- Used medicinally by all cultures throughout history
- The World Health Organization (Who) estimates that 4 billion
- people, making up 80 percent of the world population, presently use herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care
- An increasing number of Americans are using herbal medicine to treat their health conditions.
An herb is a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, aromatic or savory qualities. Herb plants produce and contain a variety of chemical substances that act upon the body. Many drugs commonly used today are of herbal origin, such as digitalis, derived from foxglove. Indeed, about 25 percent of the prescription drugs dispensed in the United States contain at least one active ingredient derived from plant material.
Modern Medicine and Herbs
WHO notes that of 119 plant-derived pharmaceutical medicines, about 74 percent are used in modern medicine in ways that correlate directly with their traditional uses as plant medicines by native cultures. Major pharmaceutical companies are currently conducting extensive research on plant materials gathered from the rain forests and other places for their potential medicinal value.
A Brief History of Chinese Herbal MedicineAs one of the main branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Chinese herbal medicine's origins are found many millenniums ago in shamanic or folk traditional medicine. It became formalized during the Han dynasty in China (200 BCE to 200 CE) when several important herbal texts were written. In the first century of the common era the Divine Farmer's Materia Medica, the first herbal text was compiled that classified individual herbs and listed their medicinal function. This text is the archetype for the Chinese tradition of herbology. During the forth century of the common era, the most celebrated classic of herbal prescriptions was written, the Treatise on Cold Damage and Prescriptions from the Golden Cabinet. About twenty percent of Chinese herbal prescriptions used today come from these two texts, which stress combining acupuncture with medicinal herbs. By 225 CE herbal anesthesia was being used for surgical operations. [History of Chinese Medicine]
Chinese herbal medicine has continued developing since then. Modern physicians rely on Chinese herbs for treating an array of clinical conditions ranging from headaches, allergies, colds and flu, digestive disorders, gyn conditions, dermatological conditions, traumatology, and chronic disease such as Parkinson's disease, hepatitis, cancer, HIV and AIDS . Whereas convention medicine uses drug therapy to treat pain and disease, Chinese medicine utilizes classical herbal formulas to address both internal and external health conditions.
Why Use Chinese Herbal FormulasChinese herbs work synergistically with acupuncture. Used safely and medically for over 2,000 years, Chinese herbs have minimal side effects when prescribed correctly by a trained herbalist. What makes Chinese herbs particularly safe and effective is the art of combining herbs to form a carefully balanced prescription, or herbal formula. (Chinese herbs are rarely taken individually.) These individualized formulas not only treat the patient's main, presenting problem but also address associated, secondary problems.
Chinese herbal formulas are based on standard, classical prescriptions that have been tried and tested through millenniums of clinical use, and are modified to fit the individual needs of the patient. The herbalist modifies the prescription by taking out unnecessary herbs or those with redundant functions and adding herbs to address any additional symptoms the patient has.
Nourishing and harmonizing herbal formulas serve as excellent tonics, strengthening those weakened by overwork, serious illness, childbirth or poor diet and irregular eating. Herbs with a cooling action can counteract fevers, night sweating and hot flashes. Similarly, herbs with a warming action can help those who feel cold. They work on the mind (shen, in Chinese) as well as the body, treating stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Herbs can be used for acute and chronic conditions, e.g. colds, allergies, digestive disorders, menstrual conditions, rashes, and pain .