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The Chinese Art of Herbs

Herbs have long been recognized as a safe and effective treatment throughout all cultures and centuries. Any list of what herbs treat would be endless. Look at the various categories within the Chinese Herbal Materia Medica.

Herbs as an oriental art began thousands of years ago. It began with food and spread to every conceivable bug, animal, mineral or even substance. The Chinese called these medicines.  Imagine a patient with a hangover who has a deep cold in his chest with yellow sputum and a cough.  A practitioner would combine relieving food stagnation medicines with release the exterior medicines.  Depending on the severity they may throw in transforming phlegm and stop cough medicines as well as dispelling wind dampness medicines.  Such pin point treatments have been the mainstay of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years.

The ideas and theories of herbs developed with an eye close the workings of nature. The Ancients watched the animals around us. If a goat improved fertility by eating a plant, that plant was used in human trials. Other theories influenced the choice of herbs. The doctrine of signature was one of the most popular theories. If something looks like something, it probably treats that same something. So red herbs treated the blood. Thin white herbs treated the skin. Heavy minerals were considered settling to the mind. Restoring harmony within the body with herbs was considered an inside out approach. Herbs were used as a practical grass roots movement passed down within families from generation to generation.  Each generation refined their techniques and honed their skills across another generation of patients.

Many of the ideas of oriental medicine took root in herbal practices. All of the same theories were applied so there was a common language and application of principles across medical modalities. The idea of changing seasons, weather, and smooth transitions from one aspect of life was applied to herbal categories like "release exterior", "clear heat", and "transform wind dampness." This made sense to a society that lived close to the earth. Food, Qi Qong, herbs, Meditation, burning incense, rituals, point therapy, massage, guasha, cupping, moxabustion, and needling were considered different modalities applying the same theories of inner harmony.

The art of herbs was highly refined during various dynasties of the middle kingdom (China) and continues to be integrated today throughout the orient to the Western Medicine view. They operate side by side with medical concepts and apply the best of both. Today herbal formulas are being tested and put through clinical trials the same way that any drug would come to market. The most interesting work is happening in the biotech field where herbs are being viewed for their healing powers by tracking their metabolic pathways. No one can patent an herb or herbal formula like a drug can be patented. The source of that herbal formula becomes key to being able to use it consistently. Today doctors often treat with herbs and proliferate the books written on this topic. The fact is during the 1990s the tide turned and Americans began spending more on alternative care than on traditional medical treatments. All the major medical schools transitioned from departments of quackery to departments of complementary (and later integrated) medicine.

Herb theory has a wide variety of views. It is often hard to sort out the sheer volume of beliefs both in Western and Eastern views. Fortunately there are great guides in Oriental Medicine for effective formulation of herbs. These guides are practical and solve the problem of cataloging solutions for patients. Finding the pattern of health is the first step. Once a pattern of health is found, the various texts of Oriental Medicine have great views on how to resolve root causes and treat branch problems.

It was the pragmatic approach to medicine that has given oriental medicine and acupuncture its staying power.
That is the exciting part to patients -- what will work and address the root cause of my condition?

Thousands of studies over the years have been applied to herbs. The NIH has become a proving ground for research. The idea of balancing the body with nutritional supplements has been bouncing off the charts in medical circles lately. Many of those same nutritional programs are supplemented with Chinese herbs. One of the prominent examples today is the idea of balancing the neurotransmitters of the body. In the same way, for thousands of years Chinese herbalists have been seeking to balance the body with herbs by using simple patterns of health.

Oriental Medicine claims to treat the body, the mind, and the spirit.

So how can the mind and spirit be effected by physical changes? The real question is how can it not be effected?
Often depression accompanies chronic illness. Anger follows pain. Joy and happiness often reflect a healthy and balanced person in many areas of their life. Fear and uncertainty follow from the lack of stability in life. Over thinking often follows the lack of nourishment of our body, mind or spirit.
Many categories in herbs reflect names that follow the course of calming the mind and settling the spirit. Many of the actions of the herbs reflect the re-balancing of the mind and spirit. They have been used for thousands of years to pull us out of depressions, lessen anxiety, reduce stress and counter balance fatigue. They are often substances that treat us from the inside out -- enabling a new physical, mental, and spiritual response to the world around us.