Herbs have been prescribed medicinally in China for thousands of years. In fact, the origin of over three hundred formulas commonly used today dates back over 2,000 years. Herbology in China has evolved through centuries of careful documentation of clinical experience. Through this process, extensive information has been gathered detailing not only the properties of single herbs, but also how herbs interact together in formulas. Today, Chinese herbs are often used instead of Western medications, or in conjunction with them to increase efficacy and reduce side effects.
What conditions do herbs treat?
Herbs have a wide variety of actions and indications. They are used to treat chronic conditions such as arthritis, and acute disorders such as the common cold. Single herbs can have different actions and indications depending on how they combine with other herbs in a formula. For example, the herb Qiang Huo is often added to arthritis formulas, but combined with other herbs, it can be used to treat colds and flus. Following are examples of categories of herbs and how they work:
Herbal formulas that treat colds and flus are comprised of herbs that are antifebrile and antiviral. Commonly, these herbs are diaphoric; they can induce sweating and speed the recovery process.
Herbs used for asthma and acute and chronic coughs have expectorant, dilatory, antitussive and sedative properties.
Herbs can be used as digestive aids. Some act to increase the appetite, while others can increase the digestion of protein, carbohydrates and fats.
There are a number of powerful tonic herbs in the Chinese Materia Medica. These are usually prescribed to individuals with weak constitutions, are used for chronic complaints, and are usually taken over a long period of time.
Sedative herbs are used for anxiety and insomnia. They are able to induce calmness without reducing mental activity.
Who prescribes herbs?
Chinese herbs should only be prescribed by licensed Acupuncturists. In California and Nationally, Acupuncture licensure ensures competency in Chinese Herbology.
Once herbal therapy has begun, how long should it continue?
Sometimes a practitioner will prescribe herbal formulas on a short-term basis for acute ailments. For example, herbs for sinus infections may only be taken for a week or two. The length of treatment time for chronic diseases can vary from one month to several months. It depends on the nature and duration of the illness, as well as the patient's ability to change lifestyle and dietary habits that may contribute to the illness.
How are herbs administered?
Practitioners may prescribe herbal formulas that come in a prepared form, such as pills, tinctures, or concentrated granules. Or, if the right formulation is not available, the practitioner may create an individualized formula, consisting either of concentrated granules or bulk herbs which are boiled into a tea. Herbal prescriptions may be changed frequently over a course of treatment in order to obtain the desired result.
How safe are Chinese herbs?
Recently there have been concerns raised about the purity of Chinese herbs in terms of their pharmaceutical, heavy metal and pesticide content. Reputable manufacturers of herbal formulas both in China and the United States test batches of herbs for pesticides, fumigants and bacteria, and reject shipments if they do not meet strict standards. Though most prepared Chinese herbal formulas are safe, without harmful pesticides, heavy metals or pharmaceuticals, one should only take these preparations when prescribed by a trained healthcare professional.