For most of us, Chinese herbs are an alternative and unknown form of medicine. However, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) they are an integral part of healing! Many people liken Chinese herbs to medication but they couldn’t be farther apart. First, Chinese herbs are natural substances—roots, berries, twigs, barks, etc.—whereas medications are chemically engineered. Medications are often given alone to affect the body while Chinese herbs are administered in formulas, which are unique combinations of herbs that are used to achieve maximal therapeutic effect while also addressing possible side effects. But the coolest thing about Chinese herbs, as far as I’m concerned, is how they are categorized.
Single herbs are the building blocks of formulas. Herbs are classified into different groupings based on their function. For example, there are categories that support qi, nourish blood and drain dampness. Then, each herb has a specific taste, temperature and specific energy channels that it affects. All these factors are needed in order to pick the appropriate herb! The herb’s taste is connected to its action as follows:
The temperature of the herb depends on the condition that is being treated! For example, if there is a lot of heat (someone feels hot!), cold herbs are used. If the condition is neither hot nor cold, neutral herbs are used. Sometimes, inappropriate usage of herbs can lead to imbalance. For example, if someone takes a cold herb for too long, they may begin to manifest symptoms of cold within their body!
Finally, the channels are that targeted by the herb is most important! (This is another cool thing about Chinese herbology: we can target our treatment directly to where it is needed!) Energy imbalances lay in specific channels and when properly diagnosed, we can choose appropriate herbs to treat the body. When we can accurately choose herbs, healing (and results) follow very quickly!