Chinese herbs


Chinese herbal medicine is one of the great herbal systems of the world and has an unbroken tradition going back to the 3rd century BC. Together with acupuncture, massage (Tuina), exercise (Tai Qi, Qi Gong), and dietary therapy it forms part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. All these treatments share the same theory and the same aim, not just to treat symptoms but to deal with underlying imbalances and to strengthen the person’s Qi to prevent a recurrence of the disease.

Chinese herbal medicine is extensively practiced throughout clinics and hospitals in China for the treatment of a very wide range of conditions. Because of its systematic approach and clinical effectiveness it has for centuries had a very big influence on the theory and practice of medicine throughout the Far East.

During its two-thousand-year history, great doctors have contributed to its store of knowledge and wisdom, and in the past few decades, a great deal of research has been done in China into every aspect of its use. The result is a subtle, powerful and flexible system.


The range of conditions that can be treated with Chinese herbs is wide, but the following may be singled out:

  • Skin problems, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, urticaria
  • Digestive disorders, including diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome
  • Gynecological problems, including menstrual problems and pre-menstrual syndrome
  • Chronic fatigue, including ME or ‘post-viral syndrome’
  • Asthma, coughs, bronchitis
  • Hay fever, sinusitis, rhinitis
  • Urinary problems, including chronic cystitis


Chinese herbal medicine uses several hundred substances, mostly of plant origin (roots, seeds, flowers, twigs, and barks). These are hardly ever prescribed singly. They are combined into a formula that usually contains between 8 and 12 ingredients. The exact combination is adjusted to suit the patient’s individual condition and is likely to be altered as the treatment progresses to take account of changes that have occurred. It is therefore a very flexible system that can be closely tailored to the needs of the individual.

The prescribed mixture of herbs is usually prepared by the patient as a decoction (boiled and then simmered in water) and taken twice a day. Consultations will be on average once a fortnight, and you will be given enough herbs to last till the next appointment. In some cases, the herbs may be given in powder form or as pills (these are not as strong as decoctions but are more suitable in those cases where longer-term treatment is indicated). In addition, external treatments (ointments, washes, soaks) may be prescribed for skin problems.


The length of treatment will vary depending on the severity of the condition and how long you have had it. In some cases (especially with younger children) you can expect a good response in 2 to 3 weeks. For severe chronic problems, you may need to take the decoctions for 8 to 12 weeks. In certain cases, treatment may be even shorter or longer than these figures suggest. You may also consider using it in conjunction with other forms of Eastern medicine such as acupuncture.


There have been some recent concerns about the safety of certain Chinese herbal medicines. These have arisen from the inclusion of illegal ingredients by some suppliers, either banned toxic materials or ingredients such as steroids which by law can only be supplied by doctors. A good Chinese herbal medicine supplier observes the highest standards of safety and quality and is supplied exclusively by companies with a proven commitment to those standards. In addition, it can also have blood-testing facilities which will be used when appropriate as a further safety measure. Finally, a good sign is if they fully support worldwide conservation programs, and no endangered species of animal or plant is used.

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