When it comes to herbs, I find that many of our patients have a basic working knowledge of Western herbal remedies – Ginger for an upset stomach, Lavender for relaxation, Echinacea for cold symptoms etc. However, not many people understand Chinese Herbal Medicine as a system, or what conditions it can help with. Hopefully, this post will give you a more solid knowledge base.
What Sets Chinese Herbal Medicine Apart from Western Herbology?
Meridian Health Centre is one of the few clinics in Edmonton (#YEG) with a full compounding dispensary of Chinese Herbal granules.
Traditionally, Chinese Medicinal Herbs are given in their crude, dried form. The patient takes these dried herbs home and boils them down into a decoction (highly concentrated tea). Granules take this step out of the equation making herbal medicine much more efficient and accessible to our busy patients. The concentrated herbal powders are simply mixed into hot water, and taken as a tea.
One of the biggest differences between Western and Eastern herbal systems is that Chinese Medicine makes use of Herbal FORMULAS rather than using single herbs. These formulas usually consist of anywhere from 4 to 15 herbs, combined together for a single purpose. Certain herbs, when used in combination with one another can have a wider range of effects than if they were used alone. For example, some herbs accentuate each others affects. Whereas other herbs can help direct therapeutic actions to certain areas of the body (eg. to the head for headaches.)
Another factor that sets Chinese Herbology apart is its use of materials other than just plant matter. While roots, stems, flowers etc. make up the bulk of our materia medica, there are also unique ingredients such as minerals (eg. Gypsum), and animal products such as Oyster Shell. This gives us a larger selection of ingredients to choose from.
A Deeper Look at Herbal Theory
Chinese Herbology is a deep system, that categorizes herbs in a number of different ways. Rather than just focusing on single actions (like “calming the mind”), herbs are split up based on Thermal Nature (hot, cold, warm, cool, neutral), the specific meridian affected, and Flavor (bitter, sour, acrid, sweet, salty). All of these factors are considered when crafting the perfect formula for a patient.
Let’s use what we’ve learned in an example. The following is a common formula used for fatigue, and poor digestion called “Si Jun Zi Tang” (Four Gentleman Decoction), or more colloqially “Four Herbs for Qi”
- Ren Shen (Panax Ginseng) – A sweet, slightly bitter herb. Slightly warm in nature. Affects the Lung and Spleen Meridians. A powerful tonic herb.
- Bai Zhu (Atractylodes) – A bitter, sweet herb. Warm in nature. Enters the Spleen/Stomach meridians. Tonifies Qi and promotes water metabolism.
- Fu Ling (Poria) – A sweet, bland herb. Neutral in temperature. Enters the Heart, Spleen, Kidney and Lung Meridians. Works to strengthen the Spleen by leeching out dampness.
- Gan Cao (Licorice Root) – A sweet herb with a neutral temperature. Works to tonify, but also to harmonize the harsh properties of other herbs.
Together, these four herbs qualities work together to give us a greater affect than if they were used alone. This formula can be used to Tonify Qi, Strengthen the Spleen and Stomach, and Harmonize the Middle Jiao. This makes it useful in the treatment of symptoms like tiredness, heaviness of the limbs, loose stools, fatigue/lethargy, shortness of breath, etc. This is just one example of the countless formulas that exist in Chinese Medicine.
To Sum Up
Given its complex, and far reaching nature – Chinese Herbal Medicine is a perfect addition in the treatment of most disorders. It can be used as a stand alone modality, but I find we get our best results when it is used alongside Acupuncture.
Below is a list of some common ailments we treat with Herbal Medicine:
- Sleep Issues
- Pain / Headaches
- Gynecological Health (Irregular Menstrual Cycle, PMS, etc.)
- Sexual Health (erectile dysfunction, low libido etc.)
- Mental Health and Stress
- Common Cold / Allergies
- Adrenal Fatigue
Ask your local Acupuncturist/Herbalist for more information today, or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Jon McDonell, R.Ac