Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

Chinese Herbs

What are herbal therapies?

Herbal therapy, next to dietary therapy, is perhaps the most widely used Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment modality. TCM relies on herbal therapies both for the treatment of illness and in the optimization of health and prevention of disease.

There are 5,767 medicinal substances currently in use, including plant, animal, and mineral substances. The materia medica (book on TCM medicinal substances) includes information on the traditional uses, dosages, and contra-indications for each substance, as well as any available information on drug interactions, and any conventional medical research that has been published.

TCM assesses medicinal substances for their effects on particular vital substances, their resonance with particular zang fu organ systems, the channels of the jing luo system into which the substance is said to enter, and the pathogenic factors and patterns of disharmony that the substance is known to address.

How do TCM practitioners use formulations?

TCM practitioners most often use two or more substances in Chinese medicinal formulations to create a balanced, synergistic effect that reflects the holistic nature of the diagnosis.

Although there are literally thousands of traditional herbal formulas for just about every condition imaginable, a formula is almost always modified by the TCM practitioner to suit the subtle nuances of the condition and constitution of the patient, making each formulation highly individualized.

Chinese herbsChinese medicinal formulations are prepared in a number of different ways:

  • Chinese herbal decoctions. The most traditional method of preparing an herbal formula in China, decoctions can involve lengthy preparation and result in "teas" infamous for their strong taste and aroma. For these reasons decoctions are not as popular or as widely used in the west.
  • Herbal powders, which can be mixed with hot water to make a tea, are more convenient to prepare and use, and are not as pungent as traditional decoctions.
  • Chinese Patent Formulas are pre-made herbal formulations in pill or tablet form and are perhaps the most widely used form of Chinese herbal medicine outside of China.
  • Syrups, which are soothing preparations for coughs and sore throat, are also a convenient way to administer herbal formulations to children.
  • Liniments, salves, compresses and plasters, which are used for external application.Herbal therapy, next to dietary therapy, is perhaps the most widely used TCM treatment modality. TCM relies on herbal therapies both for the treatment of illness and in the optimization of health and prevention of disease.
Expert Contributor: 
Christopher Hafner, L.Ac.

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