Greetings All. Today I will provide some brief discussion about herbal medicine in a general sense to familiarize people with this very “old,” yet “new” concept to some. For many people, hesitancy when trying new or unknown things is somewhat natural. This might not be based on any actual facts or reality, yet if a person is not familiar with a thing, there is quite often a resistance. I believe, not entirely, but much of the public has a hesitancy or sometimes even mild fear of the concept of Herbal Medicines. It seems to me that most of this comes from a lack of education on the subject, lack of exposure in our specific United States society, and partially some unsupportive bias from medical professionals of other traditions, outside of the Chinese medical realm. Therefore, hopefully, in this short time I will be able to begin to replace some confusion and skepticism of Herbal Medicines with facts and truth based on actual use, experience and the nature of reality.
To Start, Herbal Medicine is made entirely of HERBS. In other words, these are completely natural substances in their original form that grow out of the earth… Just Like Our Food! Roots, Stems, Leaves, Rhizomes, Branches, Flowers, etc. The composition of these natural medicinals are not altered in any way by man other then cooking, frying, boiling or techniques as these. This has a enormous importance as to why they are so good for people. Herbal Medicine, as opposed to western medicine, gives formulas of herbs in their natural form. This means a single herb can have a specific function, for example, stop or clear diarrhea, however, even though an herb can have a specific function, it is still composed of many chemical components, minerals, and healing energies in a very balanced way that is therapeutic and good for the body.
To compare, western/scientific based medicine use substances quite often that are synthetically made (man made), with few chemical components, and at large concentrations in order to target a very specific cell or organ or gland or hormone, etc. One can easily see that when medicine is in a plant form there are many natural components that physically and energetically balance the product, verses the lack of a balance in western/scientific medical drugs. This lack of balance is the reason why there are many side effects to consider when taking and prescribing western meds.
In addition to the balance a medicinal has within a single plant product, Herbal Medicine is mostly prescribed as formulas, which means multiple herbs in a single prescription. This further balances the medicinal as multiple herbs can act to mutually enhance each other, to balance each other, or to treat multiple disharmonies in the body at the same time, all the while without negative side effects. The Herbal Practitioner can usually treat all symptoms and disharmonies a person could possible have all in the same formula. This is why a thorough practitioner custom makes herbal formulas for the specific individual, because no two people have the same disharmonies at the same severity.
There are different ways people can practice herbal medicine. There is the raw herbal pharmacy, in which the patient is given a bag with weighed out, whole plant peaces that is to be boiled at home to create a tea, and drank 1-3 times a day. There is the granular pharmacy, which is the powered form, which is given to the patient in a bottle the size of most prescribed medicine. The granular form comes with a small spoon inside so the patient can scoop the herb into a cup and drink with a little hot water as a tea. There is the Patient form in which the patient takes the herbs in pill form, similar to prescribed medicinal drugs. There is also the Tincture form, in which herbs where pre-distilled, in alcohol usually, and taken as drops from a small glass dropper in some water. Lastly, there are various ways to prepare herbs for topical use for rashes and trauma. Personally, I practice in the granular form. This allows me to custom make my formulas for my patients at the specific combinations and doses I decide, but with less time dedication as the patient does not need to prepare or boil the herbs at home as with the raw pharmacy.
So how do you know if you need herbs or they will work for what you want treated? Firstly, herbal medicine can treat such a wide range of ailments. The chances are, if you suffer with a specific issue, there is probably a formula for you. Herbal medicine can treat everything from fatigue, anemia, allergies, nasal congestion, irritable bowel, infertility, head-aches, migraines, back pain, shoulder pain, stress, anxiety, rashes, flu, common cold and on and on. Herbal medicine can be used for very minor imbalances or also major life influencing ailments. Personally, when I get a little run down, it is common for me to take some herbs that supplement qi(energy), blood, and move stagnation from stress or poor dietary choices… and sometimes I take these on a daily basis. Now, I am certainly NOT anti-western medication. Western meds are very necessary at times when a disease has reached a point of severity by neglect or lack of awareness or hereditary reasons etc. However, not everyone needs these strong specific, chemical altering medications. There is a middle ground. It seems many people try acupuncture and herbs if there western therapies do not provide relief. I believe it would be more appropriate to try alternative medicines first (providing the condition is not life threatening) before strong western therapies. This is certainly the rational path. If there is a problem, one should try the most natural, least invasive approach first, and if no result, then proceed to a stronger therapy.
Allow me to provide one example of what I am talking about about – a more appropriate middle ground. A personal friend of mine suffered from relatively moderate headaches on a regular basis. She went to her primary care physician and was prescribed a contraceptive medication (The Pill). Now this type of contraception is necessary at times, however they very clearly adjust and control the chemical hormone levels of the body and very often women can take up to a year after stopping contraception medication to obtain a relatively normal menstrual cycle. Also, it is my opinion and experience that people that have headaches receive enormous benefit from acupuncture, and quite quickly. This is an example, of hormone alteration that can easily be avoided.
Is there anything to worry about with taking herbal medicine? If there is any concern to be had around taking herbal medicine it would be to remain clear with your primary care physician as to what you are taking, because the only concern comes from unknown reaction that herbs can have on a western medications function. Truthfully, most herbal medicine does not react badly with western medication, however, there are a few herbs that can effect the functioning of some western medications. However, this is usually avoided by taking the two medicinals at different times of the day. Yet always remember, the main concept of herbal medicine is that it is completely natural, and lack side effects with a competent practitioner. This is the main idea, to remain healthy and pure, physically and energetically. This allows actual healing from a natural way with actual resolution, and not simply a symptom mask. Dependance is not typical. Once a disharmony is fixed, the person is finished with that herb.
In closing I thank you for filtering through my immediate thoughts on this subject. I hope for you to have taken some insight from this small bit of information from a practicing herbalist, as this is a long and broad subject and can potentially require a good chunk of time. I will leave you with the hopes of increasing your awareness of the body, mind, and spirit integrated together to create true health. Pay close attention to your health, habits and thoughts so that any disharmonies that arise can be quickly and painlessly adjusted. As always, my email and phone are always open for specific questions and inquiries you may have into chinese medicine.