Herbs have been used since the beginning of life
form. Animals have instinctively learned early on to use
different plants for their own healing and strengthening. The
usage of herbs by humans has been documented in all major
ancient civilizations. Earliest herbs were discovered by trial
and error. There were bitter experiences that taught people
which herbs are toxic and happier experiences that have shown
herbs with therapeutic and strengthening properties.
oldest Chinese herbal compilation was Shen Nong's Materia Medica
(Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing). It was reputed to be very old, perhaps
from 2,700 B.C. It had recorded 365 herbs. 252 herbs are from
the plant kingdom, 67 from the animal kingdom, and 46 from
minerals. Depending upon the therapeutic characteristics, the
herbs were divided into three categories: the superior grade,
the medicinal grade and the inferior grade. In the book, there
were 120 superior grade herbs, which are mainly nourishing and
strengthening. There were 120 middle grade herbs, which are
nourishing as well as for treatment of diseases. There were 125
inferior grade herbs, which are solely used for treatment of
diseases. This compilation, though ancient, is still a respected
required reading for all herbalists.
The superior grade herbs are used mainly to
nourish one's body and increase
Vitality. Many herbs in this
category have immunity strengthening and anti-aging properties.
Also called, Tonic Herbs, these herbs contain high levels of
vitamins, antioxidants and nutritional compounds that are not
commonly found in regular foods. These herbs can be taken just
like food on a daily basis for a lifetime of benefits. Superior
or tonic herbs are used often for prevention of diseases.
Examples of the superior grade include such herbs as ginseng,
hawthorn, astragalus, dang quai, cordyceps, reishi mushrooms,
gingko and wild yam.
The medicine grade herbs can be used both in
nourishing the body and treating diseases. These herbs are
disease-specific and used in a targeted, custom formulated
fashion. Most of the herbs in this category are non-toxic and
can be used for long periods of time without harmful effect to
the body as long as their use are supervised by an expert doctor
of Chinese medicine or herbalist. Some medicinal herbs include
skullcap, feverfew, pulsatilla, gentian and coptidis.
Inferior grade herbs do not mean that the
herbs are of poor quality. The idea of inferior grade comes from
the Yellow Emperorís Classic of Medicine: Physicians that treat
disease after it has occurred are inferior physicians while
physicians that prevent diseases are superior physicians." The
herbs in this category are mainly used to treat serious and
urgent conditions therefore named the "inferior" grade. These
herbs are to be used to achieve rapid results for a short period
of time. Inferior grade herbs should definitely be prescribed by
knowledgeable. Many of the herbs in this category include senna,
scorpion, betel nut and euphorbiae.
Modern day Chinese Materia Medica contains
over 11,000 herbal substances. Herbs in common usage number
about 400-500 and are still categorized according to their
properties as tonic, medicinal and urgent remedies, and
according to their major therapeutic action. By learning about
tonic herbs, one can use them safely to prevent disease and
Vitality and promote longevity. By consulting with an
experience doctor of Chinese medicine or herbalist, one can
enjoy personalized medicinal herbal approach to treatment of
disease. Finally, we are grateful to have this repository of
time-tested knowledge from our ancestors so that we do not have
to be subjected to trial and error experiments, such as those
being done with drug medicines.