.
The medicine is ground into powder. It can be taken orally or applied externally on the body. It is taken with water for faster absorption and is ideal for acute illnesses. The powdered medicine is often used in external applications. It is also applied in the throat and eyes. Because of today’s high technologies, we are able to cook all the herbs and grind them into powder, which becomes herbal tea.
The medicine is decocted until it thickens into a jelly. There are two types of ointment – to be taken orally or for external application. It is ideal for chronic illnesses or to replenish the body. External application is often done by pasting oiled paper or a plaster over the ointment and is used to treat boils, corns, or rheumatism.
The medicine is soaked in wine and the dregs are removed. It is quickly absorbed into the body and takes effect fast. Often used to treat rheumatic pains and injuries from falls or blows.
This is a traditional medicated plaster in which ointment is applied on a small piece of cloth before it is pasted on the affected area. It is said to be more effective than ordinary ointment application.
Below are some factors to be cautious of when taking Chinese medicine:
Foods to avoid:
Certain herbs require specific dietary guidance. Your practitioner will give you specific advice based on your individual conditions. In general, one should avoid eating cold and raw foods, oily foods, and foods that are hard to digest when you are taking Chinese medicine. This will help reduce the burden on the digestive system and allow the medicine to be absorbed better. At the same time, avoid garlic, onions and chili.