Herbal therapy is a key component of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This system draws from a vast catalogue of remedies that have undergone over two thousand years of use, trial, error, improvement, and refinement.
Nowadays, about 600 herbs are in common usage with Chinese medicine practitioners, with most of these being plant-based and harvested from leaves, flowers, roots, stems, and seeds. Every herb, its unique properties, and how it interacts with different bodily conditions and combinations of treatment have been meticulously studied and organized under the greater Chinese medicine system. Almost 200 modern medicines have been developed using treatment knowledge accumulated from TCM practice, and scientists have continued to identify compounds found in effective Chinese herbs that can be isolated and used in the development of new medicinal drugs.
That said, herbs can also be made into pills, tablets, and capsules. They can also be applied externally and held into place in the form of tinctures, plasters, creams, and washes, which is often a good way to treat skin conditions or manage chronic pain. Finally, you can take the "raw" herbal materials and boil them in water to create a kind of tea, but this is less common in modern times.
Unlike pharmaceuticals, herbs are rarely prescribed in isolation by Chinese medicine practitioners. Instead, prescriptions usually contain about six to ten different herbs that are meant to be taken together. Practitioners choose from the large library of available options with careful consideration paid to not only what each substance does, but also how the herbs being combined will interact with each other. Prescriptions are also highly personalized, so that two people coming in with what seems like the same health concern may leave with two very different prescriptions because of how their bodies — and the many factors acting upon those bodies everyday, from co-morbid conditions to occupational exposures — can differ drastically.
Herbal preparations are meant to target the roots of problems as well as their surfaced symptoms, and this can mean tackling multiple symptoms and concerns at once. Since herbs are organic, they are generally gentle on the body and can result in fewer side effects than other treatment options.
How are herbs used or consumed?
Herbs can be administered in a number of different forms. Most commonly, they are made into powder-like, water-soluble granules so that all of the herbs in a prescription can be put in a cup and dissolved with hot water, resulting in a drinkable herbal tea. Since it's easy to prepare (kind of like making baby formula or instant mix coffee) and ingest herbs like this, most of our patients go with this option.