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What Is Chinese Herbal Medicine

Anyone who has heard of ginseng or dang gui has at least heard of herbs that are used in Chinese Herbal Medicine. These two herbs, although famous for their diverse usage only represent a tiny part of herbal medicine. The average practitioner makes use of at least three hundred individual herbs in his or her daily practice, combining them in formulas of at least four and usually around eight to twelve herbs.

These formulas are tailored for the individual’s condition, taking into account the environment of that person’s body as a whole in order to ensure the greatest success in treatment. This means that a herbal treatment for headaches designed for one person may not have much effect on another person. This individual approach also practically eliminates the side effects commonly found with other therapies, and in fact the “side effects” of Chinese Herbal Medicine are commonly positive. A formula that is used for the primary complaint of dizziness may also help to increase blood production and ease constipation in the same patient.

Another peculiarity of this type of herbal medicine is that one formula may be used for a number of complaints. For instance a formula used for a common cold may also be effective in the treatment of headaches or allergies or a formula used for tinnitus might also be used for sleep disorders.

The history of Chinese Herbal Medicine is as long as TCM and acupuncture. As the herbs were being used over the last few thousand years, properties of the herbs have been documented and catalogued. These properties are voiced in the terminology of the theory of TCM – thus a herb can be termed as being warming (like cinnamon and ginger), cooling (like mint and chrysanthamum flower). Herbs are also classified according to their “taste” (sour, bitter, sweet, salty, bland etc.) as well as the channel that they enter (corresponding to an organ system that they effect most). Herbs are also classified by their action (ie. dispersing “blood stasis,” calming the mind or nourishing the Qi). It is this complexity that is the greatest ally of the practitioner – through balancing the various properties against the state of the patient’s body the practitioner can tailor an effective formula.

Modern research is only beginning to understand how the herbs work in the body according to modern western medical knowledge. The complexity of the formulas themselves as well as their metabolism by the body prove a difficult barrier for modern methods of research to decipher. Practitioners try to keep abreast of modern research so as to help their understanding of the herbs as well as to further increase the effectiveness of their treatment. This being said, TCM theory still provides a safe and effective framework in which to work, and therefore must be used for effective prescription.

AJM Acupuncture offers herbs in “loose” format as well as in pills and powders. The advantage to using the traditional “loose” format is that they are more potent and more flexible in use than pills or powders. Individual herbs can be added or subtracted and have their respective dosages tailor-made to individual needs for the best possible treatment.