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 45 minutes to cook a decoction, and in most cases, patients are required to drink 1-2 cups of herbal decoctions per day. Pills, powder granules, and capsules are more convenient as no cooking is required.
No, not always. 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 in depth 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.
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.