Chinese Herbs

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 acupuncturegua shamoxibustioncuppingauricular 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.

Modern Applications

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.

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.