Chinese herbs have a history of over two thousand years and many of the original herbal text books are still in existence today. The science of Chinese herbal medicine developed throughout the centuries largely from trial and error of the physicians and the experiences then passed down to next generations of doctors. The prescribing of Chinese herbs differs greatly to that of traditional western herbalism and is outlined below.
Chinese medicine has a unique traditional diagnostic method that has developed over many centuries and combinations of herbs are prescribed according the individual’s different constitutional requirements of the patient as well as addressing their specific signs and symptoms.
The individual herbs have been classified in many ways, including if they have a hot or cold nature or if they are difficult or easy to digest. To understand this, think about cinnamon for example, and you will know it is “hot” and spicy as compared to watermelon. Imagine having a hot drink loaded with cinnamon on a hot summers day or having cold watermelon on a winters evening. Some Chinese herbs are difficult to digest and require other herbs to be added to the combination to help them to be processed in the digestive system.
Chinese herbs have been placed into diagnostic categories so they can be selected to deal with the different imbalances that may occur amongst individuals.
Now modern research has demonstrated that many Chinese herbs have specific biochemical reactions in the body and research is helping to understand how they work on a scientific level.
Putting a Chinese herbal prescription together for a patient requires an analysis by the practitioner of all current and past signs and symptoms and combing herbs to balance and counteract each other according to the individual needs of the patient. One Chinese herb may be useful to treat tiredness but it may often cause bloating so then another herb like dried mandarin peel is added to counter the bloating effect. In another example, a patient may have been diagnosed with hepatitis and is seeking treating treatment for headaches so the practitioner may prescribe scutelaria to benefit the liver whilst concurrently addressing the headache with another herb like chuan xiong.
When a patient visits a Chinese herbal medicine practitioner, the required frequency of return visits may be weekly, fortnightly or monthly depending on the patient and their condition. At each consequent visit, the patient is then reassessed and different herbs are prescribed. On average, a Chinese herbal practitioner would have at least 200 herbs in their repertory to choose from when formulating a prescription.
In China, doctors working in hospitals specialize either in acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine. In New Zealand and Australia, practitioners have first obtained a Bachelors in Acupuncture and then either done an additional Bachelors degree in Chinese Herbal Medicine or a Masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine.