What is Chinese herbal medicine good for? How is it used?
Chinese herbs are one of the therapeutic modalities of Chinese medicine. Historically, herbs were considered to be the most critical element in successful patient treatment by Chinese practitioners. Most professional Chinese medicine practitioners in this country combine herbs with acupuncture and other modalities to achieve maximum therapeutic results. As opposed to Western herbal therapy, which tends to use single herbs to address a specific symptom, Chinese herbal formulas are typically made up of six to ten different ingredients, and are usually intended to address a pattern of symptoms, rather than a single symptom.
Chinese herbal formulas are both powerful and subtle in their effect, and can be used to treat almost any health condition. A general statement would be to say that acupuncture alone can be effective in the treatment of musculo-skeletal problems such as acute back pain, joint pain, stress headaches, TMJ, etc. Herbal formulas are most effective to address internal problems arising from organ imbalances, such as gastrointestinal, gynecological, circulatory and respiratory problems. Even though such conditions as allergies, sinusitis and skin problems seem to be more superficial, they are actually a surface reflection of deep internal imbalances and respond well to Chinese herbs.
Chinese herbs are administered in several ways. Standard herbal formulas which are designed to treat common disease patterns are generally available in capsule or pill form, called “patents.” Single herbs and formulas are also available as powders, tinctures, granules, and herbal plasters. Decoctions made from raw herbs are the most direct and patient-specific method to administer herbs. Decoctions involve boiling a combination of raw herb material such as roots and leaves, straining out the liquid and drinking it.
In China, decoctions are the most common way to take herbs. In this country, patients often find the process of cooking herbs to be too time-consuming and the taste of raw herbs to be off-putting. However, the advantages of herbal decoctions as therapy outweigh the inconvenience of preparing them. The principal advantage of raw herb decoctions is that the practitioner can tailor the formula to the specific needs of the patient, and can continue to adjust or “tweak” the individual herbs as necessary. For example, if a practitioner is working with a woman’s menstrual cycle, a tailor-made formula can be adjusted for the pre-ovulation, post-ovulation, and menstrual phases of the cycle.