What is Herbal Medicine?
Bark, berries, roots, stems, leaves, fungi, fruit, minerals - even insects! For many in the West, herbs are considered a new and even strange form of alternative care and many, quite frankly, are still very skeptical of its legitimacy; however, nearly every traditional culture around the world has some form of herbal medicine, which they've utilized to stay healthy, throughout history.
In traditional Chinese medicine, herbal formulas have been used for thousands of years to help restore physiological function and treat nearly every condition. In fact, ancient emperors in China worked to not only study and expand, but preserve the knowledge obtained through the work of herbalists and traditional doctors. We have clearly written records of how specific herbs and combinations of herbs affect different conditions within people, carried on through an unbroken tradition going back as far as the 3rd century BC.
Chinese herbal medicine is a branch of the traditional Chinese medicine system of diagnosis, which uses tools like acupuncture to bring the body back to homeostasis, or balance. It's also the largest organized herbal system in the world, and is used by millions of people around the world.
The Many Forms of Chinese Herbal Therapy
Chinese herbalists rarely prescribe just a single herb, but rather, herbal formulas, as the synergistic effects of specific herbal combinations is much more effective. There are thousands of herbal formulas recorded in ancient literature, and a skilled herbalist will know how to match the right formula to help balance your specific set of symptoms, as well as modify it further to your body's constitution.
Herbs can come in many forms, including:
Raw. These are prepared herbs in their natural form (bark, roots, etc), which are cooked and taken as a tea.
Granules, or powdered herbs, which are dissolved into water to make a tea (a faster version of raw herbs).
Capsules, which contain the herbal granules. This is preferred by many who struggle with the taste of the herbs.
Teapills or tablets. These are small, round pills, and, due to their size, require a larger number of pills per serving.
Tinctures, which are liquid extracts, often taken by mouth by a dropper, or diluted in water.
At Nguyen Wellness & Recovery, we use granules to create custom herbal formulas for our patients. We also offer capsules and occasionally tinctures of specific formulas.
Are Herbs Safe?
It is best to always seek out a licensed, board-certified Chinese herbalist before taking any Chinese herbal formulas. Here in Texas, licensed acupuncturists are required to pass a Chinese Herbology board exam through the Texas Medical Board, but also check to make sure that your acupuncturist is comfortable working with herbs.
When working with a skilled practitioner, herbal medicine is incredibly safe. In fact, side effects are rare, when administered appropriately. Herbalists use "pattern differentiation," taking into account a person's specific set of head-to-toe symptoms, to ensure the herbs within a formula will balance out and not aggravate symptoms. Also, because herbalists revise a patient's medicine regularly, adjusting the formula with symptom changes, this increases safety.
Another notable benefit is that, rather than working against the body or forcing certain functions, herbal medicine is much more gentle and works with the body. Many formulas contain nourishing and nutrient-replenishing herbs, which help to strengthen the body and its organ functions. Many herbs can actually aid the liver and kidneys, rather than deplete or overwhelm them, as many medications are known to do.
Side effects can occur, and may include things like stomach discomfort or fatigue. It's important to let your practitioner know if you experience any adverse effects like these, as formulas can be adjusted accordingly to take care of the side effects.
Herbs are not for everyone at all times. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should always consult with an herbalist first. Children and infants can use herbal medicine to benefit everything from digestion to immunity, but quality and dosage are very important. If you'd like more information about the herbs we recommend for children, please contact us here.
Quality control is another important issue to keep in mind. The quality of many herbs sold online, from places like Amazon, cannot be verified, which is another reason to work with a trained herbalist, who will carry professional-grade herbs. Here in our Houston clinic, we use Evergreen Herbs, a company with some of the best quality control practices in the industry, as well as eco-sensitive farming practices and a focus on biodiversity and sustainability.