More About Chinese Herbs…
There are hundreds of Chinese herbs used in TCM medicinal formulae. While some are also part of the familiar Western herbology, many are not. Through centuries of careful documentation of signs, symptoms and results, Chinese herbology today is a highly refined practice. We have over 350 varieties of herbs to custom make formulas for individuals, as well as using Traditional Chinese patent formulas in pill form. We may also use raw herbs to make teas or poultices.
Are They Different from Western Herbs?
Formulas are created to effect specific actions that will help the individual according to their needs. For example, some formulas are for harmonizing and tonifying a person’s constitution, which can strengthen their immune system. Others may clear out excess phlegm for upper respiratory problems. Being whole and organic substances, they are complicated and work synergistically with each other in many ways. There may be as many as four to twenty-four herbs in a formula, though the average is around eight to twelve. Western herbology is mostly based in treating symptoms of a disease just as Western medicine is used to treat those same signs and symptoms.
With Chinese herbs we are always looking to treat the cause or “root” as well as the symptoms or “branch”. We are always thinking in terms of a treatment protocol that addresses both problems. A formula may not treat both at the same time, but we will have a plan to work with each “layer” or problem seeing both the immediate problem and the long term solution. This is the real gift of Chinese medicine. Being a preventative mind set, we are always looking for the cause and then a solution. Just clearing the present symptoms is not enough — the cause must be dealt with or imbalance will simply come back again in one form or another.
Do All Acupuncturists Work with Herbs?
Not always. Tea and powder formulas are put together by a practitioner who has been trained and has studied herbal theory. Many acupuncturists do not create or prescribe formulas for the individual; instead they may simply use general patent pill classic formulas provided by many companies in the U.S. and China. Some practitioners don’t work with herbs at all, for not all schools teach Chinese herbology in their programs. Those of us who have been trained and work with making individualized formulas for patients have studied about 365 herbs in great detail, learning not only their general function, but their interaction with other herbs, and any contraindications for mixing with other herbs, pregnancy, and medications.
For instance, someone has insomnia, and after assessing the information, we find the person has this problem due to what we term in Chinese medicine as Liver Yin and Blood deficiency. In Chinese medicine we know that if there is not enough blood and cooling (Yin) body fluids in a person’s system, they will have a tendency to overheat at night as the Yang energy of the earth cycle from midnight to dawn, begins to ascend in the earth’s atmosphere. This is primarily due to the fact they do not have enough Yin to keep their own Yang (warming aspect) from ascending until the proper time of daybreak. In such a circumstance, we consider giving the person herbs to clear this deficiency heat, nourish Blood and Yin (both cooling). This is put together in a formula with herbs that address and nourish both Yin and Blood as well as herbs that subdue the rising Yang energy. The result is a good night’s sleep. Most people have more than one imbalance going on in their systems so this formula may be added to with other herbs to address those other problems if possible. Sometimes we cannot do everything in one formula — a person with a cold must stop taking a formula that has a purpose to tonify and move inward; instead, they are given a formula that moves upward and out to help expel the pathogenic factor.
Are All Chinese Herbs in Plant Form?
Most Chinese herbs are plant form in origin and often specially processed through centuries old techniques as well as modern ones to properly prepare them for ingestion according to their special functions. Many are roots and rhizomes that go through special drying and cooking processes to detoxify them and enhance their potency. We do use some mineral compounds and in some cases, animal and reptile material. With strict laws about what comes into the U.S. these days and to protect the endangered, all complete herbal pharmacies will have some of these minerals and animal compounds, but the greater majority of our herbs are plant based.
The strongest most potent way of taking Chinese herbs is a tea infusion, cooked with the raw herbs themselves, though potency also depends upon the way the herbs are processed and teas are cooked. Next are powdered forms of herbs mixed from single herbs into a formula, or powders pre-mixed in many Traditional Chinese Medicine formulas noted for their functions and success in treating many disorders. Pills are considered the weakest form, but today many pills are processed in the U.S. in very pure and precise ways creating stronger ratios (e.g. 10:1 vs. 5:1), making them good competition for the other forms of herbs. In any form, they serve as a powerful tool to assist an acupuncturist in boosting the effectiveness of their treatments and often stand alone in treatment use themselves. After all, it is a 5,000 year old tradition, unbroken in the history of China.
Are Chinese Herbs Safe?
The Chinese herbs used at ASAOM are the very best that is available. All pills and powders are created under strict regulations and cleanliness conditions, with a focus on quality, purity, and potency. All the pills we prescribe have been produced according to the latest FDA standards and approved through CGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practices, a stringent standard).
According to FDA and most states licensing regulations, all herbal supplements can only be given as nutritional supplements or dietary food, but not as medicine intended to prevent, treat or cure diseases.