Chinese Herbal Medicine
Gifts of Heaven and Earth
Chinese herbal medicine is easily the most highly evolved medical system in the world. Its immense scale of experience spans countless trillions of administrations over thousands of years.
Over 10,000 natural substances are catalogued in Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia. These substances, referred to as "herbs", consists of thousands of plant species from all over the world as well as both mineral and animal materials. Chinese herbs are most often taken in formulae (combinations of herbs) rather than singly. By combining herbs, synergies have been discovered that vastly increase the medicinal effects. Blending herbs in this way also allows the herbologist to neutralize unwanted side-effects. These blends (formulas) consist of principal herbs, assisting herbs, directional herbs, and herbs that reduce the side effects, or aid the digestion of a particular herb. Herbs can be ingested as boiled teas called decoctions (TANG), milled powders (SAN), pills (PIAN), tablets (WAN), granulated or tinctured extracts, or draughts (steeped like tea). Topically, herbs are used in poultices, plasters, soaks, ointments, washes, and fumigants (burning herbs).
The potent odors and flavors of Chinese herbs are legendary. Boiling the herbs and drinking the tea will provide the fullest experience of these medicines. Commonly, Chinese herbs are boiled in ceramic pots for 20 - 40 minutes, the dregs are strained out and the "tea" is taken warm or at room temperature. Boiling times are averaged according to the composition of the formula. Flower and leaf will yield medicine in 10-20 minutes. Roots take 20 to 40 minutes; Shells and minerals must cook for at least one hour. A few herbs, like mint or tangerine peel, must be quick-boiled 3-5 minutes lest they loose their valuable volatile oils. These are added separately to the boiling mixture just before completion.
The Chinese invented the pill. Chinese doctors were prescribing pills in the twelfth century, much as we do today. Ancient formulas were often prepared as pills made from milled herbs bound with water, honey, ginger juice, or other substances.
Therapeutic dosages of powders or pills range between 3 - 10 grams daily. That's usually three to thirty pills, two or three times a day. That may seem like a lot of pills to take. But it's really only a few grams of herb powder. Our body perceives, and responds to herbal medicine as it does to food, not as it does to a hyper-concentrated chemical. Herbs are like vegetables, very powerful vegetables.
The constituents of herbs can be extracted by water, alcohol, vinegar, glycerin, or chemical solvents. Most herbologists prefer to use low temperature water extractions rather than the standardized extractions used by Herbacuetical pill makers.
Simply soaking and herb in Alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin yield tinctures. They're easy to make and to take.