1-2-3 Acupuncture and Health Center

1. Introduction

2. Chinese Herbal Medicine Theory

3. How Do Chinese Herbs Work

4. An Example

5. Processing Of Herbs



1. Introduction

In the course of your treatment with Traditional Chinese Medicine, you may be prescribed an herbal supplement. Herbs are a variety of naturally found products that have medicinal properties that add to the healthful benefits of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese treatments.

Herbal formulas can be taken in a variety of ways. You may be prescribed raw herbs. You will take them home, and following simple instructions, steep these herbs into a tea to be drunk at home. Although we call it "tea," some patients find the taste to be a little less than "delicious." For this reason, many practitioners also offer herbal supplements in pill and capsule form. Herbal formulas tend to be created for a single patient and their specific pattern of disharmony.


2. Chinese Herbal Medicine Theory

Chinese herbs are selected and combined in formulas based on principles that have no relation whatsoever to bio-chemistry. Before reading the principles that comprise Chinese Herbal Medicine Theory take note of these words of caution. Please donít prescribe or recommend Chinese herbs for yourself or others. Especially if you are pregnant, itís imperative that you consult a professional before taking any herbs. 1)Without training and experience you will most probably not get the relief you seek. 2)You may make yourself more uncomfortable. 3)There are a handful of Chinese herbs that are dangerous when not used according to classical principles. 

Dang Gui - Angelica Root is a good example. Itís being advertised as ďThe Womanís Herb? ďUsed for centuries in China for womenís health problems? Thatís true but it certainly isnít the whole story. Which ďwomenís health problem?do you have? If youíre having irregular or no periods Dang gui - Angelica will probably be helpful because it nourishes and moves blood. If youíre spotting blood during pregnancy donít take Dang Gui - Angelica because it can cause miscarriage by itís action of moving blood. Increasing the risk is the fact that there are three other forms of Angelica and all have different herbal actions. Which one do you take?

The vast majority of herbal treatments use formulas containing four or more herbs. Only a few herbs are used by themselves alone. There are several reasons for this. 
1. To strengthen the effect of the formula. 
2. To affect related secondary aspects of the illness. 
3. To prevent the formula from causing side effects or illness by balancing itís effects. 
One commonly used format or template for designing herbal formulas is based on the monarchical form of government. At the top is the king or emperor. Next are the ministers or deputies. Last are the assistants or adjutants. There is one special role assistant - that of guide or messenger herb. A memory trick to remember this template is to consider it as radio station KMAG.
Any herb can fill any of these roles. Which role depends on which herbal formula the herb is used in.

They roles work together in these ways:
King Herb - The herb which is directed to and has the strongest effect on the most important imbalance/pathology
Minister Herb - This herb is directed to the main imbalance/pathology and to the secondary imbalance/pathology
Assistant Herb - there are three types: 
1) Helpful Assistant - strengthens the effect of the King
2) Corrective Assistant - reduces or eliminates the harsh or toxic 
effects of the King and/or Minister herbs
3) Opposing Assistant - decreases the effect of the King. This role is mostly used for complex combinations of imbalances/pathologies.
Guide - Envoy - Messenger Herb - focuses actions of the other herbs on a particular organ, channel or region of the body.

The KMAG template is possibly the dominant method of designing a formula but several others have been very important and are in common use today. 


3. How Do Chinese Herbs Work?

Western science has, in the case of some of the Chinese herbs, been able to track down the active ingredient that affects the health of the patient. Ephedrine, the active ingredient in the Chinese herb Ma Huang is an excellent example. However, most Chinese herbs are unexplored territory from the perspective of Western science.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the office of Alternative Medicine (OAM), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are currently wrestling with the best way to regulate Chinese herbal remedies.

There is, however a great wealth of knowledge about herbs from the Chinese perspective. The Chinese describe what they understand about herbs as "energetics."


4. An example of Energetics

Let's say that you're suffering from arthritis that is aggravated by humidity or rain. From the Chinese perspective, that would be an invasion of cold and damp into the acupuncture meridians, or freeways of energy within the body. Sometimes this cold and damp will lodge in the joints and this is what we, in the Western world, call Arthritis.

There are, however, certain plants that are very comfortable living in cold and damp environments. They have a natural defense against excessive cold and damp weather. There is one in particular that is called Hai Tong Pi. This translates to Sea Vine Bark. There is, in this bark, the necessary energetics required to keep this plant that lives near the sea, free from constant invasion of cold and damp air. Ingesting the bark in the form of tea will provide those who suffer from arthritis the same relief from the pain associated with an internal invasion of cold and damp as is enjoyed by Hai Tong Pi.

No doubt there is some active ingredient involved in Hai Tong Pi, perhaps erythraline, or a combination of its known ingredients, but generally, the research on the specifics has not yet happened. Until then, it is a healthy mental exercise to look at pathology from the Chinese perspective. Walking away from any problem and coming back fresh to see it differently is the source of multitudes of creative and beneficial solutions to the problems of individuals and society. The Chinese perspective on health provides us with that new way of seeing problems of health, and creative new ways of healing. Practitioners, or practitioners in training, such as myself, must remember that it is more important to heal the patient, than be able to explain how it was done.


5. Processing of Herbs

Chinese herbal medicines are used internally and externally. For both types herbs can be prepared by water or alcohol extraction, baking, boiling, frying, or grinding.

A traditional herb boiling pot. The protrusion on the right is a handle for lifting and pouring. The one on the left is hollow and vents steam during boiling. The lid is removable for access to the inside.

Internal formulas are prepared as powders, teas (AKA decoctions), extracts, and pills. Powders are most often taken as drafts (stirring the powder into water and drinking the mix) or large gummy pills (6-9g) made by mixing in honey. Teas are boiled from 10 minutes to an hour. Extracts are made with water or alcohol or oil. Pills are made with both traditional and modern processes. 

External types are liniments, powders, extracts, pastes or salves, and plasters. Often herbs are ground and mixed with a binder, such as sesame oil, to make the salve or paste andthen used in this form. Plasters were made by applying the paste to leaves or other material suitable for use against the skin. Modern commercially prepared plasters usually have adhesive to hold them in place. External formulas are used for bruises, sprains, open wounds, burns and swellings and other dermatological conditions.



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1-2-3 Acupuncture and Health Center

4666 El Camino Real
Los Altos, CA 94022

(650) 949-2339
3700 Thomas Road, Suite 215
Santa Clara, CA 95054

(408) 727-1227