The Chinese Materia Medica, or the book of Chinese Herbal Medicine or Chinese Pharmacopoeia, contains over 3,000 thousand Chinese herbs. More than a thousand herbs are used medicinally, and around 400 herbs are commonly used by practitioners. Chinese herbs are never used alone as they are used in Western herbology; they are used in combination to form a decoction or an herbal formula for a specific diagnosis, and will be prescribed to fit an individual patient.
Chinese herbology is a unique system that not only is based on Chinese Medical diagnosis, but also a very profound scientific approach. When a patient comes in to see a doctor of Oriental Medicine, a traditional diagnosis will be made to see exactly what kind of herbs will benefit the patient. Then, the herbal formula will be made for that patient, consisting of a number of herbs that will contain a main herb, or as well call it, the “imperial herb”, in the formula. Secondary herbs are called “ministers”, and the third category of herbs is called “assistants”, that help in harmonizing the rest of the formula.
Every single Chinese herb has a direction, action, quality, flavor and function. Let’s take a well-known herb, for instance, and see what it does. Take Ginseng, the imperial herb, and one of the most famous herbal tonics of all times. Ginseng, or Ren Shen in Chinese, was classified as a superior herb in the book of Chinese Materia Medica. It has a sweet, mild flavor, and a warm property. Ginseng enters the lung and spleen meridian, which means that anytime a patient has weakness of the lungs, spleen, or stomach, Ginseng can be prescribed as one of the herbs in the Chinese formula, if it agrees with the patient’s protocol. We also look at the pharmacologic effect of Ginseng and its chemical constituents.
The reason we call Chinese Herbal Medicine “pharmacopeia” is because each and every herb has a unique quality, specification, direction, and toxicity level. When combining herbs, it is important to know which herbs will work together properly without counteracting one another. It’s a profound philosophy that requires many years of study and perfection. In later topics I will talk about some commonly used herbs and how they could benefit your health.
By: Raphaela Sorkin