Herbs have been used in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. Herbs could be in the form of dried plants, leaves, flowers, barks, twigs, roots, seeds, fruits, and sometimes animal products or minerals. Each herb has their own medicinal function and when combined together, they work as an herbal formula. In an herbal formula, herbs that are combined together will have a mutual effect on each other, either taking a supporting role to increase the overall effect, or an inhibiting role to counter another herb’s unnecessary side effect. Chinese herbs can help speed up the healing process because they are taken daily. Herbs may be used in addition to acupuncture or they can be used alone.
Herbs can be taken as a decoction (liquid tea), pill, powder granules, or capsules. Decoctions, which consists of loose herbs combined together in an herbal formula and cooked in water to extract a tea, are the most potent in their effects. On average, it usually takes a total of 25-30 minutes to cook a decoction, and in most cases, patients are required to drink 1 cup of herbal decoction per day.
For those who do not have time to cook the herbs or do not like tasting the decoctions, then powder granules put into capsules is a better option. Powder Granules can come from directly powdering the herbs or from modern methods used by Herbal Companies that extract the herbs’ active ingredients into granules. Powder Granules are convenient to take but may be less potent than the decoctions.
Pills are also another option for taking herbs. Because pills are more moderate in action than decoctions, they are usually prescribed for conditions where it is best to build one’s energy moderately over a longer period of time. Certain herbal formulas are best taken in pill form than in a decoction form as these may require more long term use.
No. Most people have the impression that since herbs are natural, then they are safe. Actually, herbs are prescribed in Chinese Medicine just as Western Medicine prescribes medication. Herbs have different properties, functions, and some may be toxic. Some herbs when used incorrectly may cause symptoms to get worse. Herbal Prescriptions require a very indepth understanding of how the herbs function as a single herb and together with other herbs, as well as its correlation with principles of Chinese Medicine, therefore, it is not recommended to take herbs on your own.
Below are some herbs that have been misused as dietary supplements:
Aloe Vera – misused as a dietary supplement to enhance the digestive system. It can used for a short period to relieve inflammation of the digestive tract, however, long term use of Aloe Vera will cause digestive problems.
Ephedra – misused as weight loss and energy boosting supplement. This herb was taken off the US markets due to this misuse causing health problems. In Chinese Medicine, Ephedra(Ma Huang) is an herb used to open the pores for those who do not sweat and to treat asthma. It was not intended for long term usage.
According to Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director at The Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon, most herbs are grown without pesticide. This is because a large number of Chinese herbs are collected wild or have a natural resistance to pathogenic organisms and insects. Mayway Trading Company, a large supplier of Chinese herbs in the U.S., has tested a large number of batches of herbs for pesticide residues and have found none. However, a small portion of herbs are grown in pesticide, but detectable levels of pesticide contamination are not found.
Since the late 1990s, there have been reports that Chinese herbal products and patents were contaminated by heavy metals. These concerns were aimed at patented formulas from China. In these patents, metals such as cinnabar were intentionally added to improve the efficacy of the formula. Herbs manufactured in the U.S. or Western countries do not add metal compounds to the patent formula. Chinese herbal manufacturers are aware of these concerns and have started to clean up their manufacturing practices. There now exists some Chinese herbal manufacturers that produce patents free of heavy metals. According to Dr. Dharmananda, lead contents found in imported manufactured herbal formulas is generally very low, and almost always meets the World Health Organization standard of not more than 3 parts per million.
How Clean and Pure are Chinese Herbs?