Many believe that herbal medicine is the root of Chinese Medicine, even more highly regarded in China than acupuncture. Licensed practitioners are trained to prescribe herbal formulas based on signs and symptoms described by the patient as well as the Chinese medical diagnosis deciphered by the practitioner. There is a growing body of research which indicates that traditional uses of plant remedies and the known pharmacological activity of plant constituents often coincide. However, herbal medicine is distinct from medicine based on pharmaceutical drugs. Firstly, because of the complexity of plant materials, it is far more balanced than medicine based on isolated active ingredients and is far less likely to cause side-effects. Secondly, because herbs are typically prescribed in combination, the different components of a formula balance each other, and they undergo a mutual synergy which increases efficacy and enhances safety. Thirdly, herbal medicine seeks primarily to correct internal imbalances rather than to treat symptoms alone, and therapeutic intervention is designed to encourage this self-healing process. Depending on the needs and preferences of each individual, the practitioners at The Missoula Meridian are trained to provide their patients with herbal medicine in the form of patents (pills), granulars (dissolved in hot water), or decoctions (brewed into a tea). Pills and granulars are concentrated herbs that have been brewed/decocted. Chinese herbs are an effective way to continue therapy out of the office and into the everyday.
At The Missoula Meridian, we primarily order herbs from Evergreen Herbs in California. Their herbs are grown in an environmentally positive way and undergo extensive testing before being bottled for consumption. Visit their website here to learn more: evergreen herbs
Traditional Chinese Medicine: The earliest Chinese medical and herbal text is dated around 300 BC. The early physicians heavily experimented with and meditated/intuited on the herbs. They meticulously wrote and passed on their findings over hundreds of years to bring us the vast knowledge of the Chinese herbal medicine we know today. The modern herbalist uses many of the same formulas and principles created thousands of years ago. As mentioned above, Chinese herbs are typically prescribed within a formula, a synergistic combination of herbs, not by the single herb. Each herb in our Materia Medica, our entire body of Chinese herbal knowledge, has its own set of characteristics and properties. These include its actions, thermal nature, directionality in the body, what organs it affects, its flavor, how its properties modify or are enhanced by other herbs, and even the herbs' plant form and color are significant. We thoroughly learn contraindications for each herb. Herbs and formulas are chosen for each person based on their nature and how we see these characteristics used therapeutically. With such a vast set of information on each single herb, it's easy to see how combining them together in formulas create a dynamic mechanism with specific functions that make the medicine ultra unique to the person it is treating.
Biomedicine: The most widely used herbs have been scientifically broken down to reveal the herbs chemical composition and pharmacological effects based on scientific studies. As an example of a pharmacological effect, we’ll use the well know herb Dang Gui: “Dang Gui has many cardiovascular effects, one of these is its association with reduction of plasma cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and a decreased risk of atherosclerosis, as demonstrated in laboratory studies.” We also have access to clinical studies and research done on certain popular herbs. For example, “In one study, 353 patients with various dermatological disorders were treated with a 90.7% effective rate, using 0.1 to 0.2 ml injectable of 5% Dang Gui on ear points every other day for 10 to 20 days per course of treatment.” There are studies on herb-drug interactions and also toxicology information.
Chinese herbs are typically not available to the masses as Western herbs are. Every once in a while you will see them at a natural health food store but you are strongly urged, by Chinese herbalists the world over, to not take Chinese herbs without consulting with a professional. Unless it is a single, loose herb, they are sold in concentrated pill form and are very potent. This is great if the formula or herb is right for you, but can be hard on your system if it is not. Chinese herbal theory is too complex for a Dr. Google diagnosis, please don’t do it!
We are very clear in distinguishing "Chinese" herbs from "Western" herbs because of their use and because the body of knowledge behind the two regional practices is quite different. It’s good to know the differences between the two. Chinese herbalists undergo extensive schooling and have an in depth diagnosing system and prescribe herbs based on a diagnosed pattern versus a singly symptom. As stated above, each Chinese herb has an in depth plant profile thanks to thousands of years of meticulous studying. Most Western herbs have a thermal nature, are known for the symptoms they treat, and have a pharmaceutical profile. You will rarely hear a Chinese herbalist state that a specific herb is good for a specific symptom. For example, if a patient has a headache, it will be important to the practitioner if the headache, is hot, cold, excess or deficient before picking the right herbal formula. If the underlying cause of the headache is not determined properly, it will be difficult to pick the right herbal formula. In Western herbal medicine, it is more common to hear that a specific herb is used for a specific symptom. This occasionally works really well, but also leaves some room for herbs to do damage.
Turmeric is a great example of an herb that is used by both Western and Eastern herbologists. It is known in Western medicine to treat inflammation, which it can do beautifully in the short term. But, because the herb is warming when used long term, it may lead to a worsening of symptoms if used in a person that is prone to heat symptoms. If symptoms like acne, headaches, or acid reflux exist, it may be best to pick a different herb, or at least combine it with herbs that have cooling properties to balance it.
There are many herbs that are used by both Western and Eastern herbalists and both styles can be very effective in prescribing herbs to help reduce signs and symptoms. In Traditional Chinese herbalism, it is our goal to also arrive at the root of why the symptoms exist so that after a series of herbs, the symptoms don’t return. Honeysuckle, chrysanthemum, dandelion, mint, and various part of the white peony plant are just a few of our favorite herbs that most Westerners are familiar with!