Chinese Herbs

What are Chinese Herbs?
Chinese herbs have served as the foundation for “Traditional Chinese Medicine”, or TCM, for over 5,000 years. The fundamental idea of living in harmony with nature and the environment forms the basis for the use of Chinese herbs as well as the traditional Chinese approach to health. Knowledge of the healing power of Chinese herbs and herbal remedies has been passed down from generation to generation, and today represents one of China’s greatest gifts to mankind. The isolation of China throughout history plays a role in the general lack of understanding about Chinese herbs by other world civilizations. However, since the opening of China in 1972, knowledge of the ancient healing powers of Chinese herbs has been gradually spreading to Western countries. Chinese herbs are now experiencing a rapid increase in usage and popularity. Health-conscious consumers are concerned about the concentration of synthetic chemicals in Western diets, medicines, and the general environment. Chinese Herbs are being welcomed by progressive Western consumers who are seeking natural, healthy and balanced alternative remedies. Traditional Chinese Medicine is very different from the Western scientific approach we are accustomed to. Chinese medical experts promote a healthful balance of yin and yang, two forces present in all of nature. When yin or yang forces or qi/energy levels are off, balance is disrupted in the body and spirit, & health problems arise. Chinese herbs and herbal remedies are used to help realign an individual’s yin or yang balance in order to improve overall well-being. Chinese herbal formulas include hundreds of popular organic ingredients that work in harmony to produce the desired effects in a person’s body. These ingredients are primarily of plant origin, and may include roots, bark, seeds, flowers and leaves. Each organic ingredient typically has unique characteristics (i.e. yin/yang balancing, qi/energy boosting, etc.) that are reinforced and harmonized in comprehensive ancient Chinese herbal formulas that have been passed down through the years. The study of Chinese herbs centers on the proposition that many organic substances have curative powers. Indeed, this is a fundamental tenet of not just Chinese Medicine, but Western medicine as well. Popular Western remedies ranging from common aspirin to modern chemotherapy treatments have their roots in organic substances. Western medicine is finally beginning to acknowledge its debt to Chinese herbal medicine, noting that the effectiveness of many modern pharmaceuticals was originally demonstrated in Chinese herbal practice centuries ago. Nonetheless, Chinese herbs should be viewed only as a supplement to western medicine, and not as a replacement. Chinese Medicine emphasizes harmony and duality, and this is well-represented by the increasing cooperation between practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine and their counterparts in the western medical establishment.

Are They Different from Western Herbs?

Formulas are created to effect specific actions that will help the individual according to their needs. For example, some formulas are for harmonizing and tonifying a person’s constitution, which can strengthen their immune system. Others may clear out excess phlegm for upper respiratory problems. Being whole and organic substances, they are complicated and work synergistically with each other in many ways. There may be as many as four to twenty-four herbs in a formula, though the average is around eight to twelve. Western Herbology is mostly based in treating symptoms of a disease just as Western medicine is used to treat those same signs and symptoms. With Chinese herbs we are always looking to treat the cause or “root” as well as the symptoms or “branch”. We are always thinking in terms of a treatment protocol that addresses both problems. A formula may not treat both at the same time, but we will have a plan to work with each “layer” or problem seeing both the immediate problem and the long- term solution. This is the real gift of Chinese medicine. By having a preventative mind- set, we are always looking for the cause and then a solution. Just clearing the present symptoms is not enough- the cause must be dealt with or imbalance will simply come back again in one form or another.

Do All Acupuncturists Work with Herbs?

Not always. Many acupuncturists do not create or prescribe formulas for the individual; instead they may use patent pill formulas provided by many companies in the U.S. and China. Some practitioners don’t work with herbs at all, because not all schools teach Chinese Herbology in their programs. My program included nearly 1000 hours of Herbal Medicine- about one third of the classes. Those of us who have been trained and work with making individualized formulas for patients have studied about 365 herbs in great detail, learning not only their general function, but their interaction with other herbs, and any contraindications for mixing with other herbs, pregnancy, and medications. Most people present complex situations. For instance, someone has insomnia, and after assessing the information, we find the person has this problem due to what we term in Chinese medicine as Liver Yin and Blood deficiency. In Chinese medicine we know that if there is not enough blood and cooling (Yin) body fluids in a person’s system, they will have a tendency to overheat at night as the Yang energy of the earth cycle from midnight to dawn, begins to ascend in the earth’s atmosphere. This is primarily due to the fact they do not have enough Yin to keep their own Yang (warming aspect) from ascending until the proper time of daybreak. In such a circumstance, we consider giving the person herbs to clear this deficiency heat, nourish Blood and Yin (both cooling). This is put together in a formula with herbs that address and nourish both Yin and Blood as well as herbs that subdue the rising Yang energy. The result is a good night’s sleep. Most people have more than one imbalance going on in their systems so this formula may be added to with other herbs to address those other problems if possible. Sometimes we cannot do everything in one formula- a person with a cold must stop taking a formula that has a purpose to tonify and move inward. Instead, they are given a formula that moves upward and out to help expel the pathogenic factor.

Are All Chinese Herbs in Plant Form?

Most Chinese herbs are plant form in origin and often specially processed through centuries old techniques as well as modern ones to properly prepare them for ingestion according to their special functions. Many are roots and rhizomes that go through special drying and cooking processes to detoxify them and enhance their potency. We do use some mineral compounds and in some cases, animal and reptile material. With strict laws about what comes into the U.S. these days and to protect the endangered, all complete herbal pharmacies will have some of these minerals and animal compounds, but the greater majority of our herbs are plant based. The most potent way of taking Chinese herbs is a tea infusion, cooked with the raw herbs themselves. Potency may also depend upon the way the herbs are processed and teas are cooked. I have access to several raw herb pharmacies should I feel this option would best serve you. Next are powdered forms of herbs mixed from single herbs into a formula, or powders pre-mixed. (Also known as granulars). I carry some granulars & also have access to complete granular pharmacies as well. Pills or ‘patent medicine’ are considered the weakest form, but today many pills are processed in the U.S. in very pure and precise ways creating stronger ratios (e.g. 10:1 vs. 5:1 or less), making them good competition for the other forms of herbs. The majority of my herbs are in this form. They are very convenient to take & very safe. In any form, they serve as a powerful tool to assist an acupuncturist in boosting the effectiveness of their treatments and often stand alone in treatment use themselves. After all, it is a 5,000 year old tradition, unbroken in the history of China. Classic texts make references that the Herbal Medicine can actually be most potent & successful even when Acupuncture cannot.

Are Chinese Herbs Safe?

The Chinese herbs used in my clinic are the very best that are available. All pills and powders are created under strict regulations and cleanliness conditions, with a focus on quality, purity, and potency. All the pills I prescribe have been produced according to the latest FDA standards and approved through GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices, a stringent standard created in Australia).