In my opinion, herbal medicines are widely misunderstood in western culture. This unfortunately is often do to misinformation and a general lack of adequate education about what herbal medicines actually are.
The truth is herbs are an essential part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for treating illness and reaching optimal health. They are the backbone of health care in China’s hospitals and recently are being utilized by many western professionals for their efficacy.
There are more than 400 different medicinal substances used in the United States by TCM practitioners. These herbalists have years of training and hold both state and national licenses. Additionally they are regulated by a multitude of agencies to ensure the safety of every product distributed and consumed.
Licensed practitioners have access to these substances that are typically not available to the general public. These plant, animal and mineral sources each have specific properties that can affect circulation, immunity, digestive function, musculature, hormone balance, sleep and energy levels. Additionally, every herb has known cautions and dosage information that require a licensed practitioner to safely and effectively be prescribed.
While herbs have been proven effective at treating a variety of western conditions, they have the added benefit of being able to quickly rebuild the body after the wear and tear of our daily lives, antibiotic therapies, stress, and aging.
Types of Herbal Medicine
Herbs are prescribed in several different forms. Depending on your practitioner, you will be given either a raw, powder, capsule or tincture formula.
Raw herb decoctions are the traditional way of preparing chinese herbs. They are also considered the most potent. Raw herbs are first combined into well-balanced formulas, then using a detailed cooking process, are prepared in the patients home. The liquid that remains after preparation contains all of the essential properties of each herb. This allows for rapid infusion into the body and faster results. While incredibly effective, decoctions are used less frequently today due to the time required for preparation and the bitter and pungent flavors that many raw formulas produce.
Powdered formulas also contain a combination of herbs chosen specifically for each patient. This allows us to treat multiple symptoms and get the best result. Raw herbs become powders through a regulated process where the herbs are prepared and finely ground. Volitale oils are captured and reintroduced back into the finished product. Powders are traditionally less potent than raw decoctions. However, because they are slowly absorbed into the bloodstream they generally retain their effects longer. Therefore, they are often used for chronic conditions and long-term therapy
Pills, or capsules are ready packaged products that treat a wide variety of illnesses with a general formula. While they cannot be modified, they are becoming widely available due to their efficacy and western modeled form. They allow for precise dosage, are easily administered and enable the user to tolerate substances that may have a bitter quality when taken in prior forms.
Tinctures are an effective liquid form of herbal medicine. They are traditionally prepared with an alcohol base where the herbs are soaked for a period of weeks allowing their properties to infuse into the liquid. This is intended to preserve the active constituents of each substance, as occasionally some may be lost in the cooking process. They are taken sublingually and have the benefit of rapid infusion into circulation.
Herbal medicines are very safe. Suppliers set strict quality control guidelines to ensure the safety and consistency of each product. This includes, but is not limited to, testing for pesticides, toxins and heavy metals. Additionally, the FDA requires all herbal distributors to meet minimum Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) standards.
Herbs if taken as prescribed, produce little to no side effect. They have the added bonus of being non habit-forming and fairly inexpensive.