To an individual born and raised in the Western world, Chinese herbal medicine may seem like an unorthodox solution to a serious health issue. However, the practice of using Chinese herbs to treat modern diseases is alive and well in the U.S. as more and more people are drawn to using natural remedies as opposed to synthetic drugs. So this begs the question, what exactly is Chinese Herbal Medicine??
Herbal therapy is the process of using naturally occurring plant, mineral, and animal matter in specific combinations and preparations to treat and prevent illness. Herbal medicine is one branch of treatment within the full scope of Chinese Medicine, alongside the other branches of acupuncture, massage, dietary therapy, exercise therapy, meditation, and qi gong/tai chi. Of the different branches, acupuncture has become the most popular among Westerners (most likely because it feels wonderful) but herbal medicine has traditionally been the main method of treatment within this system.
There are 5,767 naturally occurring substances that are currently classified for medicinal use in China, with around 300 used most commonly. These substances range from plant material (stems, leaves, fruits, flowers etc.), to minerals (salts, shells, stones etc.), to animal derived substances (bones, hides, skins etc.). Each ‘herb’ is classified with a specific taste (sweet, sour, acrid, bitter, salty or bland), a specific temperature (ranging from hot to cold), and a specific affinity for certain organs. Herbal medicine practitioners most often use two or more substances in medicinal formulations to create a balanced, synergistic formula targeted to effect the specific nature of any disease. Practitioners draw on time-tested combinations from Chinese medical textbooks and clinical data from the past 2,500 years.
The most common ways to ingest herbs are:
- Decoctions – The most traditional method of preparing an herbal formula. This method uses the raw, whole, dried herbs boiled in water for about an hour to make a tea, which is ingested in prescribed amounts. This can be a fun method for those who like to cook, and enjoy cultivating a relationship with their ingredients.
- Granules – A powdered form of the herbal formula is made by traditionally decocting the raw herbs, then reducing the water out of it and spraying on a substrate to make a powder. The powder can be dissolved in hot water and ingested a few times a day. Granules are convenient to prepare and use, and are not as pungent as traditional decoctions.
- Patent Formulas– Pre-made herbal formulations in pill or tablet form that are the most widely used form of Chinese herbal medicine outside of China. This method is used by those who don’t like the taste of herbal decoctions, or have the time to prepare.
- Syrups – Soothing preparations for cough and sore throat, and also a convenient way to administer herbal formulations to children.
- Liniments – Salves, compresses and plasters, which are used for external application. These may be used for tendon, bone, or muscle injuries.
It is important to have a reverence for the strength of Chinese herbs and understand that they are a true form of medicine, not to be used on a whim but in prescribed combinations and amounts, and monitored by a practitioner. The use of Chinese herbs is completely safe when working with a well trained practitioner, and the clinical benefits are remarkable. From infertility to sinus infections, depression to IBS, these natural formulas should not be thought of as an ‘alternative’ treatment, but as one of the first lines of defense (alongside Western medicine) in resolving serious medical conditions.
If you are interested in trying Chinese Herbal Medicine, please make an appointment with me at www.16thstreetacupuncture.com