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Herbal medicine


Introduction - Medical Herbalism - Ayurveda - Chinese Herbal Medicine


Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese Herbal medicine is again a herbal tradition predating written records, and a collective empirical body of knowledge passed down for at least 5,000 years. Of course, different plants grow at different latitudes, and in central and Northern China the latitude is similar to Europe, so there are Asian varieties of European herbs. However, traditionally Chinese Herbs are boiled into a brew (often highly unpalatable) as tea. Remember, the Chinese invented tea (as the Europeans invented, or rather expanded use of alcohol). Historically either alcohol or boiling achieved safer drinking water, helped storage, and minimised infection from water supply.

The modern use of Chinese herbs is in concentrated powder form — a bit like instant coffee, very easy to use. The raw herbs (the brew) may be slightly bitter, as the synergy and combination during boiling may result in a slightly different extraction. However, the modern powders are far more user-friendly and palatable. The cost of powders is about the same.

It is also possible to take Chinese Herbs as a ‘patent’ formula. This is in small pellet-like pills. Good if you don’t like large tablets, and also good for children for smaller doses. The small pellets facilitate more rapid absorption in the gut, as they have a relatively larger surface area than a single large tablet. Most of the classical formula (as broad-spectrum remedies) are available in patent form, which are often highly effective and cheaper.

The main difference between Chinese herbalism and medical (Western) herbalism is the conceptual framework behind the diagnosis. Chinese herbalism uses the complex diagnostic framework of traditional Chinese medicine — and treats the person, the constitution of the individual, rather than a ‘disease’. A herbal prescription will be tailor-made for you as an individual, and the formula will be modified as you get better, and symptoms change.

Western herbs, by contrast, treat diseases: e.g. Hawthorn (Crataegus) treats high blood pressure. The Chinese pharmacopoeia also recognises this, but also understands this herb (the Asian variety) to treat ‘Food stagnation’, and excessive ‘stagnation’ (energy blockage) especially from excess protein consumption. Sounds familiar, think about this — they are just describing something from different angles.

Western herbs tend to be used sometimes singly, although also sometimes in a combined formula (often dispensed in alcohol). Chinese herbs are almost always given in a formula — a combination of several herbs that work well together.

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