Chinese Medical Herbology 102

In our last blog we looked at the general principles of Chinese herbal medicine and how taste and flavor altered the properties of our herbal interactions. In this blog we will take a look at the movement of herbs and how they enter the channels and organs.

The actions of ascending, descending, floating and sinking refer to the upward, downward, outward or inward direction in which herbs tend to move through the body. Ascending action means moving or carrying the qualities of the herb to the upper parts of the body, head, neck, upper torso, while descending means just the opposite. Floating action means moving outward or sending to the surface, whereas sinking means going inside or purging away.

Ascending or floating herbs have an upward and outward direction and are used for elevating Yang, the motive warming aspect of bio energy. These herbs also relieve exterior syndromes like colds and flu by means of diaphoresis or sweating. These herbs dispel superficial symptom of wind and cold and can induce vomit or resuscitation.

Descending and sinking herbs have downward and inward directed actions and are often used for clearing heat and settling the mind. These herbs also purge, promote micturation, remove dampness, check the exuberance of Yang and redirect the adverse flow of Qi to stop vomiting. Descending herbs can relieve cough and asthma, improve digestion to remove stagnant food, and for herbs with heavy properties can be used for tranquilizing the mind.

Herbs of the same flavor generally have similar actions, while herbs of different flavors usually have quite different actions.

Channel Tropism

Channel tropism refers to an herb’s selective therapeutic effects on a certain part of the body. An herb may exert specific therapeutic action and physiological changes in certain channels and their related viscera, but with little effects on the others. For instance, among the heat-clearing herbs, some may clear the heat only in the lung channel and organ or in the liver channel or in the heart channel, etc. Also, among the tonics, some strengthen the lung while others strengthen the spleen or the kidney. The theory of channel tropism is summed up through clinical practice but the basic understanding is crucial to understanding the dynamics of herbal medicine.

The channel tropism theory should be associated with the theories of the four properties and five flavors and actions of Ascending, Descending, Floating and Sinking of herbs. Different herbs acting on the same channel have different effects owing to their different properties but herbs with similar properties can be used in con

So among the many herbs that clear heat we want one that also softens and purges phlegm we want to choose herbs that also have the action of outward movement and are focused on the organ and channel of the lungs.

Herb Toxicity

 Some herbs are labeled as slightly toxic, toxic, extremely poisonous or deadly poisonous these indicate that the therapeutic dosage of those drugs approaches the toxic level or is already within range of a toxic dosage and an over-dosage may lead to a toxic reaction. The toxic identifier may also indicate that an herb may give rise to severe side effects within this therapeutic dosage. The prerequisite concern is always safety for poisonous herbs and the toxicity of poisonous herbs can be eliminated or lessened by means of processing, dispensing and preparation.

Attributes and Actions of Herbs

The eight therapeutic methods are to promote sweating (Han), induce vomiting (Tu), purge (Xia), harmonize (He), warm (Wen), clear (Qing), tonify (Bu) and reduce (Xiao).

In the application of herbs, rarely is a a single herb is used alone and most often two or more herbs are used together. Using one herb to treat the disease is called going alone, single effect or Dan Xing.

The combined application of two or more herbs are known as mutual reinforcement, mutual assistance, mutual restraint, mutual detoxification, mutual inhibition or incompatibility. These expressions are referred to as the seven features of combined herbs.

Mutual reinforcement (mutual accentuation, Xiang Xu) Herbs of similar characters and functions are used in coordination to strengthen their effects.

Mutual assistance (mutual enhancement, Xiang Shi). Herbs that are similar in certain aspects of their characters and functions can be used together, with one as the principle and the other as subsidiary, to help increase the effects of the principle.

Mutual restraint (mutual counteraction, Xiang Wei). When herbs are used in combination, the toxicity and side effects of one herb can be reduced or eliminated by the other.

Detoxification (suppression, Xiang Sha). One herb can lessen or remove the toxicity and side effects of the other.

Mutual inhibition (mutual antagonism, Xiang Wu). When two herbs are used together, they inhibit or check each other to weaken or even lose their original efficacy.

Mutual incompatibility (Xiang Fan). When two herbs are used in combination, toxicity or side effects may result.

When two or more herbs are needed, they are chosen carefully according to the conditions of the patient, and the characters and function of herbs.

Mutual reinforcement and Mutual assistance make herbs work in coordination and enhance their effects, and therefore, should be employed as much as possible. Mutual restraint and Mutual detoxification can reduce or eliminate toxicity and side effects of herbs, and therefore, can be considered when using poisonous herbs.

Mutual inhibition and Incompatibility will weaken efficacy of herbs, or make them lose their efficacy, or even give rise to toxicity and side effects, and therefore, should be avoided.

Atlantic Acupuncture’s goal is to provide education and therapeutic support for people who are interested in alternatives to conventional medical models and modalities. As part of our ongoing educational outreach we are publishing a series of articles on acupuncture, herbal medicine, meditation and Qigong to help our patients and friends develop a greater understanding of the dynamics of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In our next segment we will look at four botanical formulas that cover a myriad of conditions and concerns.

Yours in good health,

Robert Kienitz, DTCM