Herbal medicine in China: an open market?
The science of herbs in China is one of the oldest and long-lasting healing systems in the world. It is an unavoidable part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Indeed, we can find the first traces of herbal medicine in China 5000 years ago, and it is still a type of health care commonly used nowadays by Chinese people, but also more and more around the world. The first book gathering this ancestral knowledge with herbal medicines was written under the Ming Dynasty (1152-1578) by Li Shi-Zhen, and listed around 2,000 different ingredients. Now, in the latest edition of The Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China, written in 1990, we can find more than 500 herbs and extracts, and nearly 300 complex formulations of herbal medicines.
Herbal medicine invisible forces
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, everything is interconnected and interdependent. The first main belief is that a vital energy, called “Qi”, circulates in the body and regulates our vital functions, and the second one consist in the existence of two opposite forces and manifestations of the “Qi” that make up existence and harmony: Yin and Yang. These two ideas are the basis of Herbal Medicine as well.
Each herb or extract has its own characteristics, related either to Yin, material, heavy, solid, cold, descending, dark and passive elements, or to Yang, immaterial, light, hollow, hot, ascending, bright and aggressive elements. The role of the practitioner is to restore the harmony within the body and the spirit, in order to maintain health, rather than treating a particular disease or medical condition.
Herbal medicine treatments and diagnosis
With an estimated 30,000 flowering plant spices, China possesses a diverse and rich flora to form the basis of Traditional Medicine. However, even if as indicated Chinese herbal medicines are mainly plant based, some preparations also include minerals or animal products. Thus, the term “medicinal” may be more suitable to describe the different ingredients. In China nowadays, more than 3,200 herbs and 300 mineral and animal extracts are used in more than 400 different formulas, which may contain 4 to 12 medicinal herbs, to be taken in the form of decoctions, powders, pills, lotions or syrups. In most of the herbal remedies of China, the formula is based on one or two main ingredients that has an effect on the targeted problem, when the other ingredients are targeting the other aspects of the symptom, helping the main herbs to work better or directing the formula to a precise part of the body.
Some of those herbs can be really common and most of the time used for cooking, as ginger, green tea, cinnamon or garlic, while others, such as peony flowers, ginseng or chrysanthemum, are less known by the population of China.
The herbal traditions also adapted to the modern life and modern practices of the Chinese medicine. Some substances are no longer used, for example the products that were derived from endangered species, which are now replaced by remedies with similar actions, but with less environmental consequences.
In Chinese Herbal Medicine, the traditional Chinese practitioner customizes every prescription. Even for the same type of illness, the required therapy may change from person to person. Before choosing a treatment, he will typically ask about symptoms and examine the patient, mostly focusing on the skin, hair, tongue, eyes, pulse, voice, and sometimes dreams, in order to detect imbalances in the body. The practitioner will then prescribe either a single medicinal herb, or a mixture of herbs, which take into account the individual therapeutic action of each herb and the effects when combined together. In addition, as condition changes or improves, the treatment needs to be adjusted and modified until the symptoms disappear completely.
An improved quality of life with herbal medicines
Herbal Medicine have been used in China for thousands of years to treat various types of diseases, such as hormone disturbances, infections, breathing disorders, common cold and influenza, chronic headaches, allergies, and others. Some practitioners claim that this type of medication has the power to treat a variety of cancers, or at least to minimise the unwanted effects of the standard cancer treatments. The goal is to improve the quality of life, and promote the well being of patients.
In addition, Chinese medicinal herbs can also be used as illness prevention, and enables to maintain general health, by strengthening immunity and enhancing normal body functions. In this way, herbs can be used to fight againstinsomnia and fatigue, loss of appetite and digestive difficulties, skin problems, anxiety, depression and stress or many other disorders.
After such a long history, practices of herbal medicine in China is still adapting to modern lives, completing latest medicine coming from the West. It is more and more used, as an alternative and complementary way of treatment all over the world. Herbal medicine in China is still far from haven’t delivered all its secrets.