Oriental Medicine: Herbal Medicine

Oriental_Herbal_MedicineHerbal medicine a major treatment method used in Oriental Medicine. Herbal preparations are most often taken internally, though there are some that are used externally in poultices, washes and liniments. The Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia includes hundreds of substances from the plant, animal and mineral kingdoms that have medicinal effects. Each herb has unique properties such as temperature (cooling, warming or neutral), flavor (sour, bitter, acrid, sweet or bland), and action (lifting, sinking or harmonizing) and exerts its unique effects on specific meridians and internal organs. There are categories of herbs which have similar properties much as there are classes of drugs in Western medicine which have similar functions.

There are many differences between Western drugs and Chinese herbs that are important to understand, however. Drugs are highly refined, concentrated chemical substances that are often synthesized in laboratories (though some are highly refined plant or animal substances) and usually have a very narrowly focused effect aimed at alleviating a particular symptom. They tend to be quite strong and quick in their actions and may have significant side effects associated with their use which might require the use of additional drugs to control.

Chinese herbs, on the other hand, are generally raw substances found in the natural world. Though there are a few herbs that have the potential to be toxic if misused, overall, herbs are generally much milder, gentler, and slower acting than drugs and have few side effects. Many foods are even considered to be “herbs” in Oriental Medicine. Sometimes people turn to herbal medicine because they cannot tolerate the side effects of certain prescription drugs, and may find that the use of herbs under the guidance of a knowledgeable licensed practitioner can even decrease or eliminate the need for certain prescription drugs. However, your primary care provider should always be consulted before altering the dosage of, or discontinuing the use of, a prescription drug, to ensure that this is safe.

Chinese herbs are nearly always prescribed in formulas rather than singly. A formula typically contains from three to fifteen herbs. These formulas are designed to address multiple symptoms and patterns of disharmony at the same time. The combination of herbs used in each formula is chosen very carefully and is specifically tailored to match both the unique combination of symptoms you are experiencing and your underlying constitutional picture.

Usually, a formula will have several different types of ingredients in it. There is always at least one “chief” herb which is aimed at treating the major symptom or pattern of disease. Additionally, there may be one or more “assistant” herbs that reinforce the actions of the chief herb, deal with secondary symptoms or patterns of disease, or eliminate potential side effects of other herbs in the formula. There is also often a “guiding” herb in the formula that serves either to focus the effects of the formula on certain meridians or areas of the body, or to harmonize and integrate the actions of other herbs in the formula.

There are several different ways that formulas can be given to patients. You may be given raw herbs to take home and boil into a tea to drink, or to use as a topical poultice, wash or douche. Granules are a powdered form of the herbs which can be simply reconstituted with water or other liquid to drink, or put in foods such as applesauce or yogurt to eat. Both decoctions and granules are advantageous in that the practitioner can choose the specific herbs to be included in the formula based on your individual symptom and constitutional picture. There are also pill forms of various classical herbal formulas (often called “patent” medicines) that many patients find very effective and convenient to take. Most of the classical Chinese herbal formulas have been used for thousands of years under careful observation with few, if any, significant side effects noted, when prescribed by a well-trained, knowledgeable and experienced practitioner.

When prescribing an herbal formula or patent medicine, the practitioner pays careful attention to any other prescription drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking, and known allergies, so as to avoid drug-herb interactions or other side effects. The provider will also take into account your overall constitution, level of health, lifestyle, and temperament in choosing which preparation will likely provide the best result for you. Because herbs generally take longer than prescription drugs to have the desired effect, you may take your herbal preparations for several weeks or months. And, because Oriental Medicine strives to treat the underlying cause of the problem, this length of time may be required in order to effectively address the contributing factors of the disharmony.

The manufacturers of the herbal products we sell in our pharmacy are carefully chosen for their attention to strict quality control standards, and regular monitoring to avoid contamination, adulteration or substitution of incorrect plant species, and are recognized as leaders in the field. Several combine the latest biochemical research with traditional formula actions to provide the best possible synthesis of ancient traditional knowledge with modern scientific research.

Please note: Herbal preparations may not be purchased from our pharmacy without your first consulting with one of our independent practitioners.