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Chinese Herbal Medicine

Like acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine treats body patterns once they have been diagnosed from a case history and an examination of the tongue and pulse. The main difference between the Western usage of herbs and Chinese herbal medicine is that while the former studies the effects of individual herbs on Western physiological process and treats patients successfully in this way, the Chinese herbal treatment does so from within its own sophisticated system of Traditional Chinese Medicine physiology, in which each herb and each formula has a highly specific ‘address’. Knowing the main functions of a herb (for example herb ‘x’ is good for arthritis) is not enough information to use the herb safely and yet this is how most herbs are marketed today.

TCM classifies each herb in terms of characteristic ‘temperatures’ and ‘tastes’ (characteristics), which may or may not suit the condition and constitution of the individual. As herb ‘x’ works, one needs to know how it is going to affect a person’s body: will it have a warming, drying effect or will it have a cooling, moistening effect? What is the patient’s current condition and how is this patient likely to respond to herb(s) with these characteristics? Is it a good match?

Another main difference is that Chinese herbs are usually not used in isolation as they are in popular Western usage. Each classic formula is well balanced in terms of its constituents: there are herbs used as guides to a particular location in the body, herbs used to balance the temperatures, properties and actions of other herbs, so that each herb has a specific role in a formula and where the herbs together have an overall strategy in treating a specific pattern.

Chinese herbal formulas are particularly useful when body stores of vital substances have been depleted from illness or age. These deficiencies may be rectified to some extent by acupuncture and by nutritional therapy, but Chinese herbs act more quickly. Of course there are formulas for practically any condition you can think of.