Ultimate guide to herbs used in Chinese Traditional Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine originated in ancient China more than 3000 years ago and has evolved over time. Although it has always been an important healthcare practice in China, over the past few decades, it has grown in popularity in the Western world as well. This traditional health system uses Chinese herbs for medicinal purposes, and it relies on many mind and body related practices to prevent and to treat health problems.

South-Asian medicinical herbs

Herbal medicine is a major component of this traditional medical practice. It is designed to use a plant’s seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, or flowers for medicinal purposes. The therapeutic activity of a plant relies on its complex chemical nature; therefore, different herbs have their distinct properties and act in different ways to restore the body’s balance and health. Users of this traditional medicine report improvements in symptoms and scientific studies have shown promising health benefits. However, precautions and safety issues need to be taken into account to ensure the safe use of this compounds in therapeutics.

 

Table of contents

  1. Introduction to East-Asian traditional medicine
  2. What is Chinese herbal medicine?
  3. Benefits of medicinal plants
  4. Exhaustive list of Chinese herbs
  5. Dieting and recipes
  6. Safety recommendations
  7. Other East-Asian techniques
  8. Conclusion

What is East-Asian traditional medicine and how it works?

Oriental medicine is a term that encompasses diverse medical premises and procedures developed and practiced in the Far East – including China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam – each one having distinctive features of its own. Traditional Chinese Medicine is probably the most prominent of these Asian medical systems, having an extensive body of literature and research supporting it.

Let’s take a look first at a concise infographic on TCM.

TCM infographic

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine comprises an old set of practices from China that differ from the conceptual basis of Occidental medicine, developed under the belief that the processes of the human body are entirely correlated and connected to the environment.

An important concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine is the concept of yin and yang. In this approach, all things, including the body, are composed of opposing forces called yin and yang. According to the principles of Chinese Traditional Medicine, health is dependent on the balance of these forces, and their practices focus on maintaining the yin and yang balance to maintain optimal health.

In conclusion, health and wellness are the results of correctly balancing your body’s opposing forces. There is a natural harmony that exists within the organs and your body’s energy system, and when one or more areas lose this kind of balance, illness and disease can emerge.

The evolution of Traditional Chinese Medicine through the years

What is chinese traditional medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine existed for more than 3,000 years and has been used by Chinese people from ancient times. Over the years, it has evolved into a sophisticated medical system with its perception of anatomy, physiology, pathology and therapeutics.

These practices used to take part exclusively of Chinese communities and remained relatively unknown to other countries until the early 1970’s, when several people migrated from China to the United States, bringing the knowledge which has passed through generations in their country.
The rise and evolution of Western medicine in the 19th century outdated some of the principles of Chinese Traditional Medicine. However, during the latter part of the 20th century, increasing interest in self-care and the desire to capture the wisdom of traditional healing techniques resulted in an enormous growth in its popularity. By the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Traditional Chinese Medicine was practiced not only in China but also in countries worldwide.

Today, Traditional Chinese Medicine is practiced throughout the whole world. Many doctors from China migrated for other countries to offer their professional services to people who search for new ways of complementing their healthcare system, reaching an average number of 14,000 practitioners only in the United States.

Differences between Western and Asian medical practices

Natural path to healing

Because Traditional Chinese Medicine differs from Western medical practice both in diagnosis and treatment methods, it is not easy to apply Western scientific standards to it. The real goal of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s treatments is based on the knowledge that the body contains the ability to heal itself and that prevention is the best cure. Therapeutic interventions seek primarily to correct internal imbalances rather than to treat symptoms alone.

Traditional Chinese Medicine follows the principle that there is not only a single factor related to an illness, and there is a need to consider the individual as a whole. Instead of looking at the signs and symptoms and then treating the disease, the practitioner looks at the whole picture, from lifestyle to physical stress, to prescribe the right treatment. Therefore, when the body is out of balance, the purpose is to treat the whole body which is affected by the illness and not only the organ that is causing the symptoms.

The main reason why Westerners are turning to Chinese medical practices is not dissatisfaction with conventional medicine, but rather the belief that combining Chinese and Western medicine is capable of providing more health benefits than Western conventional medicine alone.

What is Chinese herbal medicine?

The heritage of Chinese medicine is quite rich, and it relies on ancient books written by practitioners, containing several decades of personal experience. Along the years, Traditional Chinese Medicine has identified and classified the essential properties of thousands of herbs and how they act. The Chinese consistently refer to their herbal remedies as being “the product of two thousand years of the people’s struggle against disease.” Herbal medicine practitioners understand how different herbs work and prescribe them to help the body restore its natural balance and health. Herbs are also used as a preventative action to boost immune function and promote general wellbeing before any disease occurs.

Dried roots, leaves, seeds and flowers

The Chinese book Materia Medica, written in 1578, is regarded as the most complete and comprehensive reference book used by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. It describes thousands of herbal substances, primarily plants, but also some minerals and animal products. Different parts of these plants, such as the leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and seeds, are used for medical purposes. In Chinese medicine, herbs are often combined in formulas and prescribed as teas, capsules, liquid extracts, granules, or powders.

The use of herbs for medicinal use is viewed as an integral part of traditional culture in many communities. It is estimated that up to four billion people (representing 80% of the world’s population) living in the developing world rely on herbal products as a primary source of healthcare. Herbal compounds are globally used in vitamins and natural supplements. Despite the benefits of the use of herbs for medical purposes, it is important to understand the basis of herbal medicine and to recognize that the misuse of certain herbs can have negative outcomes on health.

Differences between the use of drugs in Western medicine and herbs in Chinese medicine

From an ancient period, herbal medicines have been used worldwide for various therapies purposes. However, due to the availability of chemical analysis methods in the early 19th century, scientists started to extract and modify active compounds from herbs, resulting in a transition from raw herbs to synthetic pharmaceuticals.

Nowadays, in the pharmaceutic industry, many of the new drugs and active ingredients of medicines derive from natural products, through the isolation of biologically active compounds from plants. On the other hand, Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that it is important to use the whole plant instead of extracting only the active ingredients, based on the assumption that whole plants act on the body in a complex, balanced, homeostatic, physiological way, differently from synthetic drugs.

Balance of medical principles

Plants contain several physiologically active chemical compounds, such as alkaloids, coumarins, glycosides, tannins, anthraquinones, saponins, flavones; that can be studied in the same way as drugs. However, when the whole plant is used, it has a different effect from a single isolated active constituent of a plant.

Traditional Chinese Medicine’s practitioners use various herbs in combination. In a formula, plants of different potency combined may theoretically produce a greater result, as compared to the individual use of a plant and also to the sum of their individual effect. This phenomenon is known as synergism. Certain pharmacological actions of active constituents of herbs are significant only when potentiated by that of other plants, but not evident when used alone. Due to synergism, use of these combined formulas confers some benefits which are not available in a single herbal formulation.

Uses and benefits of Chinese herbal medicine

Herbal medicine can be very useful for treating or relieving symptoms of many different illnesses. The primary health concerns driving the search for these alternative methods are chronic pain, musculoskeletal problems, and mood disturbances. Besides providing relief for a broad range of mild health disorders, Chinese herbal medicine may also be used to enhance body functions, improve vitality, boost the immune system and promote general well-being and disease prevention.

Chinese herbal medicine is used for the treatment or prevention of some of the following conditions:

  • Skin care: eczema, psoriasis, acne, rosacea, urticaria
  • Gastrointestinal disorders: irritable bowel syndrome, constipation
  • Gynecological conditions: pre-menstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Respiratory conditions: coughs, allergies
  • Rheumatological or muscular conditions
  • Psychological problems: depression, anxiety, mood swings

Chinese medicinal formulations can be prepared in several different ways:

  • Infusions: An herbal tea infusion, also called tisane, is the most familiar and basic form of herbal remedies. It is made through submerging herbs in boiling water and allowing them to steep for 15 minutes or longer
  • Decoctions: In herbal medicine, decoctions are usually made to extract fluids from hard plant materials (barks, roots or stems). The plant material is mashed first to allow maximum dissolution, and then boiled in hot water for 20 minutes or longer to extract its active chemical ingredients.
  • Tinctures: tincture is a solution that has alcohol as a solvent. It is made by soaking herbs in water and alcohol to extract and preserve the active ingredients. In herbal medicine, alcoholic tinctures are made with various ethanol concentrations.
  • Infused oils: It is a simple process of infusing a plant material into oil. A fresh or dried herb is infused into a carrier oil through heating so that its volatile compounds can be transferred into the oil, giving it flavor and scent.
  • Creams: A cream is a topical preparation, usually for application to the skin. Herbal creams are semi-solid emulsions of oil and water, combined with herbal materials.
  • Ointments: ointments are also topic preparations made from herbs combined with either oil or fat, but they have a higher concentration of oil compared to creams, creating an effective barrier against moisture loss.

It is important to note that herbal remedies cannot replace conventional treatments in many cases and that not all herbs are safe for human ingestion. For a safe use of herbal remedies, it is recommended to consult a certified practitioner that can evaluate what might be appropriate for you according to your health condition.

Herbs used in Traditional Chinese medicine

Categories

Chinese herbs are classified into many different categories. Within each category, there are many different herbs meant to alleviate specific conditions. Although there are thousands of traditional herbal formulas designed for several health conditions, the Traditional Chinese practitioner creates a unique formula combining different herbs for each patient, according to his health and physical condition, making each formulation highly individualized.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are thousands of plants listed for medical purposes. Here is a short list of some of the most common Chinese herbs used in medicine:

Ginseng

Ginseng roots

Latin name: Panax ginseng

Family: Araliaceae

Parts used: Roots

Asian ginseng is one of the most valuable medicinal products in traditional Chinese medicine. It is native to the Far East, including China, Japan, and Korea, and has been used as a traditional medicine in East Asian countries for at least 2,000 years. In 1610, ginseng came to Europe via the Netherlands, and it was regarded as a very expensive and valuable herbal substance at the beginning of the 19th century.

Panax Ginseng has been used in Eastern Asia traditionally as a tonic for cases of tiredness, weakness and decreased mental and physical capacity. The root contains saponins, commonly referred to as ginsenosides that are thought to contribute to the herb’s medicinal properties. So far, from the roots of Panax ginseng, about 50 ginsenosides have been identified. Many active compounds can be found in all parts of the plant, including amino acids, alkaloids, phenols, proteins, polypeptides, and vitamins B1 and B2.

There are two distinct forms of Panax ginseng, red and white ginseng. The difference is the method of processing that results in different pigment compositions: white ginseng is produced by harvesting the root and drying it in the sun; red ginseng is steamed after harvest and dried. The content of ginsenoside in each form differs slightly. Growing time also impacts ginsenoside content: roots from plants older than five years are more potent than roots from one to two-year-old plants. Ginseng root can be chewed or taken as a powder, a liquid extract, decoction, or infusion.

Nowadays, Panax ginseng is used worldwide as a dietary supplement to improve general well-being, boost the immune system and decrease fatigue. Ginsenosides have been demonstrated to show neurotrophic effects in concentration, memory, and learning, as well as having a neuroprotective effect that might slow down the aging process. It is also used for other health problems such as respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disorders, depression, anxiety, erectile dysfunction, and menopausal hot flashes.

Despite the fact that numerous clinical studies investigating the pharmacological properties of Panax ginseng have been conducted, scientific data is still inconclusive regarding its clinical efficacy. However, Panax ginseng preparations have been used worldwide for many years, and so far no serious adverse events are known. Adverse effects reported from clinical trials are mild and mainly gastrointestinal or sleep related, including stomach discomfort, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, headache, and insomnia. Dermatological hypersensitivity reactions like urticaria and itching have also been described.

In conclusion, regarding the prevalent use of Panax ginseng and the information of clinical trials, short-term use of Asian ginseng is considered to be safe. No particular safety concerns arise and moderate consumption up to three months is recommended.

The risk of interactions between Panax ginseng and medications is believed to be low, but it appears to modestly lower blood-glucose levels and may, therefore, potentiate the blood-glucose-lowering effects of oral antidiabetics. Additionally, Panax ginseng contains antiplatelet components and may interact with anticoagulant medication such as warfarin. If you have coagulation problems, consult your health care provider before using Panax ginseng.

Did you know that…

  • …Panax is derived from the word “panacea,” which means a cure for all diseases and a source of longevity, as well as physical strength and resistance.
  • …The root of Panax ginseng is a solid structure that resembles a human-like form, which is responsible for its name in Chinese, Jen Shen, or “man-root”.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba leaves

Latin name: Ginkgo biloba

Family: Ginkgoaceae

Parts used: leaves

Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living tree species in the world and has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In spite of being originally native to China, it is now cultivated worldwide. This large tree may live over 1000 years and reach 40 m of height.

Ginkgo extract is made from the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree and has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries to treat circulatory disorders, asthma, tinnitus, vertigo, and cognitive problems. Today, Ginkgo biloba is one of the most common phytomedicines used in alternative medicine globally, as a mild vasoactive and neuroprotective supplement. Ginkgo is typically taken orally – in capsules, tablets, or teas – but may also be available in liquid extracts. It is also used topically in cosmetics as an anti-inflammatory.

Terpenoids, flavonoids, and proanthocyanidins are thought to be responsible for the pharmacological properties of this plant. Ginkgo is used to improve cognitive function in cases of dementia and memory loss, and it has been investigated for use in the treatment or prevention of Alzheimer’s disease since it has been shown to inhibit beta-amyloid deposition. The ginkgolides are thought to possess antiplatelet and anti-inflammatory properties, and it has been used for tinnitus, asthma, cerebrovascular and peripheral vascular disorders, and to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness.

The unprocessed ginkgo leaf contains ginkgolic acids that are toxic. Ginkgo biloba seeds contain toxic constituents: ginkgotoxin (4-O-methylpyridoxine) and ginkgolic acids. Fresh (raw) or roasted ginkgo seeds can be poisonous and are considered unsafe to eat.

Although there have been a lot of studies on the possible health effects and risks of Ginkgo biloba use, there’s still no conclusive evidence that it is helpful for any health condition. However, for healthy adults, ginkgo appears to be safe when taken orally in moderate amounts.

The most frequent side effects of ginkgo may include headaches or dizziness, gastrointestinal problems, and allergic skin reactions. However, its anti-blood-clotting effect might be responsible for significant clinical problems. Ginkgo biloba has been associated with platelet, bleeding and clotting disorders, and there are isolated reports of severe adverse reactions after its concurrent use with antiplatelet drugs such as aspirin, clopidogrel, and ticlopidine. Avoid using ginkgo together with other drugs or supplements that can also affect blood-clotting, or before a surgery procedure.

Did you know that…

  • …The Ginkgo biloba tree, also called maidenhair or kew tree, is regarded as a “living fossil” and is the only living representative of the Ginkgoaceae family.
  • …Fossils of the Ginkgo biloba tree have been dated back as far as 250 million years.

Ginger

Ginger roots

Latin name: Zingiber officinale

Family: Zingiberaceae

Parts used: Fresh or dried roots

Ginger is a tropical plant with green-purple flowers and a fragrant rhizome. this plant has been widely cultivated throughout the humid tropics (Cambodia, China, India, Vietnam and tropical Asia), and Indians and Chinese are believed to have produced ginger as a tonic root for over 5000 years to treat several ailments.

Ginger was used as a flavoring agent long before history was formally recorded. It was an exceedingly important article of trade and was exported from India to the Roman Empire, where it was especially valued for its medicinal properties.

Nowadays, ginger is used in numerous forms, including fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallized, candied, and powdered or ground. Its flavor is peppery and slightly sweet, with a strong and spicy aroma. It is widely used as a flavoring or fragrance in foods, beverages, soaps, and cosmetics. However, it is not only an extremely popular dietary condiment used for flavoring food, but also a herb that has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years.

The constituents of ginger vary depending on whether fresh or dried forms are used. Generally, ginger rhizomes contain volatile oils of which zingiberene and bisabolene are major components: zingerone, zingiberol, zingiberenol, curcumene, camphene and linalool are minor components. The rhizomes also contain gingerols and their derivatives. Shogaols are formed from gingerols during drying, and together these make up the pungent principles of ginger.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dried ginger has been purported to exert a variety of powerful therapeutic and preventive effects. It has been used for thousands of years for the treatment of several ailments, such as stomach ache, diarrhea, and nausea. In fact, ginger comprises hundreds of bioactive compounds and metabolites that appear to accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract, exerting many of its effects in this area, reason why both fresh and dried ginger are mainly used to settle the stomach, to alleviate the symptoms of motion sickness and to relieve morning sickness.

Besides being an anti-nausea compound, ginger also acts as an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, helping to decrease inflammation, swelling, and pain. Ginger has been suggested to be effective against inflammation in osteoarthritis and rheumatic conditions. Furthermore, it has antimicrobial potential, which can help in treating infectious diseases.

Ginger is believed to be safe but, for some people, it can cause mild side effects such as abdominal discomfort, heartburn or diarrhea. Some experts recommend that people with gallstone disease use caution with ginger because it may increase the flow of bile.

Research has not yet shown whether ginger interacts with medications, but there are isolated cases of ginger increasing the response to anticoagulant treatment with warfarin and related drugs.

Did you know that…

  • … In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the value of a pound of ginger was equivalent to the cost of a sheep.
  • …Queen Elizabeth I of England is credited with the invention of the gingerbread man, which became a traditional Christmas treat.

Wolfberry

Wolfberry fruits

Latin name: Lycium barbarum

Family: Solanaceae

Parts used: Fruit

Wolfberry and goji berry are synonyms for one of the best-known berries in China, which was believed to have remarkable health benefits and to be harmless to humans. It grows naturally throughout the northern and western regions of China, and when cultivated, the plant can reach a height of about 2 m. Most of the wolfberry fruit produced is dried in the sun and, in China, dried berries are consumed as a natural part of the diet. Dried wolfberry is a common ingredient in commercial food products, supplements, and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is frequently added to soups, hot pots, and herbal teas, and is also popularly soaked in wines alone or together with other ingredients.

Wolfberry is mainly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine in herbal teas for weight control, anti-aging, and liver and kidney protection. It is rich in antioxidants and vitamins, and its consumption has been related for centuries by Chinese doctors and consumers to a perceived benefit to vision. It contains betaine, which is a known liver protectant but can also be used to induce menstruation.

Wolfberry has an estrogen-mimicking effect, so it should not be used by people who are pregnant or have diseases that are sensitive to estrogen.

Did you know that…

  • …Wolfberry is the richest natural source known of zeaxanthin, a potent lipophilic antioxidant which is concentrated within the central macula of the human retina.

Chinese Cinnamon

Chinese cinnamon bark and leaves

Latin name: Cinnamomum cassia

Family: Lauraceae

Parts used: bark, leaves, or twigs

Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the bark of the Cinnamomum cassia tree, native to Southeast Asia, especially in China and Vietnam. It is one of the most popular natural spices and flavoring agents in many parts of the World.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, cinnamon is used in capsules, teas, and extracts, as a carminative for digestive disorders such as diarrhea, flatulent colic or dyspepsia. The essential oil obtained by steam distillation of the leaves and twigs of Cinnamomum cassia possess a powerful antibacterial effect against a wide spectrum of pathogenic bacteria.

Major constituents in cinnamon include cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, terpinene, α-pinene, carvacrol, linalool, safrole, benzyl benzoate, and coumarin. Cinnamon contains varying amounts of coumarin, which might cause or worsen liver disease. In most cases, it doesn’t have enough coumarin to exert toxicity, but individuals with liver disease should avoid taking cinammon in a large amount, since it might worsen their condition.

It has been suggested that cinnamon may interfere with the control of diabetes by conventional antidiabetic drugs, but controlled studies do not appear to support this suggestion. It is contraindicated in fever and pregnancy.

Did you know that…

  • …The Portuguese found cinnamon trees growing in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) during the early 16th century, subsequently importing cinnamon to Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.
  • …Cinnamomum cassia is reported to be the second most important spice sold in the United States and European markets.

Turmeric

Turmeric rhizomes

Latin Name: Curcuma longa

Family: Zingiberaceae

Parts used: Rhizomes

The medicinal use of turmeric dates back nearly 4000 years. It is widely used as a spice in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, as a cosmetic or herbal medicine. In Southeast Asia, turmeric is used not only as a principal spice but also as a component in religious ceremonies. Historically, turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for many conditions, including breathing problems, rheumatism, serious pain, and fatigue.

When the turmeric rhizome is dried, it can be ground to a yellow powder possessing a bitter, slightly acrid, yet sweet, taste. Turmeric’s rhizomes are dried and made into capsules, tablets, teas, or extracts, and turmeric powder is also made into a paste for skin conditions.

Turmeric has many biological activities, which are mainly attributed to the curcuminoids that it contains. It is widely used as an anti-inflammatory and liver-protecting agent, and its chemopreventive effects for cancer (inhibition of tumor formation, promotion, progression and dissemination in many animal models) are the subject of much research.

Turmeric is also used for disorders related to the aging process. Curcumin has an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and has been proposed as a treatment for many degenerative diseases with an inflammatory or oxidative basis, such as cardiovascular diseases, type-2 diabetes, arthrosis, arthritis, among others.

Turmeric in amounts tested for health purposes is considered safe when taken by mouth or applied to the skin. However, high doses or long-term use of turmeric may cause gastrointestinal problems. Turmeric or its constituent curcumin affects the absorption of some beta blockers.

Did you know that…

  • …The name turmeric derives from the Latin word “terra merita” (meritorious earth), referring to the color of ground turmeric, which resembles a mineral pigment.
  • …Because of its brilliant yellow color, turmeric is also known as “Indian saffron”.
  • …India produces nearly all of the world’s turmeric crop and consumes 80% of it. Erode, a city in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is the world’s largest producer of and the most important trading location for turmeric, and it is also known as “Yellow City” or “Turmeric City”.
  • …Turmeric paste is applied to the skin of the bride and groom before marriage in some parts of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, where it is believed to make the skin glow and keep harmful bacteria away from the body.

Chinese Asparagus

Chinese asparagus roots

Latin name: Asparagus lucidus or Asparagus cochinchinensis

Family: Asparagaceae

Parts used: Roots

Asparagus is a native medicinal shrub valued for its medicinal properties, mostly as a diuretic, laxative, cardiac tonic and sedative. The tuberous roots are used medicinally in India and China, where this plant is given as an effective diuretic. In India, it is used to promote fertility, reduce menstrual cramping, and increase milk production in nursing mothers.

Asparagus contains saponins called asparagosides, steroidal glycosides, asparagusic acid and its derivatives, flavonoids (including rutin, kaempferol and quercetin) and various amino acids and polysaccharides. Asparagus is also a source of folic acid, vitamin K1 and other vitamins.

No significant adverse effects or drug interactions with asparagus were found; however, note that asparagus contains a moderate amount of vitamin K and may, therefore, reduce the effectiveness of warfarin and other similar anticoagulants if eaten in large quantities.

Did you know that…

  • … Chinese pharmacists save the best Asparagus roots for their families and friends, believing that it will increase feelings of compassion and love.

Shatavari (Wild Asparagus)

Wild asparagus rhizomes and roots

Latin name: Asparagus racemosus

Family: Asparagaceae

Parts used: Roots and rhizomes

Shatavari is the most important medicinal herb in Ayurvedic medicine for problems related to women’s fertility, such as loss of libido, threatened miscarriage and menopausal problems. It is native from East Asia (China, Japan, and India).

The roots of shatavari contain a series of steroidal saponins, the shatavarins, and others. It acts as a soothing tonic that acts mainly on the circulatory, digestive, respiratory and female reproductive organs. It is also reported to be antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, demulcent, diuretic, anti-diarrheal, antirheumatic and antidiabetic. Some of these indications are supported by pharmacological (but little clinical) evidence.

Shatavari contains phytoestrogens and has been investigated in several studies for its effect on lactation, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms. Based on these studies, caution is advised when combining Shatavari with conventional estrogenic drugs or estrogen antagonists such as tamoxifen, because it is unknown whether the effects might be antagonistic or synergistic. Shatavari may also have additive effects with conventional antidiabetic medicines and may alter the absorption of many drugs by delaying gastric emptying.

Did you know that…

  • …Shatavari is an Indian word that means “a woman who has a hundred husbands”.

Dong Quai

Angelica sinensis roots and leaves

Latin name: Angelica sinensis

Family: Apiaceae

Parts used: roots

The dried root of Angelica sinensis, also called Chinese angelica or dong quai, is a commonly used herbal medicine in China. According to the Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China (1977), the root of Angelica sinensis was used “To enrich the blood, activate blood circulation, regulate menstruation, relieve pain and relax bowels”.

One of the most common uses of donq quai is in the treatment of menopausal symptoms and menstrual disorders, such as dysmenorrhea and irregular menstrual cycle. It has also been used for rheumatism, ulcers, anemia, constipation, psoriasis, hypertension, and to relieve allergic conditions.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, different parts of the root of Angelica sinensis possess different traditional applications. The whole root (Quan Danggui) is used to quicken, nourish and harmonise blood; the root’s head (Danngui Tou) is used to stop bleeding; the root’s body without the head (Danggui Shen) is used to nourish the blood when blood quickening properties are not ideal; the root’s tail (Danggui Wei) is considered to have the strongest effect for quickening the blood and breaking up blood stasis; finer roots (Danggui Xu) (“beard”) are used to quicken the blood and free the vessels.

The root of Angelica sinensis contains two groups of substances which seem to be the most important in exerting its pharmacological effects. The first is ferulic acid, which may be connected to its anti-inflammatory and antiplatelet effects. The other group of components is lipophilic components of the essential oil. The essential oil possesses antispasmodic properties, which may explain its use in symptoms of dysmenorrhea, such as painful colics. Active constituents of Angelica sinensis also include vitamins A, B, and E, as well as numerous phytochemicals and minerals, including calcium and magnesium.

Dong quai contains substances called psoralens that can react to sunlight, especially in fair skinned people, so high doses may cause skin sensitivity to sunlight, rashes or skin inflammation.

Case reports suggest that dong quai may increase the bleeding time in response to warfarin. The reasons for this interaction are not entirely understood but this root is known to contain natural coumarin derivatives, whose anticoagulant properties may be additive with those of warfarin. Dong quai may also contain estrogenic compounds. This may result in additive effects with estrogens, or it may antagonize its effects.

Did you know that…

  • …The name dong quai means ”proper order”.
  • …Dong quai is known historically as a female remedy and has been referred to as “Empress of the herbs,” “sovereign herb for women,” and “the female ginseng”.

Licorice

Licorice roots

Latin name: Glycyrrhiza uralensis

Family: Fabaceae

Parts used: Roots

Licorice consists of the dried unpeeled or peeled, whole or cut root and stolons of Glycyrrhiza uralensis. Also known as Gan Cao or licorice, it is an ancient medicinal herb, distributed through China, Mongolia, and the Soviet Union. In Traditional Chinese medicine, it is used in many Chinese formulas as a “guide herb” to enhance the effectiveness of the other ingredients, based on the traditional concept that combination of various herbal ingredients helps to harmonize and improve the effects of herbal remedies.

The harvesting of licorice root occurs in the autumn of its third or fourth year of growth. The roots are dug up, washed and transported to warehouses for baling, sorting and drying. The dried roots are crushed by millstones, and the pulp is boiled to make the extract. After removal of the solids, the extract is vacuum dried to a dark paste, which is cast into blocks or short sticks or may be dried to a powder.

Licorice has a great number of active compounds of different classes that act in different ways, including triterpene saponins, flavonoids, isoflavonoids, and chalcones. More than 300 flavonoids have been isolated from Glycyrrhiza species, and they are responsible for licorice’s yellow color. Glycyrrhizin, a saponin, is the major bioactive compound in the underground parts of Glycyrrhiza uralensis plants, which possess a wide range of pharmacological properties and it is also widely used as a flavoring ingredient in food.

The dried root of licorice is used as an expectorant, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory, and in the treatment of peptic and duodenal ulcers. Licorice possesses demulcent and expectorant properties for dissolving and facilitating the discharge of mucus in catarrhs and for upper respiratory tract diseases and is currently employed in cough preparations. Due to the presence of glycyrrhetinic acid in its composition, licorice has mineralocorticoid and estrogenic activity in large doses. There’s some evidence that topical licorice extract may improve skin rash symptoms, such as redness, swelling, and itching.

Clinical studies show that short-term use of licorice (not more than four weeks) is safe. However, large amounts or long-term use can cause hypokalemia, hypertension and, more rarely, cardiac rhythm disorders. Licorice may also cause fluid retention and therefore reduce the effects of antihypertensive medications.

The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP) recommends that licorice should not be used in patients with hypokalemia, high blood pressure, or with kidney or cardiovascular disorder. It should not be used in patients who are taking thiazide diuretics, cardiac glycosides, corticosteroids, stimulant laxatives or other medications which may aggravate electrolyte imbalance.

Did you know that…

  • …The word Liquorice derives from Old Greek glykyrrhiza, which is a contraction of glykeia rhiza that means “sweet root”.

Chinese Dandelion

Whole plant of Chinese dandelion

Latin name: Taraxacum mongolicum

Family: Asteraceae

Parts used: Whole plant

Dandelions are among the most recognizable weeds in the world. The leaf and roots of dandelion (Taraxacum mongolicum) are considered a valuable remedy in Traditional Chinese medicine. The root is primarily considered a gastrointestinal remedy supporting digestion and liver function, while the leaf is used as a diuretic and bitter digestive stimulant.

Among the most important bioactive compounds in dandelion are sesquiterpene lactones (believed to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects), phenylpropanoids (believed to have modulating effects on inflammation), triterpenoid saponins and polysaccharides. Sesquiterpene lactones provide a bitter taste to the plant, which can be easily noted in the leaves, but also in the root. Carotenoids and vitamin A are also found. The dandelion leaf is a good source of potassium.

Dandelion is used as a food: the leaves in salads, and the ground root as a coffee substitute. A pleasant tea can be made from the flowers, but the whole plant can be dried and used for the same purpose.

Dandelion root has a long history of use for supporting liver function and treating various dermatologic and systemic disorders, based on the theory that the herb improves the liver’s ability to detoxify. Dandelion has been widely used as a diuretic, laxative, anti-inflammatory, decongestant, depurative, choleretic (to increase bile secretion) and blood-glucose-lowering activity.

Dandelion is a commonly available food with a long history of human use and as such poses little risk of harm. Allergy to dandelion can occur but is rare. No significant drug interactions and adverse effects were found. Because it is bitter, dandelion should be used with caution in patients with acute gastrointestinal inflammation, since it can aggravate this condition.

Did you know that…

  • …The English name dandelion is a corruption of the French “dent de leon”, meaning “lion’s tooth.”
  • … The Latin name Taraxacum comes from the Greek and means “disease remedy.”

Chinese Salvia (Dansheen)

Chinese Dansheen roots

Latin name: Salvia miltiorrhiza

Family: Lamiaceae

Parts used: Roots

The dried root of Salvia, also known as Dan-Shen or Danshen, is traditionally used in Chinese medicine for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases. According to Chinese medicine principles, Danshen promotes blood flow and resolves blood stasis.

Danshen is used for circulation problems, such as angina pectoris, acute ischaemic stroke, palpitations and other diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Some people use Danshen for skin conditions including acne, psoriasis, and eczema.

Some case reports and animal data indicate that danshen can, rarely, increase the effects of warfarin, resulting in bleeding. The antiplatelet activity of danshen may result in additive antiplatelet effects if taken with conventional antiplatelet drugs, which may also increase the risk of bleeding.

Black Pepper

Chinese piper nigrum fruits

Latin name: Piper nigrum

Family: Piperaceae

Parts used: Dried unripe fruit

Pepper is one of the most popular spices in the world, widely cultivated and used as a traditional medicine in many countries. Black and white pepper are derived from the fruits of the same species: Piper nigrum L. Black pepper is the unripe fruit which has been immersed in hot water and dried in the sun. White pepper consists of the seed only, prepared by soaking the fully ripe berries, removing the pericarp and drying the naked seed.

The pungent taste of pepper is principally due to piperine, an alkaloid responsible for most of its pharmacological effects. The medicinal use of pepper is primarily as a digestive stimulant and carminative. It is also reputed to have anti-asthmatic, antioxidant, antimicrobial, hepatoprotective and hypocholesterolemic effects. The volatile oil and alkaloids create a spasmolytic effect in the gastrointestinal system.

In addition to its culinary uses, black pepper is an important ingredient of many Ayurvedic herbal medicines, intended to enhance gastrointestinal absorption of other medicines. Piperine increases the bioavailability of biochemically active compounds present in food items. It promotes the rapid absorption of certain chemicals from the gastrointestinal tract, gathering optimum benefits from the medicinal phytochemicals found in other herbal remedies. It has been found that piperine can increase absorption of selenium, vitamin B, beta-carotene, and curcumin. Therefore, black pepper should be added to recipes and meals as often as possible because it boosts the medicinal value of herbs and foods.

Did you know that…

  • …Due to its potent antioxidant effect, black pepper may be one of the best natural antioxidants to be used to prevent oxidation and off-flavor in meat.

Chinese Rhubarb

Chinese rhubarb roots

Latin name: Rheum officinale, Rheum palmatum

Family: Polygonaceae

Parts used: Roots

Chinese rhubarb, also called Da Huang in China, has a long and proven history of herbal usage in Traditional Chinese Medicine, due to its positive and balancing effect upon the whole digestive system.

The root is used medicinally; it is thick and branching, with a brown exterior and a yellow interior. The rhizomes contain powerful anthraquinones that act as stimulant laxatives and tannins that act as astringents. When taken in small doses, it acts as an astringent tonic to the digestive system, in larger doses it acts as a mild laxative. The Chinese also use rhubarb to treat gastric ulcers and chronic renal failure.

Rhubarb root may potentiate other laxatives and should not be used as a laxative for more than 8-10 days.

Rhubarb root is traditionally not recommended for patients with chronic intestinal inflammation such as gastric or duodenal ulcers, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. It is contraindicated in patients with intestinal obstruction or ileus. Because of its potential to deplete potassium, it should be used cautiously by patients taking cardiac glycosides.

Did you know…

  • …Rhubarb arrived in Europe via Turkey, hence the common name, Turkey rhubarb.
  • …The anthraquinones found in rhubarb are also found in other natural stimulant laxatives such as senna.
  • …Rhubarb’s leaves are poisonous, impairing hemostasis and causing nausea and vomiting.

Schisandra

Schisandra fruits

Latin name: Schisandra chinensis

Family: Schisandraceae

Parts used: Fruit

Schisandra, also called Wu-Wei-Zi in China, is a very important herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it is considered to be one of the 50 fundamental herbs. It is used as a tonic and restorative, for increasing resistance, energy, physical performance, and endurance. It is considered to be a substitute for ginseng for having liver-protecting, cardiotonic and immunomodulating effects.

The major active components of the fruits of Schisandra chinensis are schisandrins and gomisins. The characteristics of Schisandra makes it a viable herbal remedy solution to improve resilience to stress, exercise performance and recovery from mental fatigue.

No drug interactions for Schisandra are known, but it would seem prudent to use precautions if warfarin is given concomitantly with Schisandra, since it can interfere with its anticoagulant effect.

Did you know that…

  • …Wu Wei Zi means “Five Taste Fruit.” This is because, in Traditional Chinese medicine, Schisandra possesses all five of the classical “tastes”: sour, bitter, sweet, spicy and salty; thus is considered to possess the essence of all five of the elemental energies: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.
  • …Schisandra is a famous tonic historically consumed by Chinese royalty and by Daoist masters, and it has always been very popular with the wealthy men and women of China because of its youth preserving and rejuvenating effects.

Astragalus

Astragalus roots

Latin name: Astragalus membranaceus

Family: Fabaceae

Parts used: Roots

The root of Astragalus membranaceus has been used since ancient times in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a warming tonic to strengthen the immune system. It has been prescribed for centuries for general debility, chronic illnesses, and to increase the overall vitality of the system and it is commonly used in combination with other herbs.

Saponins, flavonoids, and polysaccharides are believed to be the principal active constituents of Astragalus. It possesses anti-inflammatory, immunostimulant, antioxidative, antidiabetic, cardioprotective, hepatoprotective, and antiviral activities.

Therefore, it is indicated in viral infections and fatigue. It is also used as a liver protectant, an adjunct in chemotherapy and impaired immunity. Currently, much of the pharmacological research is focused on the immune stimulating properties of this plant, and its possible use in treating immune deficiency conditions.

Did you know that…

  • … Astragalus membranaceus is also known as Huang-qi or “yellow leader”.

Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum flowers

Latin name: Chrysanthemum morifolium Ramat

Family: Asteraceae

Parts used: Inflorescences

Chrysanthemum morifolium ramat is one of the most popular widely distributed traditional flowers and one of the most popular flowers in the world. The flowers of Chrysanthemum morifolium, known in China as Ju Huan, are commonly used in teas and as an herbal remedies in China and other Asian countries for the treatment of eye diseases, headaches and insomnia.

The health benefits of this plants is closely linked to its bioactive components, such as flavonoids, alkaloids, and sesquiterpene lactones. Extracts of Chrysanthemum morifolium have been reported to possess antioxidant, cardiovascular protective, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory functions. A recent report indicated that the flavonoids in the extracts of Chrysanthemum morifolium protected the brain, liver, and kidney against lead-induced oxidative damage.

Did you know that…

  • … The chrysanthemum has been considered as The Flower of Autumn in China, as well as a symbol of nobility.

Sweet Wormwood

Sweet wormwood

Latin name: Artemisia Annua

Family: Asteraceae

Part used: Whole plant

Artemisia annua, also called Qing Hao, has a rich pharmacological history in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a therapeutic tea. It has a long tradition of use in the treatment of intermittent fevers which we now can relate to malarial infections.

Artemisia annua produces artemisinin, a sesquiterpene lactone that is produced and stored in its glandular trichomes, leaves, floral buds, and flowers. Artemisinin is a potent antimalarial drug that is also effective in treating other parasitic diseases, some viral infections, and various neoplasms.

The active principle artemisinin has been isolated from Artemisia annua and today forms the backbone of the global fight against malaria. The traditionally prepared Artemisia annua formulation is however still being used on a global scale for the treatment of malaria, and it is claimed that its action is superior to the single purified drug.

Did you know that…

  • … the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Youyou Tu for her pioneering work in drug development originating from herbal Traditional Chinese Medicine and her discovery of artemisinin for the treatment of malaria.

Corn Mint

Corn mint leaves

Latin name: Mentha arvensis, Mentha haplocalyx Briq.

Family: Lamiaceae

Part used: Leaves

Mentha species are widely used for their flavoring and medicinal properties throughout the world. The leaves possess a strong minty flavor with a slight bitterness and they are used as a flavoring in salads or cooked foods.

Mint’s leaves are one of the most popular herbal used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, extremely valued for its antiseptic properties and its beneficial effect on digestion. It is often used as a domestic herbal remedy as an antispasmodic, antiseptic and carminative. A tea made from the leaves has traditionally been used in the treatment of fevers, headaches, digestive disorders and various minor ailments. Menthol derived from its essential oil is used in pharmaceutical, perfumery and food industries. The oil content of leaves yields 40-50% menthol, which is antiseptic, carminative, refrigerant, stimulant and diuretic in properties, and is used against skin infections.

Phytochemical essays revealed the presence of flavonoids, phenolic acids, triterpenoids, among other compounds. Although no records of toxicity have been seen for this species, large quantities of some members of this genus, especially when taken in the form of the extracted essential oil, can cause abortions, so some caution is advised.

Did you know that…

  • … the essential oil from the leaves can be diluted and used as a wash for skin irritations, itching, burns, inflammations, scabies, or as an insect repellent.

Dieting and recipes using Chinese herbs

Chinese herbs can be used in several recipes to add flavor and as a way to benefit from their medicinal properties. Here are a few simple recipes containing Chinese herbal ingredients that you can easily cook in your own kitchen.

Chinese Ginseng and Chrysanthemum tea with Goji Berries

Ginseng chrystanthemum goji tea

In this recipe, Panax ginseng is paired with dried Chrysanthemum morifolium flowers and berries of Lycium barbarum. Has an energizing effect and boosts the immune system.

Ingredients

  • 50g chrysanthemum flowers
  • 30g Ginseng
  • 2 liters of water
  • sugar

Instructions

  1. Bring chrysanthemum flowers and water to a boil in a pot for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for less than a minute. Take out the chrysanthemum using a strainer.
  2. Add the ginseng and simmer for another 5 minutes. Take out the ginseng with the help of a strainer.
  3. Add the goji berries and sugar for a sweeter flavor, according to taste.

Ginseng fruit breakfast smoothie

Ginseng banana coconut milk smoothie

Perfect for breakfast, this smoothie is packed with carbohydrates, proteins, vitamin C and potassium. Panax ginseng root also improves energy and cognitive function, making it a perfect way to start a busy day.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of coconut milk
  • 1 banana, peeled, sliced, and frozen
  • 1 teaspoon of ginseng powder
  • 5 strawberries

Instructions

1. Add the coconut milk, banana, pineapple, ginseng powder, and the strawberries to the blender.

2. Starting the blender on low speed, blend until smooth. If needed, gradually increase to higher speeds and blend until smooth.

Ginger and honey tea

Ginger honey lemon tea

This tea combines honey and ginger (Zingiber officinale), making it an excellent expectorant, providing instant relief from cold, cough, sore throat, and runny nose.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon of fresh, grated ginger
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • ½ lemon, juiced

Instructions

  1. Peel the ginger root with a peeler and grate it with a zester.
  2. Infuse the ginger: add ginger to a teapot and pour boiling water into it. Let it steep for about 10 minutes.
  3. Add fresh lemon juice and honey for a sweeter taste.

Turmeric and Ginger tonic

Turmeric ginger lemon cayenne pepper tonic

This refreshing drink with ginger and turmeric has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is an excellent way to stay hydrated on a hot summer day.

Ingredients

  • 1 piece of peeled turmeric
  • 1 piece of peeled ginger
  • Lemon (half)
  • 3 tablespoons of agave syrup
  • Sparkling water
  • Cayenne pepper

Instructions

  1. Pass turmeric, ginger, and the lemon-half through a juicer.
  2. Stir in agave syrup.
  3. Add one spoon of fresh lemon juice and sparkling water.
  4. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper and serve juice over ice.

Golden Milk

Golden milk - turmeric tea recipe

Golden Milk, also known as Turmeric Tea, is a great way to get the benefits of turmeric daily. This drink can be made in 5 minutes and mixes turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper (helps to increase nutrient absorption), and ginger.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of milk of choice (almond, pecan, coconut or dairy milk)
  • 1 teaspoon of Turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of raw honey
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • Tiny piece of fresh, peeled ginger root or 1/4 tablespoon of ginger powder

Instructions

  1. Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth.
  2. Pour the mixture into a small pan and heat for 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat until hot, but not boiling.

Aromatic turmeric and Ginger rice

Rice with turmeric, ginger and pine nuts recipe

This simple recipe that can turn an ordinary rice dish into a vibrant and beautiful dish that can be served as a side dish with any other type of food. You can use long grain or basmati rice, and you will come out with a dish full of color and fresh flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1 tablespoon of a vegetable oil of choice
  • 2 cloves of large garlic minced
  • ½ tablespoon of ginger (peeled and grated)
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh turmeric (peeled and grated)
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup of pine nuts

Preparations

  1. Add the coconut oil, garlic, and ginger to a medium-sized pot and heat to medium for about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the rice, turmeric, and salt, and leave for 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add 2 cups of water, reduce heat and simmer and cover for 30 to 35 minutes until all the water is absorbed.
  4. A few minutes before the rice is cooked, stir the fresh lemon juice into the pot. Place the cover and continue to cook.
  5. Serve with fresh pine nuts.

Licorice herbal tea

Licorice tea

The comminuted herbal substance, prepared in an infusion or decoction, is traditionally used in Spain for more than 30 years. The range of traditional posology for the herbal tea is broad and comprises the use for digestive problems. Use for the relief of gastrointestinal symptoms, including burning sensation and dyspepsia can be done through the following posology.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 – 2 g of comminuted licorice
  • 150 ml of boiling water

Instructions

  1. Prepare as a herbal infusion, adding boiling water and licorice in a teapot.
  2. Let it steep for about 10 minutes and drink 2 to 4 times daily.

This herbal tea should not be used for more than four weeks. If the symptoms persist longer than two weeks during the use of the medicinal product, a doctor or a qualified healthcare practitioner should be consulted.

Safety recommendations regarding the use of herbal medicines

Consumers often see herbal products as being safer than drugs, due to their natural origin, rather than synthetic. However, while some Chinese herbal products may be safe, others may not. There have been reports of products being contaminated with drugs, toxins, heavy metals or adultered ingredients. Most adverse reactions to herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine are a result of wrong use of a herb (through a wrong diagnosis or self-medication) or general administration of Chinese herbs with Western drugs. Caution is advised since some of these herbal products can also interact with drugs, have serious side effects, or may be unsafe for people with certain medical conditions.

Herbal medicines are usually marketed as dietary supplements, which regulations differ from those for prescription drugs. In general, the regulations for dietary supplements are less stringent, since dietary supplements don’t have to go through the same standards of premarket testing for safety or efficacy, nor to provide scientific proof of the effectiveness of drugs intended to treat, cure, prevent, diagnose, or mitigate disease.

Herbs safety recommendations

The safety of herbal medicines is being questioned more and more by various authors and by regulatory authorities (Medicines Control Agency, Medical Toxicology Unit, or the Food and Drug Administration in the USA). Their views are regularly based on various reports of alleged side-effects, allergic, or other adverse reactions to Chinese herbs. To assure the maximum safety of the herbal product, a strict quality control should be applied, ensuring the correct identification of each herb, a guarantee that herbs are free of contamination from heavy metals, pesticides, toxins or any other harmful ingredients. Moreover, the manufacturing of herbal products should be made according to Good Manufacturing Practice standards, ensuring hygienic conditions and allowing identification of each batch of production.

There are also concerns regarding the effectiveness of these products. Traditional Chinese Medicine is difficult for researchers to study because its treatments are often complex and based on ideas very different from those of modern Western medicine. In spite of the widespread use in China and its use in the West, rigorous scientific evidence of its effectiveness is still limited.

There have been scientific studies which aimed to analyze the properties of herbal compounds, but few have been high quality. Therefore, Chinese herbs’ effects on health are still poorly understood. There’s not much conclusive evidence supporting any health benefits of the majority of these herbal remedies, and much of the information has been handed down by word of mouth with little controlled scientific evidence to support the numerous claims.

While it is usually safe to do so, it is important to educate yourself on the correct way to use each herbal product, as some are not safe to ingest. If you do decide to take an herbal supplement, it is important to let your healthcare provider know, as many herbs can interact with several over-the-counter or prescription medicines.

Safety suggestions list

  • Always take to your doctor before using herbal remedies, especially if you suffer from a health condition;
  • Do not use Traditional Chinese Medicine to replace conventional care or as a way to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem you might have;
  • Look for information or published research studies on the health condition or herbal remedies that interest you;
  • If you are thinking about using Traditional Chinese herbal remedies, it is better to search for a professional trained in herbal medicine, and do it under the supervision of your health care provider;
  • Avoid self-medication;
  • Keep your health care provider about any complementary health approaches you use.

There are situations when herbal remedies use is not recommended, and you should speak to your doctor before trying an herbal medicine if you fall into one of these groups.

Here is a list of when NOT to use herbal medicines without proper advice:

  • • If you are taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs
  • • If you have a serious health condition, such as liver or kidney disease, or hematological complications
  • • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • • In the elderly or children
  • • If there has been a previous allergic reaction to herbs
  • • If you are due to have surgery – Your doctor may therefore advise you to stop taking any herbal medicines during the weeks leading up to your operation, since some herbal medicines might interfere with anaesthesia and other medicines used before, during or after procedures; some herbal medicines may interfere with blood clotting and blood pressure, which may increase the risk of bleeding during or after a surgery.

If you suspect of a side effect or adverse reaction that might have been caused by an herbal medicine you were taking, you should stop taking it immediately, search for medical support and report the adverse reaction to your national drug authorities.

Other well-known traditional East-Asian techniques used in medicine

Acupuncture

Using needles in Chinese accupuncture

Acupuncture is a medical practice from China originated over 2,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest and most commonly used medical practices in the world. It was developed in China but, by the late 20th century, it was used in many other areas of the world. Acupuncture consists of the insertion of one or several small metal needles into the skin and underlying tissues at precise points on the body. Through this technique, acupuncturists penetrate specific pathways within the body where energy flows to restore harmony and wellbeing to the client.

Massage therapy

The art of massage

The techniques of Chinese massage are related to the philosophical belief that underlies Traditional Chinese Medicine, regarding the flow of energy in the human body. Massage therapy is one of the simplest healthcare practices available, which stimulates the body’s natural healing abilities. Chinese massage therapists use a range of techniques to accomplish this, through stroking, kneading and hitting the body. This form of therapy conveys the following benefits:

  • • Relieves muscular tension and relaxes muscles spasms
  • • Stimulates blood circulation
  • • Increases flexibility and strength of joints
  • • improves posture
  • • relieves chronic pain
  • • Promotes overall healing and well-being

Massage therapy is mainly used to improve general function within the body, and to prevent future medical issues.

Yoga

Yoga movements

Yoga is a form of mental and physical training that was originally developed in India over 4,000 years ago as a spiritual practice, making it one of the oldest known health practices in the world. The word “yoga” means union, and the practice integrates mind, body, and soul together. Today, yoga’s popularity has spread throughout the world, making it one of the fastest growing forms of alternative health.

The essential goal of yoga is to achieve peace in both body and mind. It commonly consists of postures called asanas (a series of exercises in physical posture, intended to condition the aspirant’s body and make it supple, flexible, and healthy) and breathing techniques such as Pranayama (a series of exercises intended to stabilize the rhythm of breathing in order to encourage complete respiratory relaxation).

Yoga is beneficial for overall health, along with many different illnesses and conditions:

  • Yoga has a positive effect on muscle tone, flexibility, and circulation
  • Certain postures have been found to affect the nervous system and endocrine system, regulating heart rate and hormonal production
  • Yoga can help with conditions such as stress, anxiety, and addiction.
  • The breathing exercises and meditation techniques have been shown to focus the mind and relax the body, easing the stresses of everyday life
  • Stretching exercises allow functional muscle length recovery, postural realignment and improving quality and range of movement

Ayurveda

Ayurveda based medicine

Ayurveda, or “the science of life”, is an alternative health care system developed in India several thousand years ago. It is one of the few systems of medicine developed in ancient times that is still widely practiced in modern times, contributes significantly to the health status of many communities in developing countries.

Based on the tenets of the Hindu religion, this traditional medicine is designed to prevent illness and promote wellness by cleansing the body of impurities and balancing mind, body, and spirit. The holistic approach is a fundamental aspect of Ayurveda, regarding physical existence, mental existence, and personality as a unit. While it focuses primarily on illness prevention, Ayurveda also includes treatments for specific diseases.

The philosophy behind Ayurveda is preventing unnecessary suffering and living a long healthy life. Unlike the allopathic medicines which uses mainly synthetic chemicals designed for specific target receptors and primarily give symptomatic relief, Ayurveda involves the use of natural means such as diet, herbs, spices, minerals, exercise, meditation, yoga, sounds, smells and procedures to eliminate the root cause of the disease by restoring the natural balance of the body.

In conclusion, Ayurveda focuses on bringing harmony and balance in all areas of life including mind, body, and spirit, creating a healthy lifestyle to promote wellness, longevity and vitality.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy uses essential oils extracted from plant materials, with the purpose of altering one’s mood, cognitive, psychological or physical wellbeing.

Essential oils are made from aromatic essences found in many plants. These essences are made in specialized plant cells (often under the surface of leaves, bark, or peels). If the plant is crushed, the essence and its unique fragrance are released. There are many essential oils used in aromatherapy, and each one of them has a different chemical composition that affects how it smells, how it is absorbed, and how it is used by the body.

Traditional Chinese Medicine contends that essential oils resonate with the body’s energy, and exerts positive effects on the physical and mental state of an individual. Its use in therapeutics is made by diluting essential oils in a carrier oil, and topical application depends on the regions the practitioner want to target and influence.

Conclusion

Because of its systematic approach and clinical effectiveness, Chinese herbal medicines has been used for centuries in the East and more recently has grown rapidly in popularity in the West. The reputation of herbal Traditional Chinese Medicine has substantially improved within the past few years, and the global acceptance and use of these products continue to assume exponential increase.

There are several conditions in which many Chinese herbs have been recognized for their efficacy when used as daily supplements to optimize health and well-being. However, there are still obstacles which need to be solved, such as quality and safety concerns and lack of standardization of herbal medicines. As long as with other medicines for human use, it has become mandatory that Chinese herbs used in medicine are covered in every country of the world by a drug regulatory framework to ensure that they conform to required standards of safety, quality, and efficacy.