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Herbal Medicine

Individual Herbs 

Through a deep understanding of the body and of disease, intelligent thinking, and extensive human experimentation, herbal medicine in China has attained a level far superior to any in the world. Due to real life clinical research, herb safety and efficacy have been developed to an extraordinary level. The Chinese Materia Medica is, without doubt, the most developed in the world. Only the Indian Ayurvedic Materia Medica even comes close.


The following information represents what is well known about each substance in use today:

  • Pharmaceutical name, Botanical name, Latin name, Chinese characters, English name

  • Properties of taste (acrid, aromatic, sweet, sour, bitter, salty, bland, neutral) 

  • Thermal qualities (hot, very warm, warm, neutral, cool, slightly cold, cold, very cold) 

  • Energetic channels the herb enters

  • Countless historical references and clinical notes

  • Actions or functions (alone and in various combinations) 

  • Signs and symptoms treated, or indications for use

  • Extensive laboratory and clinical research studies

  • Historical formulas utilizing the substance (ranging 2,000 years)

  • Effects in combination with all other herbs in use

  • Cautions and contraindications, both historical and modern scientific

  • Details on toxicity (if any), and LD50 (if any)

  • Traditional and modern dosage ranges (including dosages for varying effects and circumstances)

The Chinese Materia Medica incorporates materials from the vegetable (75%), animal (10%) and mineral (15%) kingdoms. Since the majority of substances come from vegetable sources, it is common to use the term "herbal medicine." The earliest verifiable uses of complex herbal medicine date back at least 4,000 years to the Shang dynasty (though, from cave records and icemen we know that the usage of herbal medicine is as old as man himself). The Wu Shaman's carved characters representing medicinal herbs into oracular bones. These oracular bones were used diagnostically by the ancient Shaman's. There is no way, at present, to know the complete extended history of Chinese herbal usage. What is known is that the system in use today can trace its lineage back at least 2,500 years. The earliest extant materia medica, the Divine Husbandman's Materia Medica (Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing ; 神农本草经), recorded 365 medicinal substances around 200 A.D. However, around the same time (220 A.D.) high-level clinical textbooks were being published, such as the Treatise on Cold Damage (Shang Han Lun : 傷寒論), which contained such excellent herbal formulas that most are still in use today! This tell us that the materia medica was well established long before 200 A.D. 

In the past, Chinese herbal medicine was associated with and directly influenced by Taoism. This was due, in part, to the Taoist exploration of immortality. They used herbs, formulas, incantations, ritual practices, and qi gong in an attempt to stave off death. In many cases, their attempt was highly successful; resulting in exceedingly long and healthy lives. In other cases, they poisoned themselves to death through their experimentation's.
    Modern Chinese herbal medicine is employed via several different theories. Chief among these theories are: zang-fu organ, shang han cold damage, wen bing warm diseases, five phases, and any combination of the above. However, traditional Chinese herbal medicine is generally practiced using the zang fu organ system. Regardless of the theoretical basis, all branches of Chinese medicine incorporate the use of a system of correspondences.


Since the mid 1800's, the Chinese have researched and modernized their clinical and pharmacological knowledge of the materia medica. There have been hundreds of thousands of standardized studies to test the efficacy of traditional medicines; and to compare their effectiveness to modern drugs. All of the medicinals used today have been carefully dissected, to determine their pharmacologically active ingredients and their toxicity. An herbs "toxicity" generally means the lethal dosage for a human adult; though many of the most common herbs are non-toxic. Every year, countless modern clinical studies are being performed, utilizing Traditional Chinese Medicine, in China, on all manor of diseases and ailments. Some common areas of research are: immunology, cardiology, cancer, viral diseases, digestive disorders, degenerative conditions, musculoskeletal problems and pains. 


Due to the successful treatment of millions of Chinese; no matter the disease, it is highly probable that Chinese medicine has developed an effective remedy to treat it. As discussed, TCM is able to treat disease without differentiation of microbes; this allows Chinese medicine to treat even poorly understood modern diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia and HIV/AIDS. In China, it is normal to "experiment" directly on humans; this has been the case since ancient times and has, in effect, resulted in one massive, continuous clinical trial. Through these countless case studies, Chinese doctors have refined their diagnostics, herbal formulas, and herbal functions, indications, and contraindications to a very precise artful science. 

Categories of the Chinese Materia Medica:   

1. Warm Acrid Herbs to Release the Exterior - common cold and flu with fever and sore throat 

2. Cool Acrid Herbs to Release the Exterior - common cold & allergies with watery clear phlegm 

3. Clear Heat and Drain Fire - infectious diseases with fever and thirst; kill microbes (viruses and bacteria)

4. Clear Heat and Cool the Blood - infectious diseases with bleeding; kill microbes

5. Clear Heat and Drain Damp - infectious diseases with yellow viscous discharges; kill microbes

6. Clear Heat and Relieve Toxicity - infectious diseases; kill microbes

7. Downward Draining - purging accumulated bowels, phlegm or fluids, etc. 

8. Drain Dampness - accumulated fluids, edema, etc. 

9. Dispel Wind-Damp - joint pain worse with exposure to damp weather or conditions 

10. Transform Cool Phlegm - rid the body of pathological clear and white phlegm; tumors, etc.

11. Transform Warm Phlegm - rid the body of pathological thick and yellow phlegm; tumors, etc.

12. Stop Coughing - stops lung spasms and pathological coughing; including lung cancer, etc. 

13. Aromatically Transform Dampness - digestive irregularity; nausea / vomiting, etc. 

14. Relieve Food Stagnation - digestive upset from over-eating or improper eating over time, etc. 

15. Regulate the Qi - restoring proper functionality to the various organ systems, etc. 

16. Invigorate the Blood - restoring blood flow; including thinning the blood as needed, etc. 


17. Stop Bleeding - there are many herbs to stop bleeding from causes such as trauma, heat and weakness.

18. Warm the Interior - raising the core thermal temperature, especially digestive and fluid systems

19. Tonify Qi - increase functional energy and appetite; improve immune system, etc. 

20. Tonify Blood - build all forms of blood as needed; reduce symptoms of lack of blood

21. Tonify Yang - raising the core thermal temperature, fertility, strength, courage, etc. 

22. Tonify Yin - building deep and primal fluids; fertility, calm, peace, etc. 

23. Stabilize and Bind - to hold in that which is leaking out; sweat, urine, bowels, saliva, etc. 

24. Nourish the Heart and Calm the Spirit - to calm the mind and emotions, improve sleep

25. Anchor the Spirit - to sedate the mind and emotions; reduce seizures 

26. Aromatically Open the Orifices - to open the mind and restore consciousness

27. Extinguish Wind and Stop Tremors - reduce seizures; lower blood pressure; migraines, etc. 

28. Kill and Expel Parasites - nearly all forms of parasites killed without harming the host (person)

29. Substances for External Application - non-healing sores and ulcers, skin conditions, etc. 

Pao Zhi - Herb Preparation
Chinese medicinals are often given specific and sometimes elaborate treatment. Materia Medica substances may be simply boiled, baked long and slow, or heated at high temperatures. They are also commonly mix-fried with various substances, or dry-fried alone. The most common substances used to mix fry herbs are: bran, rice, honey, wine, earth, salt, bile, water, vinegar, licorice, ginger, and other herbs. The purpose of such frying is to increase the effects of the herb or to reduce its toxicity.
    A common example of mix-frying to increase effectiveness is honey fried Licorice or (Mi) Zhi Gan Cao. Mix frying this root with honey increases its ability to tonify the Lung and Spleen qi. A common example of processing to reduce toxicity is the long boiling and drying of Aconite root. After this process has been performed, the name is changed, from Wu Tou to Fu Zi, and most all of the toxin aconitine has been removed. The careful preparation of herbs is extremely important. This highly necessary part of herbal medicine is largely ignored in western books published on the topic of Chinese herbal medicine. Misuse of plants through lack of knowledge of their preparations can have many undesirable effects. 
    The same plant part, processed differently, can produce drastically different pharmacological effects. For example, fresh radix Rehmannia Glutinosa strongly clears fire, for excess conditions only; while wine processed radix Rehmannia Glutinosa strongly tonifies Liver blood and Kidney yin-essence, for deficiency conditions only. As per this example, it is vital that herbs be processed in the proper way by knowledgeable individuals; if not, the results can truly be disastrous. 



Herbal Formulas are Potent Medicine

The greatest power of Chinese medicine is in the writing and administering of an individual formula. The process goes something like this, a doctor sees a patient and looks for distinguishing characteristics, of color, smell, voice, posture, movement, skin, pulse and tongue appearance. He then asks the patient a number of highly specific questions based on the initial observation and the patients chief complaint. The information acquired from this process is then viewed in terms of what pattern(s) the patient is seen to have presently. These patterns constantly change, though usually in a predictable way, and not chaotically. Once the pattern of disease has been clearly deciphered, a formula can be written, or decided upon.

     In most cases, classical, traditional formulas are used as a base to be modified. This modification is generally done through the addition or subtraction of substances or dosages. Through this process we arrive at a unique formula for the patients specific pattern. This formula can be administered in a wide variety of ways, some of the common forms are: a decoction, an infusion, a tincture, powders, pills, plasters, poultices, a bolus, a draft, or a capsule, etc. 

     Chinese herbal drugs are rarely used alone; the reasons for this are many. One, many herbs, used alone will have undesired side effects; these effects can easily be removed by the addition of other counteractive herbs. Two, most herbs would not be strong enough, on their own, to get the job done; hence the need to double or triple the effect by adding more herbs of a similar type. Three, patterns of disease are rarely "simple" patterns, but more often "complex" patterns. These patterns require a delicate combination of varied ingredients which together form to act as one, similarly to an orchestra, or choir. Four, some items in the materia medica taste very foul; other appropriate herbs can be used to offset this bad taste, while still promoting the overall effect of the formula. 


The classical formulas are arranged in functional categories with numerous subdivisions.
These categories are the same as the single herb categories listed above. 

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