|Herbal medicine is an integral component of traditional Chinese medicine
(TCM). It is also one of the oldest (and most popular) forms of healthcare.
Studies have shown that as many as 40% of all American adults use herbal
products, with the amount of money spent on herbal remedies in this country
each year in the tens of billions. The use of herbal medicine is even higher
overseas, with some countries reporting a usage rate of 75% or greater.
The term "herbal medicine" refers to the use of a plantís seed, berries,
roots, leaves, bark or flowers for medicinal purposes. While the scientific
study of herbs in the United States began just over two centuries ago, herbs
and botanicals have been used to treat a wide range of health problems in
Asia for thousands of years.
When used to facilitate healing in chronic, ongoing problems, herbal
medicine has a great deal to offer. Studies have shown that herbal products
can treat a variety of conditions, including colds, digestive disorders,
insomnia, headaches, arthritis, skin disorders, asthma, and a host of other
problems usually treated with pharmaceuticals and prescription medications.
The underlying principles of TCM are very different from traditional Western notions about health, illness and the workings of the body. Chinese herbs are prescribed to
normalize imbalanced energy, or Qi (pronounced
'chee'), that runs through invisible meridians in the body. Whether or not the philosophy is believed, studies have shown Chinese herbal medicines to be successful in treating a range of disorders, particularly
gynecological and gastrointestinal disorders.
The five elements
The TCM philosophy proposes that everything-- including organs of the body
is composed of the five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. The herbs are similarly classified into the five tastes - sweet, salty, bitter, pungent and sour - which correspond to the five elements, for example, since the skin is a metal element Yang organ, it would be treated with a pungent herb.
Chinese herbal medicines are mainly plant based, but some preparations include minerals or animal products. They can be packaged as powders, pastes, lotions or tablets, depending on the herb and its intended use. Different herbs have different properties and can balance particular parts of the body. Prescribing a particular herb or concoction of herbs means the practitioner's diagnosis has to take into account the state of the patient's Yin and Yang, and the elements that are governing the affected organs.
A range of disorders
Chinese herbs are commonly used to treat include:
Eczema and psoriasis
Hepatic (liver) disorders
Allergies and autoimmune disorders.
Yin and Yang
The ancient Chinese proposed that every living thing is sustained by a balance of two opposing forces of energy, called Yin and Yang. Together, they make up the life essence, or Qi - a type of energy that flows through the body via invisible channels called meridians. Half of certain organs and meridians are governed by Yin and the other half by Yang. When Yin and Yang are out of balance in the body, this causes a blockage of Qi and a subsequent illness. Yin and Yang imbalances can be caused by stress, pollution, poor diet, emotional upsets or infection. For diagnostic purposes, Yin and Yang are further subdivided into interior and exterior, hot and cold, deficiency and excess.