Yong Luo O.M.D
Chinese Herbs Explained
Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine has been used for over three thousand years to treat various diseases . During these long years, generations of experts have accumulated a wealth of knowledge through long-term practices , repeated observations, and tastings. This knowledge of various drugs and its treatments combined with the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine formed the unique field of Chinese medical herbology and pharmacology. The vast majority of Chinese herbs are plants, which include roots , stems, leaves, and flowers. A small amount of Chinese herbs also include various crustaceans, minerals, and other animal parts.
The effectiveness of Chinese herbs can be explained in three aspects: its nature, its flavors, and its meridian tropism.
Nature of Chinese Herbs :
Chinese herbs are divided into four properties, also known as “ Four Qi” : cold, cool, hot, and warm. Among them, the cold and the cool are placed in one category, while the hot and the warm are placed in the opposite category. Additionally, there are differences in degrees between the cold and the cool, and the hot and the warm. Those herbs that make their recipients feel cool and refreshed by eliminating or alleviating the state of hyperfunction are in the cold/cool category . Conversely , those herbs that make their recipients feel warm by restoring or increasing their decreased bodily functions belong to the warm/hot category.
Under normal circumstances, the human body needs to produce both heating and cooling functions to maintain a constant body temperature . This regulation of the human body may suffer from imbalances caused by interferences from various internal and external factors resulting in various diseases. If the body's thermogenesis exceeds its cooling functions, fever and hyperfunction will result. Conversely, if the body's cooling functions exceeds its thermogenesis, chills and decline in bodily functions will result. The Four Qi is used to treat the body's diseases due to these cold/cool and hot/warm imbalances . Cold/cool herbs can inhibit the body 's excessive metabolism and slow its hyperfunction, therefore treating fever and related diseases. For example, herbs such as Huangqin and Banlangen are used to treat fever and sore throat. Hot/warm herbs can enhance the body's metabolism, promote the function of organs, and increase blood circulation . For example, herbs such as Fuzi and Ganjiang are used to treat body pains, chills, and poor circulation.
Five Flavors of Chinese Herbs:
Five flavors are pungent, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty tastes of herbs, representing their different effects. Additionally, tasteless and puckery flavors also belong to the five flavors.
Five flavors are determined by actual tasting and experience of clinical applications. Therefore, five flavors as a theory of herb properties are far beyond the concept of tasting sensations but closely linked to effects of the herbs. This explains that flavors recorded in books on Materia Medica are sometimes different from actual tasting sensations.
Pungent flavor has the effects of inducing diaphoresis, promoting flow of Qi and blood circulation. Pungent herbs include ephedra, purple perilla and peppermint with the effect of relieving the exterior syndrome by means of diaphoresis, aucklandia root, cyperus tuber and green tangerine orange peel with the effect of promoting flow of Qi and Chuanxion Rhizome, Chinese angelica root and safflower with the effect of improving blood circulation.
Sweet flavor has the effects of tonification, relieving spasm and gentling other herbs. Sweet herbs include astragalus root, prepared rehmannia root and polise antler with the effect of tonificatio, white peony root, liquorice and malt extract with the effect of relieving spasm and alleviating pain, and liquorice and Chinese date with the effect of gentling other herbs.
Sour flavor has the astringent effect of suppressing sweating, arresting bleeding, relieving diarrhea and controlling nocturnal emission. Sour herbs include white peony root and schisandra fruit with the effect of suppressing sweating, dogwood fruit with the effect of arresting bleeding for metrorrhagia, black plum with the effect of relieving diarrhea, and Chinese gall with the effects of reinforcing the kidney and controlling nocturnal emission.
Bitter flavor has the effects of eliminating dampness, lowering rebellious Qi , purging heat and relaxing the bowels. Bitter herbs include apricot kernel and lepidium seed with the effect of lowering the Qi and alleviating asthma, pinellia tuber and tangerine peel with the effects of lowering rebellious Qi and arresting vomiting, and rhubarb and unripened bitter orange with the effects of purging heat and relaxing the bowels.
Salty flavor has the effects of softening and resolving hard lumps to treat scrofula, subcutaneous nodule, mass in the abdomen, and other pathologically polyphaga. In addition, it is said that “salty herbs act on blood” and “salty herbs act on the kidney”. Therefore, some herbs with the effects of removing heat from blood and tonifying the kidney have salty taste.
In addition, tasteless flavor belongs to sweet with the effect of inducing diuresis to remove dampness. Tasteless herbs include poria and lophatherum. Puckery flavor belongs to sour and has the effect of astringency. Puckery herbs include dragon's bone and cuttle bone.
Natures and flavors reflect properties and the principle of applications in limited aspects. Therefore, only by combining natures with flavors can the properties be comprehensively grasped. For example, both scutellaria root and dried rehmannia root are cold with the effect of clearing heat and dampness, is indicated for damp-heat syndrome, while dried rehmannia root, sweet in flavor and cold in nature for clearing heat and nourishing the Yin, is indicated for Yin deficiency and interior heat syndrome. All the herbs for relieving exterior syndrome belong to pungent flavor. However, herbs pungent in flavor and warm in nature for relieving exterior syndrome are indicated for wind-cold type of common cold, while herbs pungent in flavor and cool in nature for relieving exterior syndrome are indicated for wind-heat type of common cold. Thus, it can be seen that natures and flavors are inseparably linked to each other.
Meridian Tropism of Chinese Herbs:
Chinese herbs have strong affinity to internal organs and meridians. Meridian Tropism means which area the Chinese herb acts on. The Chinese herb used to treat diseases of one meridian or several meridians is called acting on the meridian or the meridians. Accor ding to the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine , the human body surface is distributed into 14 main meridians . Most of the meridians are named after organs , such as the lung, liver , and heart meridians. Each meridian is named after the organ it belongs to. These meridians are able to communicate with both internal and external parts of the body . In other words, the surface lesion can affect the internal organs through meridians , and visceral lesions can also be reflected in the body's surface through meridians . Therefore, a complete understanding of the lesions can be obtained through the meridians by observing the symptoms in various parts of the body .
The following are examples of how herbs are used for different lesions:
Lesions in the lung meridian often display shortness of breath, asthma, cough, chest pain, and other symptoms. In general, herbs used to treat these symptoms belong to lung meridian tropism. These herbs include Sangbaipi , Zisuzi, and Xingren.
Lesions in the liver meridian often display symptoms of hypochondriac pain, convulsions , and spasms. Herbs belonging to liver meridian tropism such as Tianma and Gouteng are used to treat convulsions and spasms. ( According to Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the liver regulates the tendons and ligaments.)
Lesions in the heart meridian often display palpitations, chest tightness and pain , delirium, and other symptoms. Herbs belonging to heart meridian tropism such as Dansen and Tanxiang are used to treat chest pains.
In short, once the herb enters the body , it often shows outstanding results by inducing a particular effect in certain parts of the body, such as certain organs and meridians. Meridian Tropisim mainly indicates which herbs have significant therapeutic effects on certain organs and meridians.
Clinically, the practitioner often considers a combination of nature, flavor, and meridian tropisim in selecting herbs. For example, the herb Huangqin is used to treat a patient with cough, fever , and vomiting yellow mucus syndromes. Huangqin is cold in nature ( cold cures the fever ), bitter in flavor ( bitter purges the heat ), and it targets the lung Meridian ( lung meridian relates to the respiratory symptoms) . Therefore Huangqin is the appropriate herb when all three aspects are considered.
Due to the intricacy of diseases and patients' individual differences, a diversity of symptoms is often shown in clinical studies. Therefore, in the practical application of Chinese herbs , a formula of herbs is prescribed . The formula is a group of herbs, some of which target the main symptom for the disease , and some target the minor symptoms . Additionally, the formula serves to enhance therapeutic efficacy and to reconcile various tastes, making it for conducive to the patient taking the herbs. A formula usually includes several or a dozen different herbs.
Chinese herbs treat the diseases by mainly targeting pathogenic conditions. This treatment differs greatly with Western medications for it targets pathogenic factors. From the Traditional Chinese Medicine's point of view, a sick body does not only consist of bacteria and viruses. A more important consideration is the body's own state, or that the body's own internal environment for pathogens and the conditions for their survival and development . According to the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, "when the Genuine-Qi keeps itself inside the body, the Evil-Qi will be unable to attack. When the Evil-Qi gets a chance to attack the body, the body's Genuine-Qi must be weak.” Under normal circumstances, the human body, in a healthy state of balance, will maintain its own defense mechanisms. Therefore, the body will not become sick when faced with climate change or other abnormal factors. However, if the body is faced with pathogenic factors such as abnormal weather, anxiety, various bacteria, and virus for a prolonged time and in great amounts, the normal condition of the body can be broken. The body therefore gives pathogens a condition for survival and development. Bacteria and viruses can grow from tens of thousands to tens of millions under the right conditions. When a sufficient amount of pathogens is formed, it can harm the body, leading to disease. From the Western Medicine's point of view, these bacteria and viruses must be eliminated. From Traditional Chinese Medicine's point of view, one must eliminate the pathogens but more importantly one must change the environment that leads to the pathogens' survival and development. It is through its nature, flavors, and meridian tropisim that Chinese herbs achieve this ground.
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