What is the history of Chinese Herbology?

Chinese herbology has existed since prehistoric times.  The earliest known records are attributed to Shen Nung, 3494 B.C.  The ancient Daoist monks left detailed records of extensive herbal studies aimed at finding “elixirs” to provide a healthy and long life.  These lead to many theories about herbology (the Shang Han Lun, 206 B.C., etc.)  Today, the basis of most common formulas often dates back 2,000 years or more.

Are Chinese herbs effective?

Yes.  Chinese herbs, used for over 4,000 years, are still commonly used today in modern Chinese hospitals, often preferred over drugs as some are safer and more effective. Herb cultivation and harvesting has been a traditional art in China for thousands of years.  Chinese herbs have been studied and documented as to their energetic natures, medicinal functions, and remarkable effectiveness.

Are Chinese herbs dangerous?

As they have the power to heal when used properly, they also can be dangerous if misused. There are many herbs that are contraindicated in certain conditions.  This is why it is so important to only take herbs that are prescribed by a TCM practitioner or herbalist who has undergone the training to know which herbs are the correct ones to safely get the proper results.

There has also been some question as to herbs being tainted with pesticides, chemicals, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals or pollutants.  Although it is true that some suppliers may not pay attention to this, we are extremely careful to use only herbs that come from reputable sources that have been tested and are certified pure and free of any contamination.

How are Chinese herbs used differently from other herbs?

Most western herbs are used singly and symptomatically, such as valerian for insomnia, white willow bark for headache, etc.  The body constitution of the patient and root cause are not always considered.  In contrast, Chinese medicine looks carefully at the energetic nature and functions of herbs to balance these qualities with the patient’s body constitution while treating the disorder.  Chinese herbs are usually used in combinations in order to be more effective and establish balance in the body.  They are rarely used singly.

Is it advisable to combine Chinese herbs with acupuncture?

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be extremely effective when used together.  Often times the herbs are able to sustain the effects of an acupuncture treatment for much longer than if acupuncture alone was used.  Some conditions respond better to herbs than to acupuncture, and others respond better to acupuncture than to herbs.  Your TCM practitioner will discuss these issues with you.

Can Chinese herbs replace western drugs or conflict with them?

Chinese herbs are strong medicine that can sometimes out-perform western drugs, and can often resolve negative side effects the drugs may be causing.  It is important that you inform us of any medications you are using so that we are able to prescribe herbs that will not cause problems.  Neither a TCM practitioner nor an herbalist can tell you to take or not to take a medication prescribed by an M.D.  They can, however, give you information that allows you to make an intelligent decision, or recommend discussing options with your M.D.

Should I avoid taking Chinese herbs if I am on prescription medication?

Not necessarily.  Herbs often work well in conjunction with certain medications.  Medical doctors often refer patients to us to support their treatments, such as in infertility, or relieve the side effects of allopathic treatments such as in chemotherapy.  It is very important that all your healthcare practitioners are aware and approve of combined types of treatment.

What are the differences between herbal patents, tinctures, loose herbs and freeze-dried herbs?

Patents are Chinese herbal formulas that have been made into pill form.  Some are of good quality and strength, but sometimes cheaper herbs are substituted, making them less effective.  Tinctures are made by extracting the essences of herbs with either alcohol or water to make a concentrated formula.  Both patents and tinctures are fixed in their composition; herbs cannot be added or removed from them to fit each individual’s needs.  Freeze-dried and loose herbs are by far the most flexible, allowing the practitioner to design a formula to suit the exact needs of each individual.  They can be more economical since they only contain what is needed.  Freeze-dried and loose herbs are stronger, making them much more effective than patents or tinctures.  Loose herbs must be cooked and made into a tea and refrigerated until used.  Freeze dried herbs have the advantage that they require no preparation other than mixing with water and can also be encapsulated.

Are Chinese herbs safe if I am pregnant or a nursing mother?

Most herbs are completely safe during pregnancy and for lactating mothers, often offering a solution to treating conditions where pharmaceutical drugs are contraindicated.  As is true with any type of treatment, certain substances are inappropriate during these times.  Make sure your practitioner is aware of your condition if you are nursing or pregnant so only the correct and safe herbs are prescribed.

Are Chinese herbs appropriate for children?

Chinese herbs are often preferred over pharmaceutical drugs as they are generally much safer and offer excellent results.  Children are often given reduced dosages and respond more quickly than adults.   There are also anti-viral herbs that effectively treat and prevent the common cold or flu that have no allopathic counterparts.

What is this I hear about Ma Huang (Ephedra) and certain other Chinese herbs being banned by the FDA?

Ma Huang (Ephedra) is a safe herb when carefully used for the indicated conditions (usually asthma).  Unfortunately it has been misused by the health food industry for weight loss and by others who have contraindicated conditions (heart disease).  Although Ma Huang has been taken off the retail market it is still legal for licensed practitioners of Chinese medicine to prescribe it in the correct situations.  Another herb, Ma Dou Ling (Aristilochia) is safe as long as it is not combined with certain pharmaceuticals, but has been banned for use in the U.S.  Mu Tong (Akebia) also falls into this category.  These herbs have been used for thousands of years with no problems whatsoever because they have been wisely prescribed.  There is no doubt that Chinese herbs are much safer than most pharmaceuticals and many over-the-counter medications, many of which often cause severe side effects and thousands of deaths each year.

Are there times when I should not take certain herbs?

Generally, it is best not to take tonic herbs (Qi, blood, Yin or Yang building herbs) while you are sick with a cold, flu or similar illness.  It is also not advisable to take cold, bitter herbs over long periods of time.  As there are exceptions to the above, it is best to consult with your TCM practitioner if you have any questions.