About Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese Herbal Medicine has been documented and continually practiced since the 3rd century BCE. Herbal combinations published in ancient texts are still effectively prescribed today. And, in addition to drawing on well rooted, proven uses of herbs, Chinese herbal knowledge and its applications, are continually adapting in response to modern research and the changing clinical presentations. The Chinese Materia Medica includes over 3000 substances, which are mainly comprised of plant parts, including leaves, roots, fruits, and barks. However the Chinese Material Medica also includes minerals and animal substances. In modern practice, most comprehensive herb pharmacies stock between 250 to 300 substances. Herbs are classified according to:
- Temperature — this ranges from cold to hot in nature. Generally, if the nature of a condition is hot, cool or cold herbs are prescribed.
- Actions — the specific therapeutic properties that an herb exerts. There are approximately 18 categories of herbs, ranging from herbs that nourish to herbs that move the qi, to herbs that stop coughing.
- Organ systems/meridians entered — the systems of the body that an herb enters and acts upon.
- Flavor — there are 5 flavors: pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Each flavor has specific functions and characteristics. For example, the sweet flavor has a nourishing and harmonizing effect on the body, while the sour taste astringes, and the bitter taste cools heat in the body.
- Chief – the herb that exerts the strongest effect on the pattern being treated
- Deputy – herbs that reinforce the actions of the chief herbs and addresses any secondary symptoms.
- Assistant – harmonizes any harsh effects of other herbs in the formula and augments the actions of the other herbs in the formula
- Envoy – guide the other herbs to specific organ systems, and help the other herbs be absorbed by aiding in their digestion.
Quality Standards of Chinese HerbsHerbs imported into the United States must be manufactured in accordance with the stringent GMP (good manufacturing process).
What Forms Do Herbs Come In?
- Bulk Herb Preparations. Traditionally, raw herbs are boiled for about an hour into a “decoction.” This decoction is taken as a tea 2 to 3 times a day. This method of taking herbs is the strongest.
- Granular Herb Preparations. Granular preparation of herbs has been in use for the past 20 years. Unlike bulk herbs, granular herbs can simply be added to hot water with no additional preparation. Granulated herbs can still be combined into a customized formulas, allowing for precise prescribing. The process of creating granulars involves decocting the herbs and evaporating the water content. The result is a powder that is concentrated at a ratio of 1:15. Granulars are a popular choice in today’s busy world.
- Pill and Capsule herb preparations. Pills and capsules are convenient and easy to take, but don’t allow for custom, individualized herbal prescribing. However, many formulas are available in pill or capsule form, and in some cases they are a great solution. Also, a customized formula can be encapsulated upon request.