What is Chinese herbal medicine?
While Chinese herbal medicine sounds exotic, in fact many of the ingredients are things we might make a drink with or use in cooking; liquorice, barley, spring onion, mint, ginger, to name a few. Even ginseng, angelica and goji berries have become a familiar sight in health food shops. Chinese herbal medicine is different to other forms of herbalism because it focuses on patterns of imbalance in the whole person, and seeks the root causes that underlie symptoms. Ancient practitioners of classical Chinese medicine are renowned for the elegance and balance of their herbal formulas, which aim to restore normal function with the smallest number of ingredients and without causing side effects.
Why take herbs?
Herbal medicine is often used alongside acupuncture, and it can be used alongside other therapies. You might be having acupuncture or another therapy once a week, but herbal medicine is something you take every day. It is good value too, a week’s supply costs £25
Doesn't it taste nasty?
Chinese herbal medicine is an acquired taste, but some of it is quite pleasant! Different tastes are associated with different effects. Herbs with a more nourishing, supplementing effect can taste sweet, while herbs that have a cooling effect tend to be bitter. In the west we prefer to take our medicine in pill or capsule form which means we don’t taste it. Chinese herbal medicine is usually taken as a hot drink because it comes from a tradition of adding medicinal herbs to food, a tradition that we have lost touch with in the west. Many Chinese families will cook up a medicinal soup if someone in the family is ill or trying for a baby. I give herbal medicine as concentrated powder or granules to add to boiling water, like instant coffee.
I've heard Chinese medicine uses things like rhino horn?
In the UK practitioners will only use plant derived medicinals, although the term “herbal” is a bit of a catch-all since many different parts of a plant are used (flowers, roots, stems, leaves and bark). There are strict controls in place to protect endangered species (CITES: the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). In China mineral substances are also used, and some animal derived products. Just for information, many Western medicines are packaged in gelatin capsules, which are animal derived
Is Chinese herbal medicine safe?
Chinese herbal medicine has an excellent safety record when prescribed by properly trained practitioners. In Britain practitioners should be registered with a body such as the Register of Chinese herbal medicine, which has high standards of entry. RCHM members are strongly in favour of the government setting up a statutory register. This would allow the public to check that a practitioner is properly trained, and that their herbal medicine comes from a safe and trustworthy source. All herbal medicine prescribed by RCHM members comes from suppliers who meet stringent international Good Manufacturing Practice standards. The RCHM regularly audits herbal medicine suppliers to ensure they continue to meet these high safety standards. RCHM members are also affiliated to the European Herbal & Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association which is dedicated to the development of herbal/traditional medicine, preserving and enhancing the legal basis of practice across EU Members States and promoting best practice throughout the various traditions medicine (western, Chinese, Ayurveda and traditional Tibetan) of herbal medicine.