Chinese Herbal Medicine is one of the main branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It dates back thousands of years. Some of the earliest writings about Chinese Herbal Medicine were recorded between 1066 – 771 B.C. The book “Shan Hai Jing” recorded more than 100 herbs. The book “Fifty Two Herbal Remedies” contained more than 300 herbal remedies. The already lost book “Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing”(Shen Nong Materia Medica) recorded more than 365 herbs and had detailed description of their medicinal properties and the principles in making herbal cocktails.
Chinese Herbal Medicine, as a comprehensive medicine delivery system, has been evolving and being perfected throughout the few thousands of years of practice. The most complete compilation of Chinese Herbal Medicine, “Ben Cao Gang Mu”(Compendium of Material Medica) was compiled and written by Li Shi Zhen. It listed, described, and analyzed over 1,892 plants, animal products, minerals, and other natural materials that have medicinal properties. It also recorded over 11,000 remedies.
Before the turn of the century, TCM was the only form of medicine utilized by tens of thousands of Chinese people for both acute and chronic diseases. Today, Chinese Herbal Medicine is widely practiced all over the world. More and more Integrative Medical Centers are setting up Chinese Herbal Medicine pharmacies across the States. In 2014, one of the best hospitals of U.S., Cleveland Clinic, has successfully integrated Chinese Herbal Medicine along with Acupuncture in its integrative medicine center. More of such integrative medicine centers are being formed in other states for the past year or two.
Chinese Herbal Medicine is a very comprehensive system. It usually takes at least 4 to 5 full years to study. After graduating from a Chinese Medicine Medical School program, some practitioners further their knowledge and skills through 6 month+ apprenticeship before they feel confident enough to practice on their own.
In a classical Chinese herbal medicine clinic, the skilled practitioner will listen to patient’s complain, ask a few questions, check his/her pulse on both sides and look at the tongue carefully. A differentiated diagnosis will be reached at this point and an individualized herbal “cocktail” will be prescribed. A typical herbal formula contains anywhere between 10 to 20 different herbs with one or two being the main herbs, the rest are assisting and harmonizing herbs. The herbal cocktail needs to be brewed, drained and the decoction (liquid that come out of a typical two brews) need to be drunk while it’s warm. Depending on the nature of the cocktail, some cocktail could give patients significant relief within 30 minutes, others might need to be taken for a few weeks to notice any improvement. These herbs are often times tonic in nature or the disease that is being treated is a rather chronic condition.
For those people who are interested in using herbs to cultivate and augment their health, they would add different herbs in their cooking at different time of the year or different stages of their lives.