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Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese Herbal Medicine has been used for nearly the last 4000 years. Obviously through the passing years some of the ideas have changed radically. The Chinese first believed that disease was caused when their ancestors were not pleased. However, from about 1000 BC they believed that disease was a form of attack by demons. Because of this they used herbs in conjunction with their spells, incantations and rituals to exorcize these demons. Large, prosperous households use to have their own Herbalist, which they only paid when the household was healthy and due to this the herbalist was very concerned with preserving health, as opposed to purely treating disease.
Today, traditional Chinese medicine dates from the ‘Warring States’ era at around 476 - 221 BC and it was during this period that all of the main foundations were laid such as Yin and Yang, The five elements, Energetics and Flavours, Qi and Blood and the Eight Principles. Traditional Chinese medicine is a theoretical understanding of how the body works, how we are born, live, get sick, and then well again and finally die. The way that it is used is either through Herbs, diet, acupuncture or Qi Gong.
The theories of traditional Chinese medicine are:
Yin-Yang, which is the symbol of opposites. Not only are Yin and Yang opposite to each other, but also one cannot exist without the other. In health they are balanced, and when an individual becomes diseased this balance is lost, Yin and Yang adjust their relative levels to each other, even in disease, eg. If there is excess Yin then Yang correspondingly goes down. Chinese thought has always been fluid and this is expressed by there being no absolutes. Therefore in the symbol, in the Yang (white) side there is a dot of Yang and in the Yin (black) there is a dot of Yang. Yin was not associated with evil and Yang was not associated with good.
The Five Elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These elements represent many different ideas and they can each be related to a number of things and they also have an influence on each other in the following ways - Generation, Control, Over acting and Insulting.
Qi, Blood and Body Fluids, Qi is the basis of the Universe, it is substantial and/or Energetic at the same time, as is necessary. It transforms, transports, holds, raises, protects and warms. In the body Qi manifests differently according to its environment and purpose and it tends to be more associated with Yang. Blood, in the Chinese sense is somewhat dense and a slower moving form of Qi. Blood nourishes the body and moistens it, it is the substantial basis for the mind. Body fluids come from the food and drink that we take in. They help to moisten the skin and are transformed in waste fluids. Essence or Jing is a special form of Qi which controls birth, growth, development and reproduction.
Zang Fu are the internal organs, Zang means ‘Yin internal organs’ the cold, dark, night aspect and Fu means ‘Yang internal organs’ which are the warm, light, sunny aspect. The organs are paired Yin-Yang such as Lungs/Large intestine, Spleen/Stomach, the Heart/Small Intestine etc. The internal organs are very important in health and disease as an imbalance will lead to symptoms manifesting. The Zang Fu does not necessarily carry out the same functions as their counterparts in Western medicine and in reality with increasing analysis Chinese Herbs have been found to work in an understandable fashion, however the terminology is different.
The Eight Principles are Hot/Cold, Full/Empty, Interior/Exterior and Yin/Yang. They are used by the Herbalist to differentiate the disease and finely tune the medicines that are given. This type of approach is unique to Chinese Herbal Medicine as it allows the herbalists to give a more precise diagnosis and therefore a more accurate treatment.
Chinese diagnosis basis itself upon Looking, Hearing, Asking and Feeling. Looking, involves examining external signs such as skin conditions and facial appearance as well as the general demeanour of the patient. Hearing involves listening to what you are telling them as well as the sound of your breathing and digestion. Asking, is the most direct way for them to gain information and you will be asked a lot of questions. Feeling, is done by checking palpitation, sensations of hot and cold, moisture levels, etc and they are very important in reaching a correct diagnosis. The tongue is inspected for colour, shape, moisture level and coating. The pulse is usually taken in 3 different positions at 3 different levels in each wrists, there are a basic 28 different classifications of pulse that can be felt
Due to Chinese Herbal medicine being a holistic modality, it is quite likely that you will receive certain dietary advice and asked to exercise sensibly and think positively while taking the herbs and after you have been cured. This holistic approach is the most efficient and effective way to eliminate symptoms, bring the body back into balance, and strengthen the individual. Some of the conditions that have been very effectively treated are eczema, psoriasis and acne, digestive disturbances, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion and diverticulitis. Other conditions include respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous system and reproductive problems
There are thousands of herbs that can be used in Chinese medicine but only a fraction of them are used regularly by herbalists. Namely:
Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is a Qi tonic, it should not be taken within the first 48 to 72 hours of a cold or flu as it will make the symptoms worse, it can also raise blood pressure. It is taken at the correct time it will help to strengthen the spleen, benefit the heart, improve the lungs, calm the spirit and benefit the Yin. However, it is important to note that Ginseng is not applicable to all people of all ages at all times.
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) is regarded as being cooler than other Ginseng and it is used more to nourish the Yin, especially of the lungs. It has been used successfully in treating T.B., certain types of pneumonia and the HIV/AIDS syndrome.
Korean Ginseng is the hottest of the types of Ginseng, it should be used very carefully if there are any signs of heat manifesting itself in the body.
Dang Gui (Angelica chinensis) helps to tone the blood and regulate the menstrual cycle, it also invigorates and harmonizes the blood. It has also been found to quite useful in easing certain types of pain. It has also been used to help fertility and to move the bowels.
He Shou Wu (Polygonatum multiflorum), literally this herb is called ‘Black Haired Mr. He’ and as the name implies it has been used to keep the hair strong and to prevent greying, it also benefits the eyes, helps to stop skin irritation and helps move the bowels.
Wu Wei Zi (Schizandra chinensis) also known as ‘five flavoured seed’. If it is chewed, all five flavours are emanated, sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent. It helps stop coughs and wheezing, astringes sweating, calms the spirit and is a reputed sex tonic.
The Five Tastes
Earth gives rise to sweetness, which tonifies, harmonizes, repairs and nourishes. However an excess can amongst other things cause muscle weakness.
Metal gives rise to pungency, which disperses and move Qi and blood. An excess of metal can scatter Qi and should be avoided in Qi deficiency.
Water gives rise to saltiness which softens hardness and disperses knottedness. However an excess of water will dry the blood, and should therefore be avoided in blood deficiency.
Wood gives rise to sourness which astringes, gathers, contracts, firms and consolidates. An excess of wood will go to the nerves and it should be used sparingly if there is chronic pain.
Fire gives rise to bitterness which drains, descends, clears heat, purges and dries damp. An excess will go to the bones, so an excess should be avoided in bone disease.
The Four Energies
These are Hot, Warm, Cool and Cold. In hot diseases the herbalist cools and in cold diseases he warms. Foods are also categorized in this manner. Some hot or warm foods are beef, lamb, chocolate, coffee, chillies, peanut butter, deep fried food and pork. Cold or cool foods are almonds, chicken, duck, green tea, most fish, broccoli, water melon and cucumber.
taken from the Encyclopedia of Alternative Health and Natural Remedies.