An Introduction to Chinese Medicine Part II: Herbology

By Christina Morris, L.Ac.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is becoming a more popular form of medicine in the United States. A growing number of people find themselves searching for natural approaches to medicine and preventative healthcare. Traditional Chinese Medicine is composed of three main forms of practice including: acupuncture, herbology, and oriental massage. This article will focus on herbology.

Herbology is widely used all over the world, including Europe, Asia, Central and South America, Australia, Canada, and the United States. In China, 80% of Traditional Chinese Medicine patients are treated with herbs for illnesses. Chinese pharmacopeia is one of the most extensive in the world. Many western health care practitioners are becoming more accepting of herbs for certain health conditions. Herbs are an effective form of treatment for many diseases and can be safely used in conjunction with western treatments. Certain herbs, however, should not be mixed with particular western medications, these interactions should be addressed by the practitioner. When prescribed by a knowledgeable herbologist, herbs are safe and have few, if any side effects.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, herbs are carefully selected to correct imbalances within the body and are prescribed depending on the individual’s TCM diagnosis. To find the appropriate herbal formula the practitioner must first perform an appropriate intake profile including a medical history, observation of the tongue, and palpation of the pulse. Western medications often control the symptoms of an illness but do not alter the disease process. Herbology, when used properly, can treat the underlying conditions that cause a particular illness or health condition. Herbs may work slower than western medications in alleviating symptoms; this is because they focus on the root of a condition.

Traditional Chinese Medicine uses herbs which include roots, stems, leaves, flowers, bark, fruits, beans, seeds, nuts, grains, vegetables, minerals, and sometimes animal parts. Each herb has different properties that affect the flow of energy in the body. These properties include different temperature and taste qualities, and the capability to affect or enter certain meridians. The actions and indications of each herb are determined by their specific properties. In Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs are usually combined in formulas that maximize each herb’s function and are dependent on the TCM diagnosis of the individual. Choosing the correct formula is considered an art in China. Formulas consist of two or more herbs and can be taken in many different forms including: decoctions, tinctures, powders, pills, and external liniments and plasters.

Currently, people often attempt to self diagnose ailments and try to treat themselves with herbal supplements, bought from heath food stores or ordered over the internet. In these situations, herbal products are often sold with little to no regard to the patient. Herbology is an extensive form of study. For the best results, it is important to consult a qualified practitioner for herbal advice. The patient’s medical history, constitution and current medications must be addressed when choosing the appropriate herbal supplements. An herb that may be good for one patient can be contraindicated for another.

The state of New York does not require herbal practitioners to have a license to practice herbology. Laws vary from state to state. The NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) certifies practitioners in Chinese herbology. When searching for a practitioner of Chinese herbology in New York, it is advisable to find out if they are certified by the NCCAOM. It is important to feel comfortable with you herbal practitioner.