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Home > Newsletters > June 2005

Understanding Chinese Herbs

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.

The 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 increase 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.

This Month's Articles

June, 2005
Volume 3, Number 6

Pregnancy Care With Chinese Medicine

Avoiding Environmental Toxins

Understanding Chinese Herbs

Recent Research

Ask The Doctor


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