Monday, 8. March 2010 7:14
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the second largest medical system in the world after Western Medicine and has been in continuous use for over 3,000 years. In TCM individual herbs are classified various categories, for example; nourishing herbs, moving herbs, wind dispelling herbs, damp draining herbs, etc. Within a category the different herbs may have actions some of which are the same, similar to, but also different from other herbs in the same category. Herb are classified as warm, hot, cool, cold, sweet, bitter, bland and neutral, etc and also as having a direction such as up/down/in and out. All of this and more is important in understanding how to use the herbs.
In TCM herbal formula construction follow specific rules; one or two herbs address the main problem, additional herbs support this action, but also address other issues present. Other herbs are added to harmonize and others again send the joint actions of the formula in the desired directions throughout the body and so on. It must be understood that when you put two or more herbs together, you not only have the action of the individual herbs, but a joint, synergistic action. Increasingly Chinese herbs are studied and tested based on Western standards. There are thousands of formulas to draw from, many of which have been updated over time given the prevalent health issues at that time. It is in the knowing how to put a formula together that one can be very targeted.
Western Herbal Medicine also has a deep history going back some 2000 years. In this system herbs are also classified in categories to address, for example; the circulatory system, the respiratory system, the nervous system, muscular sceletal system, etc. The actions of the herbs are classified as; alteratives, analgesics, anti-spasmodics, emollients, diuretics, bitters and many more. Of great importance is the chemistry of the herbs which desribes plant actions, such as; benzoic acid, citric acid, phenols, coumarins, alcohols, tannins, , flavonois, glycosides and many more. All this information allows a practitioner to choose the appropriate herb(s) for the patient.
What many don’t realize is that the same plant may grow in different parts of the world simply as different varieties. For example Angelica Archangelica in the West and Don Quai (Angelica Sinensis)in Asia are in the same plant family and have similar actions, they are just different varieties. Hawthorn is used in Western Herbalism for the cardiovascular system. In China it was traditionally used for food stagnation, now it is increasingly used there as well for cardiovascular problems. In the West the leaves of dandelion are used as a diuretic, the root for inflammation and congestion in the liver/gallbladder. In TCM the whole herb is used to “clear heat, relieve toxicity and resolve dampness”. Many Chinese Herbs are now regularly in use as part of Western herbal formulas.
As use of herbs to deal with health issues gains acceptance, one needs to keep in mind that herbs can have powerful actions and need to be used with respect. Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it can’t cause problems, even as the actions are generally far less problematic than conventional medications can be. There does however not need to be an either or. If a medication is necessary, it needs to be used. Using medications doesn’t mean that a trained herbal practitioner can’t formulate around that medication to the benefit of the patient.