By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
Chinese Herbal Medicine – A Brief History
Traditional Chinese Medicine is the oldest medical system on the planet. It predates the rise of the Roman empire, the discovery of electricity and the life of Jesus. The Chinese have been using herbs to treat illnesses for thousands of years, and that knowledge is still with us today and very much a part of the present system of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Chinese herbal medicine is a vital part of the broader umbrella of Chinese medicine which includes modalities like acupuncture, gua sha, moxibustion, cupping, auricular and tui na.
The first formal manual of pharmacology was the Shen Nong which lists 365 herbs and dates back to the Han dynasty in the first century. The next major and still most influential text on Chinese herbs was the Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica) written by Li Shizhen in the Ming dynasty in 1596. The book was compiled over a forty year period and contains more than 1800 herbs, with 1,100 illustrations and 11,000 formulas.
Chinese herbalism is complex and can take a lifetime to master. Each herb has many different properties which interact with both the person taking them as well as the other herbs in the formula. Chinese herbs function much in the same way as acupuncture in that the goal is to rebalance the body using Qi (the body’s intrinsic energy), Yin and Yang. Each herb has a thermal nature, a flavour, specific organs it acts upon and a direction in which it moves, and all must be balanced with incredible precision to achieve their desired outcome in the body. Because herbs are taken internally, they have a strong and often immediate effect and are incredibly powerful. They can be used in conjunction with acupuncture or other modalities, or alone, and are often chosen for chronic problems, long standing deficiencies or degenerative diseases because of their powerful nature.
The entire Chinese medical model has been developed over thousands of years (five thousand, actually), and it is not only a medical system, in its essence, it is a way of life. There is emphasis on living in harmony with ones environment, changing eating habits, sleeping patterns and workload depending on the seasons, keeping a healthy and balanced emotional life, exercising, meditating – they are all are part of the complete package to keep us healthy on every level. The Chinese also put great emphasis on prevention – encouraging people to live well so that illness never has a chance to develop which is very different from our present way of thinking in the West. Although there are many acupuncture protocols for correcting imbalances when we get sick, there are just as many for building immunity and keeping the body strong so it is able to fight off the constant barrage of bacteria and viruses we encounter on a daily basis. It is the same with herbs – there are countless formulas that are able to restore health once we have come down with an illness, but there are also many formulas and creative ways of combining herbs to create a strong barrier that is able to ward off illness and disease.
In the modern world we have lost much of that connection to the world around us, and I believe that is one of the reasons why we are suffering from diseases on an unprecedented scale. We are disconnected from the planet, from each other and most importantly, from ourselves. In our society, we often wait until we get sick before we seek out treatment or take steps to correct it. This is wildly different from the Chinese view in which people were more connected to the natural world and their bodies, noticing even small changes and knowing how to change their behaviour, what foods to eat, or herbs to use to rebalance at the early stages so that problems didn’t get serious and require more drastic intervention. One great example is a company that has taken the wisdom of Chinese herbs and created a tonic that can be taken daily to improve health and longevity. The company is Imperial Tonics and they are taking powerful Chinese herbs and combining them into a tonic to be used for prevention by strengthening the body and building immunity. The product is called Ancient Wisdom and it’s something they refer to as a “tonic superfood”. It comes as a powder making it convenient to add into smoothies and other drinks and contains some of the most powerful Chinese herbs you can get, including…
Astragalus IV is considered to be the ultimate nutricuetical developed in the world. Astragalus is known the world over for its strengthening abilities to the body. It is said to fortify and support the body’s major energy meridians and the Three Burning Spaces and is a potent immune system modulating tonic.
Duanwood Reishi Spores
Known as the Mushroom of Immortality, Duanwood Reishi is grown in mountainous environments in Northern China on original, specific logs that are known to be twice as potent as conventional Reishi. The spores from Duanwood Reishi are gathered once a year towards the end of growing season and it is these cracked spores, studies show, that have seventy-times the immunological activity of conventional Reishi Mushrooms.
The Empress of Chinese herbalism, Schizandra contains all five classical flavours, tonifies all five yin organs of the body and possesses large amounts of all three treasures. It is said that if Schizandra is taken for 100 days continuously, it will sharpen the mind, purify the blood, improve memory, rejuvenate the Kidney Jing energy, and cause the skin to become radiantly beautiful. Today Schizandra is recognized for its broad-spectrum effects as a Phase I & II liver detoxifier, not only cleansing toxins from the liver but effectively binding to them and removing them from the body.
He Shou Wu
He Shou Wu, which translates as “Mr. He’s Black Hair”, is known in Chinese herbalism for it’s role as a restorative. As legend goes, Mr. He was an old man who was unable to bear children. Upon seeing the vine of Polygonum growing intertwined in the forest he was advised by a Daoist monk to take it. Mr. He is said to have regained his virility, restored his health and return his hair to jet black hair when he was 130 years old.
Goji berries have long been touted for the promotion of longevity. Goji is known for its role as a Yin Jing tonic to strengthen the blood and revitalize the body. The concentration of 40% Lycium Barbarum Polysaccharides has been shown to be the most beneficial concentration of Goji Berry polysaccharides. It is these polysaccharides that support SOD activity, known as the youth enzyme, and promote Goji’s role as a longevity tonic.
After taking Ancient Wisdom for a few days I started to notice a difference. I was sleeping better, thinking more clearly, my concentration improved and I had more energy. After years of cooking up raw herbs – which although very potent, is time consuming and tastes terrible – it is really nice to have the option to put a scoop of herbal goodness into my smoothie and get on with my day knowing it is going to make me feel awesome. Imperial Tonics have done a great job of modernizing Chinese herbs and have made it easier and more accessible so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of these amazing herbs in a way that fits into our modern lifestyles.
I have been taking Chinese herbs for more than 20 years and I am continually humbled and consistently amazed at how profound and immediate their effects. I am always happy to see that more and more people, both regular folks and medical professionals, are discovering the limitless applications of the enormous body of knowledge that is Chinese Herbal Medicine. I believe that if we come to realize the magnitude of our planets ability to heal us, that we will work harder to keep the earth that we all call home protected and show it the love and respect it deserves.