Why Use Chinese Herbs?

IMG531Herbs grow everywhere in the world and many cultures have a background “folk healing”. Selecting the most useful plants, determining which plant parts ought to be used, and deciding the correct method of using them is the task herbalists must tackle. In China, for over 3,000 years, unlike other parts of the world, herbalists have sought out special tonic herbs that can be taken daily for improvement of physical condition, enhancement of energy increase in resistance to disease, and prolongation of life. Although these herbs especially distinguish Chinese herbs from many others, it is the knowledge of application to the individual’s body condition that truly distinguishes Chinese herbology from “Western herbs”.

The term “Western herbs” really applies to a method of using herbs rather than to the origins of the herbs. For example, Western herb books often list Asian herbs such as gotu kola, ginger, licorice, and dong quai (tang kuei); African herbs, such as capsicum and devil’s claw; South American herbs, such as Pau d’Arco and damiana; Egyptian herbs, such as chamomile and myrrh, and so on. Western Herbs are used according to their reputed health benefits (usually bought off the shelf) without reference to the individual’s body complex syndrome that is to be treated or to the integration of herbal properties within a formula.

Unlike Western herbs, Chinese herbs almost never are used individually. Rather, they are used in carefully prepared combinations. Therefore, unless you are a specialist in Chinese herbs, you may not be able to find the appropriate combination of individual ingredients.

How Are Chinese Formulas Composed?

The Herbalist first determines, according the principals of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a type of disorder that a person suffers from or a desired herbal effect. The Herbalist, using knowledge of herbs and their influences, selects certain useful ingredients. Then, with an understanding of how different herbs together in a prescription, the total formula is compounded. It is not unusual for a Chinese herbal formula to have more than 10 herbs, but they are never randomly combined.

How Are Chinese Herbs Prepared?

The herbs are entirely natural, cooked into a tea according to the traditional methods. Traditionally, Chinese herbs were often taken either in decoction (a tea made by simmering the raw herbs) or as a coarse powder. These methods were the most popular that could be done in more primitive times.

With today’s availability of more scientific methods of preparation, the raw herbs are just as carefully selected. The herbs are spray-dried at reduced temperatures to produce tiny granules, which often are further reduced to a fine powder. Special care is taken to avoid loss of essential oils. Compared to the original herbal materials (which contain fiber, starch, and water), the extracts are about four times as concentrated. Quality control testing assures the potency and cleanliness of the products. A more palatable preparation is made from the finely powder herbs into tablet or capsule.

Concentrated herb extracts made from the decoctions have the advantage of freeing the consumer from the lengthy process of making the decoction and from the unpleasant task of drinking the strong tasting tea. The tableted and encapsulated herb powders made with modern equipment release most of their active constituents readily and provide a convenient way to obtain certain herbal effects. The choice between concentrated extracts herbs and powders herbs depends upon the prescription. In some cases, making the decoction first is important and in other cases, decocting is not appropriate.

Taking The Herbs

Capsules or tablets of herbs are taken like any pill-like medicine. To take the herb granules, simply put a teaspoonful in your mouth and swallow them down with a glass of water. In general, you should be able to swallow the herb granules quickly without experiencing much of the taste of the herbs. If you have any difficulty with this, take a smaller amount of each time and more water.

There is no need to dissolve or suspend either the herb capsules, tablets or granules in water. They dissolve readily in the digestive tract to release all the active constituents.

Because of their great convenience, concentrated herb capsules or tablets are particularly suitable for those who are undertaking long term therapy, for persons who are traveling, and for those who are averse to tasting the herbal teas.

Changing Formulas

Chinese herbal formulas are used to balance the body and improve the internal condition and get rid of the causes of diseases or problems. They often have prompt action in enhancing overall energy while calming nervousness and improving function of all the organs. Results of the herb formula are sometimes felt shortly after their use is started, but in some cases the influence of herbs is very subtle and the effects are clear only after several days of regular use.

After a herb formula has been used for a short time, it is appropriate to have the Herbalist re-evaluate one’s condition. The herb formula will be changed by following the change of the body condition.

Generally there are several herb formulas that can be used for a given situation. Depending on the precise conditions of the individual, one herb formula may prove effective while another does not. The herb formula is specifically tailored to an individual’s body condition. The body condition is influence by food, emotions, environment, etc. The herb formula could be modified or changed as the body’s condition changes by external influences or as it improves. Therefore, one should expect the possibility of herb formula modification after the initial selection of a formula. It is important to have regular follow up consultations for the monitoring of the body condition progress.

Are Chinese Herbs Safe?

Generally speaking, Chinese herb formulas provided to the public in prepared form are safe to use for all ages, infants to the elder, both sexes including during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Herb formulas are rarely changed based on age, only the dosage. Always consult with your local, well-trained Herbologist.

Are There Any Side Effects From Taking Chinese Herbs?

Chemical (pharmaceuticals) drugs often have side effects because they affect the whole body in a particular way even when the intended use is to affect only a part of the body. With herbs, the intention is to affect the whole body. A single herb has some potential for causing side-effects because it may have a particular kind of action on the whole body that is not desired. However, an herbal formula carefully designed rarely has side effects because its influences on different parts of the body are balanced by the other herbs and thus each part of the body receives the desired type of effect.

Nonetheless, there can be some mild adverse reactions to herbal formulas. The most common reaction of herbs is a gastrointestinal disturbance since the full dose of the herbs enters the stomach and intestines. If a reaction occurs, it can be prevented almost always by taking the herbs after a meal. A few people may experience dizziness, rash, or nervousness from taking herbs and this usually indicates that the formula is not adequately balanced for their needs. In such cases, another  herb formula should be tried or the formulation should be adjusted. In all cases, consult with you herbalist.


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