Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine was developed in ancient China and evolved over thousands of years. It was first developed primarily by the Daoists who were very intent on practices to increase longevity. From there it was further developed by many herbalists. Thousands of medicinal substances are thoroughly described by the Chinese Materia Medica (a pharmacological reference book used by herbalists). Chinese herbalism is primarily plant based utilizing the various parts of plants including roots, stems, bark, leaves, flowers or seeds. However, mineral and animal products are also included. The herbs are most often combined in formulas and given as bulk herb teas, powders, pills, and tinctures.

The use of Chinese herbs is based on Chinese medicine diagnostics (drawn from diagnosis of the pulse, tongue, physical examination, and reported symptoms). Usually a western diagnosis is not enough to indicate what herbal treatment will be effective. There are many formulas that have been created with variations by previous herbalists, and formulas can also be completely customized with each ingredient chosen specific to the individual.

Chinese herbal medicine is a significant part of Chinese Medicine, along with acupuncture, cupping, moxa, tui na (Chinese massage techniques), food therapy, qi gong, tai chi and lifestyle. Chinese herbs are used to both treat and prevent health problems.

Is it effective?

Practitioner and patient experience says that it is often effective. Chinese herbal medicine is one of the foundations of Chinese medicine and in Johanna’s experience is an important component of treatment. Large scale, well designed and executed clinical trials have not caught up with the tradition. However, there is certainly a growing presence of smaller scale trials that have shown herbal medicines can be effective in treating many health conditions. While medications must provide proof for their medical claims to the FDA, this is not the case for herbs and dietary supplements. The FDA does however regulate the use of Chinese herbs, and herbs with unacceptable side effects are not legal to use.

What forms do Chinese herbs come in?

Chinese herbs come in bulk herb teas, powders, pills and tinctures. All forms are effective. Bulk herbs are the most potent, but require the most effort. They will need to be boiled at home to make a tea, usually twice for 45 minutes each time every 3-7 days. Powdered herbs simply need to be scooped into a cup of hot water. Usually this form is used to create an individualized and customized formula. The teas and powders can have strong flavors some slightly sweet, earthy, or bitter. Pills are very convenient and cost effective, but cannot be customized. Often more than one formula is needed. Herbal tinctures come in different liquid bases, some alcoholic (for adults, some not (for children).

Is it safe?

Chinese herbal medicine is safe to use when administered by a qualified practitioner who is mindful of the possible problems.

It is important to work with a qualified acupuncturist trained in Chinese herbology who sources the Chinese herbs from companies who have rigorous quality control based in the United States. There have been reports of Chinese herbs that are contaminated with heavy metals, pharmaceutical drugs, incorrect ingredients (differing from what is listed), and other toxins. In using US based herb companies that provide strict quality controls, this problem is circumvented.

Some Chinese herbs can interact with medications, so it’s important for both patient and practitioner to make sure there are no known interactions. (It’s important for the patient to disclose all medications, and for the practitioner to make sure the herbs do not interfere or interact with the medication).

There are also herbs that are unsafe for people with certain medical conditions – for example, it would be dangerous to give blood moving herbs to someone with a bleeding disorder. A few Chinese herbs have more significant side effects and great caution must be used if they are prescribed.

Are Chinese herbs Organic?

Organic (Pesticide and herbicide free) sources of single herbs can be found. However, the majority of Chinese herbs are not organically grown. Most Chinese herbs are grown with the use of pesticides and herbicides.

Meet the Practitioner

Hi, I’m Johanna with Johanna’s Acupuncture. I’m a licensed Acupuncturist and herbalist practicing in Boulder Colorado.

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