Herbs were the first medicinal substances. For millennia humans have turned to plants, animals and mineral substances for their medicinal and healing qualities. In the past herbs were tasted and their effects on the body, mind and spirit were observed. Over time the herbs became categorized based on the observed effects and their therapeutic value. In the Chinese herbal tradition, the most current materia medica discusses over 5,700 medicinal substances.
Like acupuncture, Chinese herbology treats organ functionality and restores the balance of the vital essences - qi, blood, yin, yang and jing - within a patient. Working with the diagnosed pattern of disharmony, herbal prescriptions are selected to compliment the overall treatment and restore balanced, healthy functioning.
In the world of herbology, Chinese herbal prescriptions are rather unique. When selecting herbs for a prescription, Chinese herbology considers the therapeutic functions as well as the flavors of the individual herbs and how they will intermix in the formula. Each flavor (sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, salty, bland) not only produces a specific therapeutic effect, it also correlates to a specific organ system.
Furthermore, Chinese herbal prescriptions tend to be combinations of multiple
herbs. The use of single herbs can often result in side effects as most
herbal substances affect multiple systems within the body. Combining herbs
into formulas allows Chinese herbalists to moderate the harsher aspects
of any one herb, thereby protecting the patient. Also, herbs can be added
to a prescription in order to treat a wider variety of symptoms.
This specificity allows Chinese herbal prescriptions to be highly customized, tailored to fit the specific pattern of each individual patient.
Chinese herbal prescriptions come in many shapes and sizes. Traditionally, the raw herbs are boiled in water, then the water is consumed as a tea. While many modern practitioners still prescribe the raw herbs, most patients will receive prepared formulas in either tablet or capsule form.