Traditional Chinese Medicine — Herbal Medicine
by Dr. Robert Kienitz, D.Ac., DTCM
Herbal medicine is the main treatment method of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), and TCM is the world’s oldest, continually practiced professional medicine. TCM written history stretches back over 25,000 years and its practice is undoubtedly much older than that. Although acupuncture was the first Chinese modality to gain wide acceptance in the West, Chinese herbal medicine is quickly establishing itself as one of the most popular and effective alternative therapies.
North American and European folk herbalism treats disease by singular symptoms or disease category such as headache, runny nose, menstrual pain, etc. Chinese herbal medicine is based on an individualized pattern diagnosis as well as a symptomatic diagnosis. This means that the TCM patient receives a custom herbal formula for each condition. In this way, two patients presenting with seemingly the same symptoms of a common cold would receive two different herbal formulas based on their individual constitution as well as their cold symptoms. The TCM pattern diagnosis is made up of an individual’s signs, symptoms, body constitution and emotional temperament.
Another distinction between Western herbalism and Chinese herbalism is that Western Herbology uses single herbs for single symptoms or a group of related herbs all treating the same symptom. TCM herbalism utilizes many herbs in each formula designed to address not only the superficial symptom but also the underlying condition and the patient’s entire pattern.
Although called herbal medicine, TCM practitioners use ingredients from all three kingdoms, animal, vegetable and mineral. The Ben Cao or Materia Medica lists over 3,000 entries of medicinal substances, however, the majority of these are from vegetable sources. Leaves, flowers, twigs, stems, roots, tubers, and barks are some of the vegetable parts used.
More than 90% of the pharmaceuticals prescribed by M.D.s have plant, animal and mineral origins. The closer we are to the source of our medicine, the more harmonious it will be in our mind/body system. The chief cause of the negative side effects of pharmaceuticals is that they work too quickly and/or too powerfully. Your system does not have time to metabolize and harmonize them and is thrown into a state of unbalance. Chinese herbal medicine allows your body time to metabolize nourishing or dispersing substances and there are no negative side effects when professionally prescribed.
The key to professional prescription of Chinese herbs is the individual pattern diagnosis. That is the method by which the practitioner determines the pathological mechanism that is the cause of the symptoms of disease. Pattern diagnosis is achieved by the study of the patient’s pulse, tongue and eyes, through the patient’s health history and analysis of specific signs and symptoms. Chinese herbal medicine treats the full range of human disease. It treats acute diseases like intestinal flu and the common cold as well as chronic diseases, such as allergies, gynecological disorders, autoimmune diseases, chronic viral diseases and degenerative diseases due to aging. In particular, Chinese herbal medicine is especially good for promoting the body’s ability to fight off disease through an improved immune function and in TCM, the emphasis is on disease prevention. As the ancient saying goes “there is no sense in waiting to dig the well until one is already thirsty.”