Chinese Herbology is the theory of Traditional Chinese herbal therapy, which accounts for the majority of treatments in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It focuses on restoring a balance of energy, body, and spirit to maintain health rather than treating a particular disease or medical condition. Herbs are used with the goal of restoring balance by nourishing the body. It began in China over 4000 year ago and has been evolving over time to address constantly changing health issues. The Chinese pharmacopoeia lists over 6,000 different medicinal substances in terms of their properties and the disharmonies that they were helpful with. There are about 600 different herbs in common use today.
The uniqueness of Chinese herbal medicine is formulation. In western herbal medicine, herbs are often delivered singly or combined into very small formulas of herbs with the same function. In contrast, Chinese herbalists rarely prescribe a single herb to treat a condition. They create formulas instead. A formula usually contains at least four to twenty herbs, among which, 1 or 2 herbs included have the greatest effect on the problem being treated, and other ingredients treat minor aspects of the problem, direct the formula to specific parts of the body, and help the other herbs work more efficiently. In China, more than 3,200 herbs and 300 mineral and animal extracts are used in more than 400 different formulas.
How to prepare herbal medicine?
There are different ways to prepare herbal medicine. The traditional method is decoction. A decoction is like a concentrated form of tea. The practitioner weighs out a one-time dosage of each herb and combines them in a bag. A patient is given several bags of one-time dosage to be taken. The herbs are then boiled in water by the patient at home. The boiling process takes from 30-60 minutes and the resulting decoction will be consumed.
Another modern way to prepare herbal medicine is through granulated herbs, which are highly concentrated powdered extracts. These powders are dehydrated decoction of the boiled herbs. Practitioners mix these powders together into a custom formula for each patient. The powder is then dissolved in hot water to be consumed. This eliminates the need to prepare the herbs at home, but still retains much of the original decoction's potency.
Chinese Patent Medicine
Besides decocted and granulated herbal formulas, there are some pre-made and standardized formulas available as pills, tablets, capsules, powders, tinctures, syrups, alcohol-extracts, water-extracts, etc. It’s called Chinese patent medicine. Most of these formulas are very convenient as they do not need patient preparation and are easily taken. However, they don't allow the practitioner to adjust the contents or dosages of each ingredient and are not easy to customize on a patient-by-patient basis. Moreover, the concentration of the herbs in these products is low. These products are usually not as potent as the traditional preparation of decoction. They are often used when a patient's condition is not severe and the medicine can be taken as a long-term treatment.