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Chinese Herbs

The use of herbs medicinally predates civilization, East and West. Yet, once we write things down and centralize knowledge — so that we will know what to use next time — herbalists begin an extensive compilation of the information about herbs from their age old tribal origins. They then can begin rudimentary and then more extensive — in our early and later modern eras — testing and experimentation. They also begin and continue systematizing and adjusting use.

The first comprehensive books on Chinese herbs are compiled a little after the first comprehensive books on Chinese acupuncture. Yet, interestingly, the theories of Yin and Yang and Five Element-Phases that informs and determines the placement of acupuncture needles at specific points at specific places, is not the same theories used for herbs until the Song Dynasty, around 1100 A.D., about one thousand years later.

For a thousand years, herbs are either used practically and symptomatically — you take ‘this’ for ‘that’ — or for “colds.” In fact, the first systematic herbal is titled, “On Cold Damage,” an approach that establishes phases of illness through what we would, in our era call a cold, flu or respiratory infection. Different herbs are appropriate for each of the different phases. The herbs given at the beginning of a cold different from what is prescribed if the cold lingers and turns into a more serious condition.

So the formula for chills and a mild fever is different than the formula for the cold that turns into pneumonia in the lungs.

Herbs as medicine go out of fashion, to a great extent, in Europe and America with the advent of modern medicine. Although, interestingly enough, modern medicines, per se, are a continuation of and refinement of Western herbal traditions, even as the most modern of medicinal drugs is an artificial synthesis of organic chemicals taking hints from the organic chemicals of herbs.

Herbs, for the rest of the world, and especially in China and India, where the herbal traditions are well established, highly functional and effective and literate — there are written records going back hundreds and then a few thousand years — herbs have not at all gone out of fashion. And for good reason.

Herbs, used well, are good medicine.

Chinese herbs are especially effective for many of the conditions written about on this website.

Chinese herbs are not in competition with Western drugs. In fact, they should complement one another.

Chinese herbs can be effective — and in many instances more effective — than Western drugs in areas like gynecology and gastro-enterology and as tonics, to name just a few. However, Western drugs are clearly effective — and in most instances more effective than Chinese herbs — for infections and cancer, among others.

The great advantage of Chinese herbs is that they are far less toxic than Western drugs, with far far fewer side effects. Yet, again, they are not always the therapy of choice. Sometimes putting up with side effects is the price of therapeutic value.

I believe that all physicians should be trained in a serious herbal tradition — and am professionally and personally committed to setting up and teaching Chinese herbs to Western professionals — so that their repertoire and therapeutic effectiveness will increase. (I also believe that more herbalists should be better trained in Western medicine and pharmaceuticals and be able to prescribe those as well.)