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Chinese and Western Herbology

Western Herbology

 Western herbal medicine involves using plants and plant material to create medicines to help prevent or treat various illnesses. These materials may use some or all parts of a plant, such as flowers, roots, fruits, leaves, and bark. Herbal remedies are used for many suggested purposes, such as improvement or general support of digestive, respiratory, circulatory, immune, endocrine, and nervous system processes. Herbs are also used to purportedly remove waste and toxins from bodily cells or topically to promote healing of the skin.

 

Chinese Herbology - Role in Chinese Medicine

 Herbology is the Chinese art of combining medicinal herbs. Herbology is one of the more important modalities utilized in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Each herbal medicine prescription is a cocktail of many herbs tailored to the individual patient. One batch of herbs is typically decocted twice over the course of one hour. The practitioner usually designs a remedy using one or two main ingredients that target the illness. Then the practitioner adds many other ingredients to adjust the formula to the patient's yin/yang conditions. Sometimes, ingredients are needed to cancel out toxicity or side-effects of the main ingredients. Some herbs require the use of other ingredients as catalyst or else the brew is ineffective. The latter steps require great experience and knowledge, and make the difference between a good Chinese herbal doctor and an amateur.

 

Western Herbology

Western herbal medicine involves using plants and plant material to create medicines to help prevent or treat various illnesses. These materials may use some or all parts of a plant, such as flowers, roots, fruits, leaves, and bark.

This modality emphasizes the use of European and Native American herbs. However, herbs from other parts of the world are sometimes used as well.

Traditional Western herbal medicine evolved mostly from the ancient Greeks, who were strongly influenced by Egyptian and Middle Eastern civilizations. Western herbal medicine also has roots in the indigenous practices of the British Isles and ancient Roman traditions. Well-known historical physicians including Hippocrates and Galen are thought to have used herbal medicine in their practices. The use of various herbal formulas is one of the oldest and possibly the most widespread form of medicine.

Herbal remedies are used for many suggested purposes, such as improvement or general support of digestive, respiratory, circulatory, immune, endocrine, and nervous system processes. Herbs are also used to purportedly remove waste and toxins from bodily cells or topically to promote healing of the skin.

Herbs of the Western herbal medicine tradition are the subject of increasing interest in the medical community. Research is currently being conducted in the use of medicinal herbs for various medical conditions. For instance, garlic has been researched as a potential treatment for high blood pressure. In some studies, the whole herb is given to a patient, whereas in other studies, isolated active chemicals, or constituents of a plant, may be extracted, purified, and administered to the patient. Herbal constituents may be concentrated to deliver standardized set doses and may also be synthesized in a lab. They may also have their chemical structure changed and patented. This wide variety of herbal formulations used in clinical, in vivo, and in vitro studies is an area of concern for accurate analysis of research and determination of clinical recommendations.

While both the United States and Europe have a long history of practitioners who use Western herbal medicine, this form of treatment has not always been considered widely available or accepted. The use of herbal remedies in the United States and Western Europe experienced a strong resurgence in the late 1990s, which continues today.

Chinese Herbology - Role in Chinese Medicine

Chinese materia medica (simplified Chinese: 中 ; traditional Chinese: 中藥; pinyin: Zhongyào), is also the medicine based on traditional Chinese medicine theory. It includes Chinese crude medicine, prepared drug in pieces of Chinese materia medica, traditional Chinese patent medicines and simple preparations, etc.

Herbology is the Chinese art of combining medicinal herbs. Herbology is one of the more important modalities utilized in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Each herbal medicine prescription is a cocktail of many herbs tailored to the individual patient. One batch of herbs is typically decocted twice over the course of one hour. The practitioner usually designs a remedy using one or two main ingredients that target the illness. Then the practitioner adds many other ingredients to adjust the formula to the patient's yin/yang conditions. Sometimes, ingredients are needed to cancel out toxicity or side-effects of the main ingredients. Some herbs require the use of other ingredients as catalyst or else the brew is ineffective. The latter steps require great experience and knowledge, and make the difference between a good Chinese herbal doctor and an amateur.

Unlike western medications, the balance and interaction of all the ingredients are considered more important than the effect of individual ingredients. A key to success in TCM is the treatment of each patient as an individual.

Chinese herbology often incorporates ingredients from all parts of plants, the leaf, stem, flower, root, and also ingredients from animals and minerals. The use of parts of endangered species (such as seahorses, rhinoceros horns, and tiger bones) has created controversy and resulted in a black market of poachers who hunt restricted animals. Many herbal manufacturers have discontinued the use of any parts from endangered animals.

History of Chinese herbology

Chinese herbs have been used for centuries. The first herbalist in Chinese tradition is Shennong, a mythical personage, who is said to have tasted hundreds of herbs and imparted his knowledge of medicinal and poisonous plants to the agricultural people. The first Chinese manual on pharmacology, the Shennong Bencao Jing (Shennong Emperor's Classic of Materia Medica), lists some 365 medicines of which 252 of them are herbs, and dates back somewhere in the 1st century C.E. Han dynasty.

Earlier literature included lists of prescriptions for specific ailments, exemplified by a manuscript "Recipes for 52 Ailments", found in the Mawangdui tomb, sealed in 168 B.C.E. Succeeding generations augmented on this work, as in the Yaoxing Lun (藥性論; also spelled Yao Xing Lun; literally "Treatise on the Nature of Medicinal Herbs"), a 7th century Tang Dynasty Chinese treatise on herbal medicine.

Arguably the most important of these was the Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao Gangmu) compiled during the Ming dynasty by Li Shizhen, which is still used today for consultation and reference. The history of this literature is presented in Paul U. Unschuld's "Medicine in China: a History of Pharmaceutics"; Univ. of Calif. Press, 1986.

The Shen Nong's Herbal Classic, a 2000-year old medicinal Chinese book considered today as the oldest book on oriental herbal medicine, classifies 365 species of roots, grass, woods, furs, animals and stones into three categories of herbal medicine:

  • The first category, called "superior", includes herbs effective for multiple diseases and is mostly responsible for maintaining and restoring the body balance. They have almost no unfavorable side-effects.

  • The second category comprises tonics and boosters, for which their consumption must not be prolonged.

  • The third category must be taken, usually in small doses, and for the treatment of specific ailments only.

Lingzhi ranked number one of the superior medicines, and was therefore the most exalted medicine in ancient times. The ancient Chinese use of mushrooms for medicine has inspired modern day research into mushrooms like shiitake, Agaricus blazei, Trametes versicolor, and of course lingzhi. 

Categorizing Chinese herbs

Chinese physicians used several different methods to classify traditional Chinese herbs:

  • The Four Natures (四氣 or 四性)

  • The Five Tastes (五味)

  • The Meridians (歸經)

The earlier (Han through Tang eras) Ben Cao (Materia Medicae) began with a three-level
categorization:

  • Low level -- drastic acting, toxic substances

  • Middle level -- medicinal physiological effects

  • High level -- health and spirit enhancement

During the neo-Confucian Song-Jin-Yuan era (10th to 12th Centuries), the theoretical framework from acupuncture theory (which was rooted in Confucian Han theory) was formally applied to herbal categorization (which was earlier more the domain of Daoist natural science). In particular, alignment with the Five Phases (Tastes) and the 12 channels (Meridians theory) came to be used after this period.

The Four Natures

These pertain to the degree of yin and yang, ranging from cold (extreme yin), cool, neutral to warm and hot (extreme yang). The patient's internal balance of yin and yang is taken into account when the herbs are selected. For example, medicinal herbs of "hot", yang nature are used when the person is suffering from internal cold that requires to be purged, or when the patient has a general cold constituency. Sometimes an ingredient is added to offset the extreme effect of one here 

The Five Tastes

The five tastes are pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty, each of which have their functions and characteristics. For example, pungent herbs are used to generate sweat and to direct and vitalize qi and the blood. Sweet-tasting herbs often tonify or harmonize bodily systems. Some sweet-tasting herbs also exhibit a bland taste, which helps drain dampness through diuresis. Sour taste most often is astringent or consolidates, while bitter taste dispels heat, purges the bowels and gets rid of dampness by drying them out. Salty tastes soften hard masses as well as purge and open the bowels.

The Meridians

The Meridians refer to which organs the herb acts upon. For example, menthol is pungent, cool and is linked with the lungs and the liver. Since the lungs is the organ which protects the body from invasion from cold and influenza, menthol can help purge coldness in the lungs and invading heat toxins caused by hot "wind."

Chinese patent medicine

Chinese patent medicine (traditional Chinese: 中成藥, Simplified Chinese: 中成 , pinyin: zhong chéng yào) is a kind of traditional Chinese medicine. They are standardized herbal formulas. Several herbs and other ingredients are dried and ground. They are then mixed into a powder and formed into pills. The binder is traditionally honey. They are characteristically little round black pills. Chinese patent medicines are easy and convenient. However, they are not easy to customize on a patient-by-patient basis. They are best used when a patient's condition is not severe and the medicine can be taken as a long-term treatment. These medicines are not "patented" in the traditional sense of the word. No one has exclusive rights to the formula. Instead, "patent" refers to the standardization of the formula. All Chinese patent medicines of the same name will have the same proportions of ingredients.

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