Questions & Answers About Chinese Herbal MedicineChinese Herbs


A Patient’s Primer

Herbal medicine is the main modality or treatment method within Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. TCM is the world’s oldest, continually practiced, professional medicine. Its written history stretches back not less than 2,500 years and its practice is undoubtedly much older than that. Although acupuncture was the first Chinese modality to gain wide acceptance in the West, Chinese herbal medicine is quickly establishing itself as one of the most popular and effective alternative therapies in the West.

What’s the difference between Western folk herbalism and Chinese herbal medicine?

Western folk herbalism primarily treats diseases or symptoms, such as headaches, runny nose, menstrual pain, etc. Chinese herbal medicine, when practiced as part of TCM, is based on an individualized pattern diagnosis as well as a disease diagnosis. This means the TCM patient receives a custom written herbal prescription designed to treat both the symptom or disease and also their individual pattern. Such a TCM pattern is made up of a person’s signs and symptoms as well as their emotional temperament and bodily constitution.

Are there any other differences?

Western folk herbalism primarily uses single herbs or groups of herbs which treat the same symptom or disease. TCM formulas include from 6-18 herbs. They are carefully crafted to include herbs addressing a person’s main symptoms as well as their entire pattern.

Are all the “herbs” vegetable in origin?

Although called Chinese herbal medicine, TCM practitioners use ingredients from all three kingdoms, vegetable, animal, and mineral. However, the majority of these are from vegetable sources. Leaves, flowers, twigs, stems, roots, tuber s, rhizomes, and barks are some of the vegetable parts used.

Do all of the herbs come from China?

From 15-20% of the standard Chinese repertoire of 500 ingredients originated from outside China. The Chinese have adopted and incorporated int0 their materia medica herbs from all over the world. What makes these “Chinese” herbs is that they are prescribed according to Chinese medical theory and a TCM pattern diagnosis.

Do Chinese herbs work for Western patients?

Yes, empirical evidence has proven that Chinese herbal medicine works for Westerners just as well as for Chinese. Chinese herbal medicine has been used successfully in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and all throughout Asia.

How are Chinese herbs taken?

Chinese herbs are often decocted but also taken as pills, tinctures and powders. To prepare the raw herbs they are usually boiled for 20 minutes to one hour, strained and drunk 2-3 times per day. Many people dislike the taste so there are many other ways to take the herbs like patches and pills.

What are the benefits of drinking Chinese herbs in a decoction?

This method allows the practitioner maximum flexibility in writing a prescription. They can put in just what is necessary in just the right amounts. The formula can be changed even on a daily basis if necessary and decoctions tend to be more potent than other means of administration.

Why do herbal decoctions taste so bad?

Chinese herbal teas tend to taste very bitter because they are made mostly from roots and barks where the strongest medicinal ingredients are found. If the formula is correctly written, the bad taste should go away after 1-2 days. After that time, the patient may even come to crave the taste. This shows that the medicine is working.

What are the benefits of pills and powders?

Pills and powders are good for prolonged administration in the case of chronic disease where formulas do not have to be very potent or changed on a frequent basis. Pills and powders are also commonly used to consolidate therapeutic results after a successful course of therapy with decoctions.

Does Chinese herbal medicine have side effects?

No, not if the formula has been correctly chosen and written. Most of the medicinals in the Chinese materia medica have a very low toxicity compared to even common, over the counter Western drugs. When they are prescribed according to a correct TCM pattern diagnosis, they should have virtually no side effects, only beneficial healing results. If a patient experiences any discomfort while taking Chinese herbs, they should tell their practitioner, who will then modify their formula until there are no side effects .

What is Chinese herbal medicine good for?

Chinese herbal medicine treats the full range of human disease. It treats acute diseases, like intestinal flu and the common cold, as well as chronic diseases, such as allergies, gynaecological disorders, autoimmune diseases, chronic viral diseases, and degenerative diseases due to aging. In particular, Chinese herbal medicine is especially good promoting the body’s ability to heal and recuperate.

Can pregnant women take Chinese herbs?

Chinese herbal medicine has been used extensively on all groups of society for thousands of years. A trained TCM professional has experience treating pregnant safely.