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Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine: Natures Pharmacy
Chinese Herbal Medicine is the second branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In China it is said that Chinese Herbal medicine is a more complex science than Acupuncture. It takes longer years to study and master. Traditionally, the function of Chinese Herbs is determined through a system of characteristics based on the “Eight Principle” – a fundamental framework that Chinese medicine that is built on. Through that system, herbs are divided into basic categories such as treating conditions of the following characteristics: hot or cold, internal or external, excess or deficient, Yin or Yang. And different flavors like: hot, warm, neutral, cool and cold. Sometimes they are also referred to as either slightly warm or slightly cool.
The temperature of an herb, among other things, aligns it along an axis of Yin and Yang. Hot herbs are the most Yang, strong in their boosting of Yang energy in the body and often very moving substances. On the other end of the spectrum, cold herbs are the most Yin, strong in their augmentation of Yin in the body and are often used to guide pathogenic heat out of the body by strengthening the yin root of an organ system. Herbs are also qualified according to their flavor. Herbs can be pungent (or acrid), bitter, sweet, sour and salty. They are also sometimes described as being aromatic or astringent – but these are not strictly flavors, but more related to the action that the herbs take in the body. In general, pungent herbs are very moving of both Blood and Qi, bitter herbs clear heat and direct energy downward, sweet herbs are tonifying and moderate tension in the body, sour herbs consolidate what is scattered and help to generate fluids ( think how the thought of a lemon prompts your salivary glands to be activated!) and finally salty herbs tend to soften hardness. Flavors arise from the Five Element theory.
Herbs have many different specific flavors; many different functions and objectives; and many different ways they function in different combinations. When I was in Shanghai the Hospital where I interned as a herbalist had a pharmacy with 1000 single ingredients in it. My pharmacy here in the US encompasses 350 different ingredients. A typical formulation may consist of 10 to 16 ingredients. Because of this, their impact is spread out over time allowing the body to absorb and adjust as it comes into balance. This is a quite different approach from the targeted assault on symptoms that exists in modern pharmacology. Like acupuncture, the aim is to harmonize underlying imbalances – healing the being rather than attacking the symptoms.
Learning from the patient what they might need is achieved the same way an acupuncturist may explore the state of health of their patient: Patient Health History; Pulse diagnosis; Tongue Diagnosis; and Palpitation (where appropriate).
Chinese herbology often incorporates ingredients from all parts of plants, the leaf, stem, flower, root, and also ingredients from animals and minerals. The use of parts of endangered species(such seahorses or rhinoceros’ horns, and tiger bones) has created disturbing controversy. Many herbal manufacturers have discontinued the use of any parts from endangered animals.
For those interested in tongue diagnosis, a specific diagnostic tools of Chinese Medicine; please see Giovanni Maciocia’s Tongue Diagnosis Gallery.
It is forever amazing how differential and specific the shape form and coating of a tongue is to reflect the person’s state of deep well being.
“Verena has given me not only safe and nurturing environment in which to work, but also an image I hope to embody with any healing practice I take on for myself during my life. She is perceptive, warm, extremely skilled, and compassionate beyond words. I am so grateful to her care, and to the space she holds sacred for those in need.”
- Patti Stillwater
“Verena J. Smith is a national treasure – her synthesis of Traditional Chinese and contemporary healing techniques is brilliant and original. Her four cassette “Introduction to Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine”, healing in itself, is comprehensive and outstanding – truly a Gift of Health.”
- Daniel Goleman
Author ofEmotional Intelligence