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Q&A: Chinese Herbs & Herbal Medicine

Chinese herbalism has been continuously refined over thousands of years to the point it is now more sophisticated in its clinical applications than the pharmacy of western biomedicine. Indications, contra-indications, and potential side effects of Chinese herbal medicine are better known than the same aspects of Western pharmaceuticals. So far, more people die in America each year from adverse drug reactions than are killed in traffic accidents. Herbal formulas may be taken as a tea, concentrated fluid extracts, syrup, tablets, powder, or in combination with food.

1. Q: What’s the difference between Western folk herbalism and Chinese herbal medicine?

A: Western folk herbalism primarily treats diseases or symptoms, such as headaches, runny nose, menstrual pain, etc. Chinese herbal medicine, when practiced as a part of TCM, is based on an individualized pattern diagnosis as well as a disease diagnosis. Tour pattern is made up of your signs and symptoms, your emotional temperament, and the overall composition of your body. The TCM patient receives a custom-written herbal prescription designed to treat their individual pattern as well as the symptom or disease.

2. Q: Are there any other differences?

A: Western folk herbalism usually focuses on one symptom or disease at a time and uses a single herb or group of herbs for treatment. TCM formulas are crafted to treat your entire pattern as well as the symptoms or disease that prompted you to seek treatment. TCM formulas may include six to eighteen herbs to treat the symptoms or disease as well as your entire pattern.

3. Q: Are all the “herbs” vegetables in origin?

A: Chinese herbal medicine may include vegetable, animal, and mineral ingredients, however, the majority of ingredients are from vegetable sources. Leaves, flowers, twigs, stems, roots, tubers, rhizomes, and bark are among the parts of the vegetable used.

4. Q: Do all the herbs come from China?

A: The Chinese adopted and incorporated herbs from all over the world. Fifteen to twenty percent of the 500 ingredients considered standard originated from outside China. What makes these “Chinese” herbs is that they are prescribed according to Chinese medical theory and a TCM pattern diagnosis.

5. Q: Does Chinese herbal medicine work for Western patients?

A: Yes, Chinese herbal medicine works as well for Westerners as it does for Chinese. Chinese herbal medicine has been used successfully in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and all throughout Asia.

6 Q: How are Chinese herbal medicines taken?

A: The most common method of taking Chinese medicine is drinking a liquid prepared by boiling the selected herbs. There are also herbal pills, tinctures, and powdered extracts for those who do not have the time or taste for drinking the more traditional liquid form.

7. Q: What are the benefits of drinking Chinese herbal medicines in liquid form?

A: This method allows the practitioner maximum flexibility in writing a prescription. They can put in just what is necessary for just the right amounts. The formula can be changed frequently, if necessary, and the liquid forms tend to be more potent than other means of administration.

8. Q: Why do liquid herbal medicines taste so bad?

A: Chinese herbal teas end up tasting very bitter because they are made mostly from roots and bark, where the strongest medicinal ingredients are found. The bitter taste may go away after a day or two.

9 Q: What are the benefits of pills and powders?

A: Pills and powders are good for:

  • Prolonged administration, like for chronic disease*

  • Where formulas do not need to be very potent

  • Where formulas do not need to be changed very often, Pills and powders are also commonly used to continue therapeutic results after successful initial treatment with liquid herbal medicine.

10. Q: Do Chinese herbal medicines have side effects?

A: Most of the components of Chinese herbal medicine have very low toxicity compared to even common, over-the-counter Western drugs. When they are prescribed according to a correct TCM pattern diagnosis, they should have a few, if any, side effects, only beneficial healing results. If you experience any discomfort while taking Chinese herbal medicine, tell your practitioner, who will modify the formula until there are no side effects.

11. Q: What is Chinese herbal medicine good for?

A: Chinese herbal medicine treats the full range of human diseases. It is used to treat:

  • Acute diseases, like intestinal flu and the common cold*

  • Chronic diseases, such as allergies, gynecological disorders, auto-immune diseases, and chronic viral diseases.

  • Degenerative diseases due to aging Chinese herbal medicine is especially good for promoting the body’s ability to heal and recover from illness.

​12. Q: Can pregnant women take Chinese herbs?

A: A professional TCM practitioner can write prescriptions that are appropriate for pregnant women and lactating mothers.

13 Q: Can children take Chinese herbal medicine?

A: Yes, again. Pediatrics is a specialty within TCM, and children can be given reduced dosages. There are also specially prepared pediatric medicines in pill and powder form. Chinese herbal medicine can treat colic, the fussiness of teething, earache, diarrhea, cough, and fever in babies and children.

14. Q: How long does it take to see results with Chinese herbal medicine?

A: In acute conditions, results may occur in a matter of minutes. In chronic conditions, some results should be seen within two weeks. Although chronic conditions may require taking Chinese herbal medicine for a long time, signs that the medicine is working should be apparent to the patient and practitioner alike almost from the very start.

15. Q: How do I know if a practitioner is professionally trained in Chinese herbal medicine?

A: Although Chinese herbal medicines are safe when prescribed by a trained, knowledgeable practitioner, they are strong medicine. Patients should ask about where the practitioner trained, how long the training was, how long he or she has been in practice, and what experience the practitioner has had in treating the patient’s specific ailment.


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