A safe, non-toxic way to good health
The historical roots of modern pharmacology are imbedded in herbal medicine. Aspirin was originally derived from the bark of willow trees, morphine from the seeds of poppy flowers, penicillin from fungus, quinine from the bark of the cinchona tree, and digitalis from the leaves of foxglove. Pharmaceutical laboratories continue to extract active ingredients from plant materials (a quarter of modern prescription drugs include plant extracts) as well as prepare wholly synthetic compounds. About three quarters of the world's people still rely on traditional medicine.
In Chinese herbal pharmacies jars of barks, roots, flowers and seeds sit alongside rows of glass bottles filled with herbal formulas compressed into pills. Most Westerners feel like strangers in a Chinese herb shop, yet some herbs, such as chrysanthemum, magnolia, forsythia, honeysuckle, gardenia, hawthorn, quince and mint, can be found in our own gardens. With herbs, active ingredients are enfolded within the whole plant; this tends to buffer their side effects. Also, herbs are often blended together to counteract undesired side effects and enhance intended results. Chinese herbs address the underlying condition as defined by traditional diagnosis and, when used properly rarely cause disagreeable consequences.
Western pharmaceutical drugs capitalize on a single biologically active ingredient to produce a specific physiological effect. This accounts for their potency and also for their side effects. Although drugs may control symptoms, they often do not treat the pathological process (for example, antibiotics may eliminate bacteria but do not improve resistance to being infected; diuretics rid the body of excess fluid yet do not improve kidney function; aspirin controls arthritic pain without altering the degenerative course of the disease). Sometimes further aggravations or adverse side effects result (for instance, yeast infections may follow a course of antibiotics; kidney damage may result from long term use of diuretics; lengthy use of aspirin may cause the lining of the stomach to erode, triggering internal bleeding).
Herbal medicine is considered one of five specialties within Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is in itself a lifetime study. The pharmacopoeia consists not only of plants, but also of minerals, animals and metals. The majority of the healing substances of Chinese medicine are plants, and most of the plants used for healing purposes are herbs, therefore the term herbal medicine has developed to include all natural drugs categorized in this tradition.
The classical way that herbs are ingested is in a decoction, or tea made of raw ingredients. This type of herbal medicine allows the practitioner to adjust the formula to a patient's specific needs, making it the most flexible and individualized, as well as the most authentic form of Chinese herbal medicine. However, in our ever-busy culture of fast foods and bank machines, cooking herbs slowly and reheating them throughout the day, does not always fit into our lifestyle. For those that require herbs on the go, there are many choices, but the formulas of course cannot be individualized. Patent medicines are available from Taiwan. These are classical formulas made from ground herbs and packaged into tablets, capsules or pills. In recent years, American herb companies have developed a market for North American grown, organic Chinese herbs. The herbalists who formulate these American made products have altered classical Chinese formulas to reflect the complexes and symptomology uniquely found in the United States. American made herbal products are available in tablets, capsules, tinctures (extractions made in alcohol), and even freeze dried into powders.