Use of Herbal Therapy in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Power of Chinese Herbs.
Power of Chinese Herbs.

You can say that I know Chinese medicine intimately—I grew up with it. Chinese medicine was used whenever I was sick. My mother would study the symptoms fastidiously as if that would somehow contribute to the healing process. Instead of using a thermometer, she would put her lips on my forehead and knew if I was running a temperature, no matter how slight. She looked at my skin, the color of my lips, asked about the color of my urine (ok, this is getting uncomfortable…) and if I had a cough, she listened to the sound of it. Is it hollow, deep, airy, damp or dry? Armed with these vital bits of information, she made her trip to the herbal medical store and invariably came home with a bunch of herbs, wrapped in pink tissues. Armed with her pink sachets of cures, she seemed invincible, convinced that these sachets can heal just about anything. I would eye them with some degree of dread—I’ve learned from experience that these decoctions (or the tea made from these herbs) are decidedly distasteful. Do I have to? Often, she would have to chase me down, but let me not side-track from the focus of this hub.

In this way, she practically saw me through bouts of cold, flu and asthmatic attacks. Perhaps there is some method to this seemingly quaint and ancient way of dealing with medical ailments. After all, Chinese herbal medicine has a long history of use, dating back to 200 B.C. In fact, by the first century, a listing of medicinal herbs and herbal formulation had been developed. The first classic book on medicinal herbs was written during the Ming Dynasty (1152 – 1587) by Li Shi-Zhen, listing some 2,000 herbs and extracts. Today, the Chinese pharmacopoeia listed over 6,000 herbs different medicinal substance.

Basic Tenets of Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is based on the harmony of two opposing forces, based on the light versus dark forces of nature. Commonly known as yin (cool, dark forces) and yang (warm, bright forces)—any imbalance between these two forces can result in sickness, according to the Traditional Chinese Medicine, commonly known as TCM.

Chinese herbs are a major aspect of Chinese medicine. These herbs help to restore a balance of energy (qi—pronounced chi), and the delicate balance of body and spirit to maintain good health.  They also serve to strengthen immunity and build up resistance to diseases. A variety of herbs in different combinations are often used to restore the balance of yin and yang. Well-known examples include astragalus, gingko, ginseng, green tea, red dates, and eleuthero (Siberian ginseng). According to the American Cancer Society, these herbal preparations are believed to prevent and treat hormone disturbances, infections, breathing disorders, amongst others.

Maintaining the balance of yin (dark, cold) and yang (light, warm) energy in your body is key to good health.
Maintaining the balance of yin (dark, cold) and yang (light, warm) energy in your body is key to good health.

Chinese Herb Classification

Chinese herbs are broadly classified under two dimensions.

  • The first dimension concerns temperature—hot (re), warm (wen), neutral (ping) and aromatic.
  • The second dimension has to do with the taste of the herbs—sour (suan), bitter (ku), sweet (gan), spicy (xin) and salty (xian). These tastes in turn constitute to the yin and yang of the herb. For instance—sour, bitter and salty are related to yin (herbs with cold energy) where acrid and sweet are related to yang (herbs with warm energy).

Let’s not forget neutral herbs—they are neither hot nor cold and are referred to as “gentle herbs.” There are not too many such herbs in the pharmacopoeia.

This table shows how the different tastes of herbs are used to target different medical conditions.



Taste
Effeccts
Action
Sour
Constricts or consolidates
Restores deficiency, heals protracted cough, chronic diarrhea, seminal and urinary incontinence, treats hypo-metabolism
Bitter
Clears heat, purges, lowers qi, improves appetite and reduces dampness
Used to treat heat (yang) patterns such as acute stage of infectious disease, arthritis, leucorrhea
Sweet
Tones, improves, moisturizes and harmonizes systems of the body, inhibits pain
Treats deficiency patterns such as dry cough, dysfunction of gastro-intestinal tract
Spicy
Disperses, circulates, vitalizes blood circulation, stimulates sweat gland to perspire, actives the functions of meridians (system of channels that connects internal organs to external organs and tissue) and organs
Activates and enhances metabolism, used to activate qi and improve blood circulation
Salty
Softens firm masses or fibrous tissue, purges and cleans bowels
Treats sores, inflammatory masses, cyst, and connective tissue proliferation.

Some Chinese herbs have become very popular by virtue of their healing properties. Take a look at these superstars:

Dong Quai (also known as “female ginseng’)

  • Yin energy
  • Treats gynecological ailments
  • Fights fatigue
  • Treats mild anemia
  • Lowers high blood pressure

Cordyceps (Dong Chong Xia Cao—a fungus)

  • Possesses both yin and yang elements
  • Builds strength, endurance, stamina
  • Energizes
  • Aids upper respiratory tract
  • Promotes healthy lung function
  • Supports male potency and female vitality
  • Supports kidney health

Astragalus (Huan Qi)

  • Yang energy
  • Increases stamina
  • Treats diabetes, heart disease and hypertension
  • Treat liver damage

Dong quai or ginseng is commonly used to make chicken soup.
Dong quai or ginseng is commonly used to make chicken soup.
Cordyceps--a fungus that can reputedly live up to 1,000 years. It tonifies the body and energizes.
Cordyceps--a fungus that can reputedly live up to 1,000 years. It tonifies the body and energizes.
Astragalus--native herb of Northern China and Mongolia--makes delicious chicken soup.
Astragalus--native herb of Northern China and Mongolia--makes delicious chicken soup.

Cinnamon Twig (Gui Zhi)

  • Yang energy
  • Treats colds, headaches caused by influenza
  • Induces weight loss
  • Lowers blood sugar levels

Red date (Hong Zao)

  • Neutral energy
  • Nourishes blood
  • Soothes nerves
  • Replenishes vital energy
  • Treats poor appetite and diarrhea.

Red dates are commonly used with lotus seeds and white fungus to make a sweet dessert--lovely on your palette and a great way to boost your health.
Red dates are commonly used with lotus seeds and white fungus to make a sweet dessert--lovely on your palette and a great way to boost your health.

A trained herbal practitioner will know just how to combine the medicinal elements of herbs to attain the goal of restoring balance of yin and yang. To broadly illustrate--if you have a heat disorder (such as fever), a mixture of warm herbs will be used with herbs with cold energy with an overall balance on the cool side to balance the heat disorder.

Chinese herbal concoctions

If you visit a Chinese herbalist, he will listen to your symptoms and then decide on a combination of herbs to treat the ailment at hand. In other words, he will create an herbal formula (using anywhere from four to 24 herbs). Rarely is a single herb prescribed. The herbal practitioner will then weigh the herbs and combines them in a bag. These herbs are often consumed as tea. The practitioner will then advise you on how long to boil the herbs (usually between 30 minutes to an hour) and quantity and frequency of consuming it.

Of course, herbal formulas are also available a pills, tablets, capsules, powders, alcohol-extracts or water extracts. Although these pre-made formulas offer convenience, they do not allow the practitioner to adjust herbs and dosages according to personal needs.

However, as with all alternative medicine, it is best to consult a certified medical professional before taking any herbs.

If you're feeling adventurous and motivated to try Chinese herbs, you may want to try Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup.


Herbal shop like this is common in Singapore (where they are called medical halls). Here herbalists weighing out herbs against a backdrop of jars of herbs.
Herbal shop like this is common in Singapore (where they are called medical halls). Here herbalists weighing out herbs against a backdrop of jars of herbs.


More natural cures by anglnwu:

Goji Berries Promote Good Eyesight: http://healthbitsntips.wordpress.com/2009/07/09/anthocyanins-the-secret-to-goji-berries/

Natural Cures for Oral Lichen Planus: http://hubpages.com/hub/Natural-Cures-for-Oral-Lichen-Planus

Colon Cleansing the Natural Way: http://hubpages.com/hub/Colon-Cleansing-the-Natural-Way

Herbal Cures for Osteoarthritis: http://hubpages.com/hub/Natural-Cures-for-Osteoarthritis

Fight gum disease the natural way: http://hubpages.com/hub/Healthy-Gums-Is-Possible

Home Remedies to get rid of acne: http://hubpages.com/hub/Banish-Acne-Angst-With-Simple-Tricks

More by this Author


Comments 34 comments

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

This is an excellent hub. I liked your chart and the way you divided up the herbs to help people like me that are new to these concepts. Great hub.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Pamela, thanks for dropping by. Yes, visuals always help. I'm rediscovering my own history.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

this is complete awesoem job angel, I use ginseng for menstrual cramps as wel, now I know it is good for soup, Maita


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Maita, ginseng is good for menstrual cramps or any type of female problems (too many to mention....right?) Thanks again for your support and have a great day.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

You have complete information here. I liked using Chinese herbal remedies for alternative treatment. There is no side effect using Chinese medicine. And it also use for thousand years ago. Thanks for showing me this information. I rate this Up!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Good to see u again, prasetio. You're right--how can thousands of years of herbal medicine be wrong? Generations survive on it. I use Chinese herbs often. Thanks for rating it up. Appreciate your comments too.


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

I know I left a comment here before thought I don't see it. There is a lot to be said about herbal medicine.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Sandyspider--thanks for dropping by. Yees, so much to learn about herbal medicine.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

good job angel, YAY, You can count on me, Maita


wavegirl22 profile image

wavegirl22 6 years ago from New York, NY

ang - I have always been interested in Chinese Medicine really never knew where to start. Sometimes topics can be so overwhelming that before you even start you hit a brick wall like too much information! But here you have made easy to understand and at least for me a great overall understanding of where to dig into. Especially with all the other Hubs you have. You can bet I will be reading up on them. Congrats on the nomination for Week One's Best. You can count on my vote!

Shari

p.s. I also hit the green button for thumbs up on this Hub here and I am now going to send it out to the Twitter world!


sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

I really liked this article, with such good information and wonderful photos.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Sweet Maita, I know I can always count on you. Thanks again. Have a great day!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Shari, it seems like I know you forever even though we just got acquainted. Thank you so much for your encouraging words and can't thank you enough for sending it out on Twitter. I can use every vote (i'm quite the hub recluse). Thank you, thank you and thank you.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

sheila b. I'm glad you like the article. Thanks for dropping by.


Sage Williams profile image

Sage Williams 6 years ago

anglnwu - Another truly amazing hub. I am amazed at your writing skill and how you're ability to be so thorough in all of your topics.

I have always loved the Chinese culture. Voted and rated up!!

Sage


Missi Darnell profile image

Missi Darnell 6 years ago from Southern California

Fantastic hub! We have a local chinese herbal medicine facility and have visited with good results.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Sage, thanks for support and your words of encouragement. Love seeing you and I'll be seeing you around.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Missi Darnell, glad you have found good results with Chinese herbal medicine. I'm partial, of course--I'm a firm believer. Thanks for visiting.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

This is such a super hub - photos, information, everything. I am a big believer in Herbal Therapy and had the pleasure of seeing a TCM when I was in Beijing - and getting my own herbal prescription (which included ginseng)- it worked!

Bookmarked!!!!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Bkcreative, thank you so much for your encouragement. Read your interesting story about the China visit. A high-five for ginseng.


skye2day profile image

skye2day 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

Excellent hub I am more excited as I have some of these ailments. I vote big thumbs up. I will vote for you. A big winner, hard work. Yhank you for sharing a wealth of info to improve the quality of life. Natural. God sent medicine I love it. Praise the Lord + + + Much Love


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

skye2day, you're a ray of sunlight, raining down such warmth and encouragement. Many thanks and God bless you and yours. Thank you so much for voting for me. Looking forward to seeing more of you.


lelanew55 profile image

lelanew55 6 years ago

Excellent hub and beautiful pictures Anginwu. I will be learning about Chinese herbal medicine from you and am joining your fan club.


wandererh profile image

wandererh 6 years ago from Singapore

My mother went to see a Chinese physician a few years back and was prescribed some herbs. When she opened up the package, she found that it was some dried grass and some assorted herbs. But digging deeper, she found a dead lizard. When she complained, she was told that the lizard was part of the medicine. Boy, was I glad that I wasn't the one who was sick. :)


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Thanks, lelaew, good to see you again. Thanks for the nice comments and looking forward to reading your hubs too.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

wandererh, i wonder what your mother had that requires a lizard to do the job? LOL--Scary stuff--you never know what you'll get when you opened up the package. Animal parts are also part of Chinese medicine cure. Thanks, again, for dropping by and appreciate your support.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

angel YOU ROCK girl, Go GO, Maita


Money Glitch profile image

Money Glitch 6 years ago from Texas

Thanks so much for including the tenets of TCM and the chart explaining the classifications. While researching TCM I kept seeing "sweet or sour" on descriptions of the different herbs; now I know the meaning. I've got to bookmark this hub for future reference. Congrats and good luck to ya on the contest! :)


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

thanks, Maita. You rock, too!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Thanks, Money Glitch. I had so much problem trying to download the table from my microsoft (finally figured I should use excel)but I'm glad I did. Glad you find it useful. Always good to hear from you. Thank you again.


franciaonline profile image

franciaonline 6 years ago from Philippines

Hi anglnwu,

This is the most comprehensive hub on herbal medicine that I've come across at hubpages! I love your matrix on the different tastes of herbs and their effects. Let me just ask you a question about sour herbs. Can lemon come under sour herbs?

Right now, I am looking for herbs that can be classified under salty and sour because from your matrix it looks that my ailment which is cancer of the endometrium (makes me bleed until now)can be cured by salty herbs. My urination is also affected. I am taking the path of natural healing that's why I devour all information on natural healing. I would be very thankful if you do a hub on sour and salty herbs - with examples. Some herbs that you mentioned can't be found in the Philippines but some are available here.

Thank you so much for this hub!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Thanks, francia, again for your comments. Lemon is considered sour, together with these: tomatoes, tangarine, plum, grape, papaya, pomegranate, cherry apple and vinegar. I'll try to do a hub on sour and salty herbs--i find that interesting too. As for the herbs, you can find them online if you can't find it in the Philippines. Also, you may want to check out the Chinese medical shops in the Philippines--they may have what you're looking for. Thank you again.


chinese herbalist  5 years ago

I'm really interested of Chinese herbal things...


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 5 years ago Author

chinese herbalist, me too. Thanks for dropping by.

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