Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the world’s oldest, continually practiced medicine. It’s written history dates back over 2,500 years and its practice is much older than that. The most well known medical modality within TCM is acupuncture. However herbology is an integral practice within this medical model and it is quickly establishing itself as one of the most popular and effective therapies in this country.

Herbal treatment has gained popularity in the West. However most of the attention is around Western folk herbalism which is quite different than Chinese herbal practice. Chinese herbal medicine when practiced as a part of the TCM system, focuses on an individualized diagnosis based on the patterns of a patients condition, disease, emotional patterns and/or constitution. Another words, a Chinese Medical practitioner works on identifying and correcting patterns that are causing the symptoms through herbs and/or acupuncture. This is called getting to the ìrootî of the problem.

Another difference between the two is that TCM patients receive a prescription for individualized herbal formulas. TCM formulas may include 6 to 18 herbs that are crafted to treat your entire system’s patterns as well as the symptoms. Western folk herbalism usually focuses on one symptom or disease at a time and uses a single herb or herbs for treatment, much like Western medicine. An example of this would be the Western herbalist’s use of a popular single herb called St. John’s wort, which can sometimes help with depression. It is very rare that a TCM practitioner will prescribe a single herb for a condition.

Many people assume that Chinese herbs come from China. This is not the case. Quality control standards can be more lenient in China thus many practitioners (such as The Acupuncture and Herbology Center), choose to use Chinese herbs that have been grown and processed in this country where quality control standards ensure safe products.

The traditional way of taking Chinese herbal medicines is drinking a liquid ìteaî prepared by boiling the selected herbs; these teas tend to have a very strong tastes and odors. However in our fast paced society, this method of preparation is changing into a more amenable form of ingestion through pills, tinctures, and powders. These other forms of taking herbs are more palatable and just as effective. Pills, tinctures, and powders are also good for prolonged administration.

Since many people are on medications these days, a common question is whether or not the herbal formulas will interact safely with their medications. A trained TCM Practitioner will know about the contraindications of the formulas and their interactions with other medications. This topic is continually being researched and information is always being updated.

The other question is whether the herbal medicines have any side effects. Keep in mind that the formulas prescribed for each individual are based on diagnostic patterns seen in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Most Chinese herbal medicines have a very low toxicity compared to over the counter Western drugs. Thus there are very few side effects. Your TCM Practitioner will be able to guide you in the herbal process.

TCM herbal medicines treat many disorders including acute and chronic diseases, intestinal flus, common colds, allergies, gynecological disorders, male disorders, autoimmune diseases, chronic viral diseases, and degenerative diseases due to aging, just to name a few. Preventive qualities include promoting the body’s ability to heal and recover from illness.

Herbal medicine is a booming business and with this comes cautions for those who are self treating and /or expecting people who are selling herbs to be knowledgeable. Buyer beware! Before accepting advise from a person make sure that they are educated and qualified. There are NO standards for those prescribing herbal medicines in this state in stores or professional practices. Also the consumer should be aware of the quality of herbs. Cheaper is not necessarily a good thing. Also, an herb that is good for one person can be another person’s poison. An example is the herb Ma Huang or Ephedra. With proper diagnosis by a qualified TCM Practitioner, this herb combined in a formula can be a lifesaver for those with respiratory illnesses. However, if taken by a person with heart disease or high blood pressure, it could be deadly. This is a good example of the importance of proper DIAGNOSIS before a consumer takes herbs.

Published in The Art of Wellbeing 1999.