Many kinds of plants, seeds, roots and barks have historically been used by all cultures to maintain health and treat disease. Chinese herbology has evolved over thousands of years to its present form. From early beginnings in shamanic traditions, countless generations of practical, experiential, often trial and error, use provides us with a rich tradition to draw on for our current needs.
Herbology is one of the three main branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine along with acupuncture and bodywork. All three branches seek to influence the body through its energetic systems – acupuncture with needles, bodywork with touch. Herbology utilizes the natural materials of our environment: plants, seeds, roots, barks, minerals and some animal products. Each ingredient has a specific energetic quality that is chosen based on the person and the condition. For example, ginger has qualities of warmth and nourishes the digestive system. It is useful for people who tend to feel cold.
Chinese herbs are often combined into a formula containing 4–16 different ingredients. Formulas provide a diverse way to combine different energetic qualities to balance the nature of the ingredients and also match the detailed energetic profile of the person.
There are many formats of taking Chinese herbs: dried herbs brewed into tea, tablets, concentrated granules and tinctures. Each format has certain advantages and disadvantages and can be chosen based on the specifics of each condition.
One of the main benefits of Chinese herbs is the regular, daily consumption, compared to acupuncture or bodywork that may be weekly or longer between sessions. Combining the daily support of Chinese herbs with acupuncture or bodywork allows for a synergistic and mutually supportive process.
My approach to using Chinese herbs is that they are a very specialized form of food. From this perspective herbs become a part of our diet, rather than a pharmaceutical medicine. As part of our daily diet, we can use herbs as nutritional and energetic support based on seasonal, emotional and physical cycles of body, mind and spirit.
Chinese herbs may be used for a wide range of conditions from acute to chronic. Herbs can be used for short periods of time, for example with the common cold. They can also be used as an ongoing support of general health and energetic constitution of the body, much like a multivitamin.
Herbs can be very useful for conditions before they manifest strong symptoms and require medications or surgery. For example, herbs may be used for the common cold and flu at early stages before antibiotics are necessary. Sometimes herbs and formulas may be used instead of pharmaceuticals. For example, an herbal trauma formula can be used instead of ibuprofen for mild to moderate inflammation and pain. Some herbal formulas may be used in conjunction with pharmaceuticals to complement the therapeutic effect or offset side effects. For example, Chinese herbs are frequently taken before, during and after chemotherapy for cancer.
Chinese herbology is a very large and vast reservoir of information and support for healing. Some basic formulas can be selected with a little background information, much like over-the-counter drugs. Other formulas require an experienced herbalist to conduct a thorough energetic assessment and design a custom formula for the specific energetic characteristics of condition and person. Customizing the formula to the individual and adapting it over time are two of the main strengths of the Chinese herbal modality.
I have a complete pharmacy of raw herbs and concentrated granules. I carry a few standard tablet formulas from Portland manufacturer, Institute of Traditional Medicine.
An initial herbal consultation includes a relevant health history, pulse and tongue diagnosis and costs $60/hr. There is no office visit charge for a brief check in or phone consult to refill a formula.
Herbal consults and refills may be combined with a bodywork session.
Herb costs vary by format and dosage. Tablets tend to be a little less expensive, approximately $30 for
3 - 4 weeks. Granules average about $30 for two weeks.