Chinese Herbal Medicine FAQ

This article answers some Chinese herbal medicine FAQ and will be of particular interest to anyone contemplating taking Chinese herbal medicine for the first time.

Also included is a Chinese herbal medicine discussion forum.

Chinese herbal medicine is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) - a complete, professional medical system that has been in continuous use for at least 2500 years.

Herbal medicine is the most commonly used traditional therapy in China, however in the West acupuncture is probably the most commonly known and used Chinese therapy.

In China virtually all patients at TCM hospitals and clinics are prescribed herbal medicine but they may also be given acupuncture, massage therapy and dietary advice too.

Chinese Herbal Medicine FAQ: What's it good for?

Chinese herbal medicine can be taken for a wide range of health complaints - acute and chronic. TCM views each of us as a unique individual, so the medicine is tailored to suit each person at that particular time. Before prescribing a herbal formula the herbalist considers many factors including your current complaint and how long you've had it, your constitutional body type, your age, the type of work you do, general lifestyle habits and your diet.

Some of the more commonly treated complaints include:

  • Coughs, colds & asthma
  • Constipation & diarrhea
  • Irregular menstruation & painful periods
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Low libidoHeadache
  • Acne
  • High blood pressure
  • Emotional stress & anxiety

Chinese Herbal Medicine FAQ: How do I take it?

Traditionally, Chinese herbal medicine is decocted by boiling the ingredients in water in a clay pot for about 30 minutes and drinking a bowl of the remaining hot liquid. This is done 3 times day and it ensures easy and rapid absorption of the medicine and requires minimal digestive energy. Other traditional methods include grinding the herbs into a powder and rolling them into small balls with honey, before chewing and swallowing them. Traditionally, alcohol is also used to prepare Chinese herbs and extract the active ingredients from them. Western people generally prefer the more convenient and modern forms of Chinese herbal medicine, such as pills and tablets and granules that dissolve in hot water.

Chinese Herbal Medicine FAQ: How long do I need to take it?

There is no definitive answer to this. As mentioned, TCM views everyone as a unique individual, therefore even if you have the same complaint as another person you will most likely be prescribed a different herbal formula. For example, you may both suffer from chronic headaches, but the headaches may occur in a different parts of the head at different times of the day, and be of different intensity, and have different aggravating factors. One person may respond quickly to a herbal formula and only need to take it for several weeks, while another may require several months of treatment.

Quick, effective treatment also depends on other factors - for instance if the herbalist advises that avoiding alcohol and fried, greasy foods will greatly benefit your condition will you heed the advice? Remember, most health problems are caused or at least aggravated by poor dietary and lifestyle habits, so if you want to get the most out of Chinese herbal medicine it would be wise to follow the practitioner's advice. Generally you would keep taking the formula for as long as your symptoms and signs are present and then for a little longer to ensure a lasting result. Also as your condition changes the herbalist may slightly adjust your formula or even prescribe a different one.

Chinese Herbal Medicine FAQ: Is it safe?

The Chinese herbal pharmacopea contains several thousand individual herbs and hundreds of herbal formulas that have been time tested for safety and efficacy over at least 2500 years on literally millions of people. Each herbal formula is a balanced blend of individual herbs that work in harmony with each other and with the body and have been found over many centuries to greatly benefit a certain condition or complaint. Very simply - what works is still in use today, what doesn’t was discarded long ago. Side effects from Chinese herbal medicines are uncommon, particularly when they are prescribed by a professionally trained Chinese herbal medicine practitioner.

Chinese Herbal Medicine FAQ: How do I find a practitioner?

Outside of China and other Asian countries like Korea and Japan, TCM is practiced in many Western countries including North America, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Germany and France. Most of these countries have professional TCM associations to regulate the practice of Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture and other TCM modalities, and many offer a practitioner referral service and Chinese herbal information. Most associations have websites and are listed in local Yellow Pages directories, as are individual practitioners. If you can't find a herbalist try doing an online search, e.g. "chinese herbal medicine and (your city or town)".

While this article has covered some common Chinese herbal medicine FAQ there are of course others. If you have a question about Chinese herbal medicine ask Matthew Scott, below - Matthew was a TCM practitioner in Australia for ten years and will be glad to help. Please use the form below only if you want Chinese herbal information - for information about acupuncture, see this article and for background information on the traditional Chinese exercises and techniques on this site see this article.

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