Overview of Chinese Herbal Medicine

25,2007 Editor:at0086| Resource:AT0086.com

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Chinese herbal medicine aims to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases. It mainly consists of natural
Chinese herbal medicine aims to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases. It mainly consists of natural medicines and produced ones, namely medicines made from herbal, animal, mineral, some chemical substance and biological substance. The invention and application of Chinese medicine has a history of thousand of years. Yet the word "Chinese medicine" appeared only after western medicine was introduced into China, which aimed to make a difference between the two.

History of Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese history once told a fiction of a person named Shen Nong who tasted many herbs at the same time and was then poisoned. It told us what difficult times that ancient Chinese people had when discovering the medicines.

Dating back to the period around 22 century B.C. to 256 B.C (in which China was in Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasty), there appeared alcohol medicine and soup medicine. A book, The Book of Songs (or Shi Jing) in the Zhou Dynasty(11 century B.C. to 771 B.C.), wrote something about medicine. This is the earliest existing book bearing records of ancient Chinese medicine. Another book, Nei Jing, which is the earliest existing book on Chinese medicine theory, proposed the theories like "cooling the patient if one had high temperature and vice versa", "adding the five flavors into the medicine and one would feel bitter inside and have diarrhea. These formed the basis of Chinese medicine theory.

The earliest existing book on Chinese herbal medicine, Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Ben means root and Cao means shoot),was written in the Qin and Han Dynasty (221 B.C.-220A.D.) based on the work of medical experts who collected lots of materials before the Qin Dynasty. The book recorded 365 types of medicine, some of which is still used in contemporary clinics. This book set up a beginning of the establishment of eastern medicine.

In the Tang Dynasty (618 A.D.-907 A.D.), economy prospered, which boosted the eastern medicine. The Tang government wrote the book, Tang Ben Cao, which is the earliest existing book in the world on pharmacopeia. This book included 850 types of medical herbs and their pictures, which further improved the scale of eastern medicine.

In the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D.- 1644 A.D.), an expert of herbal medicine Li Shizhen spent 27 years accomplishing the book, Ben Cao Gang Mu. The book recorded 1,892 types of herbal medicine, making it the greatest book in Chinese history which included the most type of herbal medicines.

Herbal Formulas
The unique characteristic of Chinese herbal medicine is the degree to which formulation is done. In other forms of herbal medicine, especially 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.
Herbal formulas can be delivered in all manners of preparation. Pre-made formulas are available as pills, tablets, capsules, powders, alcohol-extracts, water-extracts, etc. Most of these formulas are very convenient as they do not necessitate patient preparation and are easily taken. However, the concentration of the herbs in these products is low and don't allow the practitioner to adjust the contents or dosages. These products are usually not as potent as the traditional preparation of decoction.
Decoction is the traditional method of preparing herbal medicine. A decoction is a concentrated form of tea. The practitioner weighs out a day's dosage of each herb and combines them in a bag. A patient is given a bag for each day the herbal formula will 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 several times during the day.
Another modern way of delivering herbs is through granulated herbs, which are highly concentrated powdered extracts. These powders are made by first preparing the herbs as a traditional decoction. The decoction is then dehydrated to leave a powder residue. Practitioners can then mix these powders together for each patient into a custom formula. The powder is then placed in hot water to recreate the decoction. This eliminates the need to prepare the herbs at home, but still retains much of the original decoction's potency.
Natural Resources for Chinese Herbal Medicine
China enjoys a large territory, various geographical features and different types of climate. These factors have given rise to different ecological environments, which enable it to grow a great variety of herbal plants. At present, China has cultivated more than 8,000 kinds of herbal medicines, 600 of which are commonly used. This makes China to have the most number of herbal medicines in the world. These medicines not only meet the demands of domestic people but also are exported to 80 countries and regions where they enjoy great fame.

Application of Chinese Herbal Medicine
Application of Chinese medicine has a long history. Chinese herbal medicine has played an important role in people's lives. It is somewhat similar to Chinese culture. Most of the ingredients come from natural resources, which have no or little side effects. The multiple ingredients inside the medicines enable them to treat various diseases. Another feature of Chinese herbal medicines is that they are mostly compound. By making the medicine with an appropriate proportion of different ingredients, the medicine can treat complicated diseases while maintaining the lowest possible side effects.

Application of Chinese medicine is based on its theory and focuses on the impact the medicine has on human body. The nature of the herbal plant determines the effectiveness of the medicine. In order to use the medicine in a safe and effective way, doctors has to know such things like what ingredients are needed, the contraindication, dosage, how to take it and how to make up a prescription. Sometimes doctors will need to select different ingredients in light of the patients' different situation. As for contraindication, doctors will have to consider ingredient contraindication, pregnancy contraindication, food contraindication and disease contraindication. Regards to dosage, doctors will have to consider how much volume patients should take for one day and what the appropriate proportion for every ingredient is in order to make up a compound medicine.

Future Trend of Chinese Herbal Medicine
In future, China will carry on the current way of producing herbal medicine while giving more focus on cultivating better varieties of plants by adopting such methods like isotope and biological engineering. Meanwhile, China will expand the production of those greatly-needed herbs, such as licorice root, root of large-flowered skullcap and Chinese thorowax and those imported from abroad,which amounts to 20 kinds. At the same time, China will do more researches to prevent the degeneration of seeds and cultivate more new resources.

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