Chinese herbal therapy has been practiced for at least 2,000 years, and is the most complex and sophisticated system of herbal medicine in the world.
Many of the herbs undergo very specific and often detailed processing before they are ready for use. Although some herbs are simply cut and dried, others are soaked in wine, or in decoctions of other herbal teas, and dried and cut according to specific requirements. Chinese herbal formulas are pharmacologically active preparations, which have been developed through many years of clinical experience, and have also been extensively studied and further developed by modern research. Most of these medicines are not toxic, and the few that have some level of toxicity are safe when taken in prescribed dosages in combination with other herbs. However, an experienced practitioner should prescribe Chinese herb formulas, as they are strong preparations, and have the potential of creating further imbalances when not used correctly.
In western herbal therapy, it is common to think of a plant as simply, “good for the liver”, or “used for allergies. Chinese herbal medicine is much more specific. An herb may be known to have an effect on the liver, but it is categorized as having a very specific effect. Perhaps it will be warming or cooling or “subdue liver yang” or “strengthen liver blood and yin” or “move liver Qi stagnation”. It is very important to know exactly what kind of therapeutic effect you are seeking, because “clearing liver fire” with detox herbs in a case where you really should “tonify liver blood” can have detrimental effects.
Chinese herbal medicines are oriented toward the treatment of internal disorders. Even in the treatment of pain, we must take into account the “internal terrain” of the patient in order to utilize herbs for a significant therapeutic effect. In traditional Chinese medicine, pain is always due to “stagnation”, but there are many possible causes and types of stagnation. These include deficiency of blood or energy, stagnation of Qi or blood, phlegm, dampness, heat, or cold creating blockage. All this must be taken into consideration, along with other factors.
The use of Chinese herbal formulas is a primary, and often necessary aspect of successful treatment. Acupuncture has benefits that herbs do not have, and herbs are therapeutic in ways that acupuncture does not address. Together these two modalities offer a powerful and effective approach to health care.