A certain air of mystery has accompanied the introduction of Chinese herbs into the West, and many people have assumed that there is something especially potent about Chinese herbs. Chinese herb shops have strengthened this mystique by significantly displaying dried sea horses, woody funguses, gingko, and other plant and animal products foreign to America and Europe. Nonetheless, plant products such as mint, dandelion, rhubarb root, cattail pollen, fennel, and licorice root are included in the Chinese pharmacopeia, and yet each one of these plants is also common to North America and Europe. Black pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger are all common table spices in the West, yet these herbs originally were introduced from Asia as they too are included in the Chinese pharmacopeia (Wicke, 2006).
Helpful medicinal plant products can be found throughout the world, and the Chinese were probably the first to actively seek out plant products from other countries. At different phases in China's history, myrrh and frankincense were imported from the Middle East, cinchona bark was imported from South America, and, recently, American ginseng has been imported from Wisconsin (Wicke, 2006).
If one looks more closely at the routine of a skilled herbalist, they will see several curious techniques that are considered essential by all properly trained TCM herbalists. While taking a person's pulse the herbalist will take an excessive amount of time. Palpation of the radial pulse is completed not just at one position, but at several positions and depths at both wrists. In addition to a straightforward count of the pulse rate, other pulse qualities are of interest. The TCM herbalist also carefully examines the tongue, preferably using a bright, full-spectrum lamp, noting the color, thickness and distribution of tongue coating, and color and texture of tongue tissue. They will ask about the person's complaints and symptoms, especially those which reveal the individual's metabolic and neuroendocrine characteristics, such as thirst, appetite, perception of body heat or coolness, general energy level, urination and bowels, moods and mental states (Wicke, 2006).
After looking at and evaluating all of this information, TCM herbalists develop herbal formulas that are tailored to each individual's total body characteristics, as well as the chief complaint and primary symptoms. They do not select herbs or herbal formulas based solely upon the chief complaint, nor do they choose formulas based on the medical condition that a physician may have diagnosed. This is the vital philosophical and scientific differences between the Chinese herbal sciences and Western medicine (Wicke, 2006).
Natural and herbal remedies have achieved vast popularity over the last 30 years. Many cultures, including early American's have used the earth's natural resources to treat, cure and alleviate a variety of ailments for generations. Herbology consist of the study of plants and their healing properties. As with the common classification of herbs, there are common methods for preparing herbs, such as pastes, juices, powders, poultices, salves, teas, whole herbs, extracts, pills, infusions, syrups and ointments. The technique chosen for preparing herbs and herbal remedies is closely related to the symptoms of the specific ailment that is to be treated. Each way utilized for preparing herbs can provide different healing components. Consequently, one herb can be used to treat a variety of ailments (Principles of Herbology, 1998).
Plants have been used both internally and externally to prevent and rejuvenate the body's systems for centuries. The medicinal application of plants can be extracted from flowers, stems, seeds, leafs, roots and bark. The understanding of these plants and what effect they may have upon the body is the practice of Herbology (Principles of Herbology, 1998).
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has relied on empirical evidence and traditional healing manuscripts. Prior to the wider utilization of TCM theory and medicines in other medical systems, particularly western biomedical medicine, research is required to understand the biochemical basis for TCM classification systems for drugs and the mechanism of action of these drugs (Liao, Banbury and Leach, 2007).
In TCM's long course of growth, it has absorbed the quintessence of classical Chinese philosophy, culture and science and summarized the experience of the Chinese people in fighting diseases. This observed evidence as a basis of TCM has resulted in a totally different medical theory compared with western conventional medicine. TCM thinks that the different characters of herbs are employed to treat diseases, rectify the hyperactivity or hypoactivity of yin or yang and help the body restore its normal physiologic functions. All herbs have four natures along with five flavors. The four natures are cold, hot, warm and cool and are summarized mainly from the body's response after Chinese herbs are taken, which are so defined in relation to the properties, cold or heat of the diseases treated. Additionally there are also some herbs known as neutral ones, whose cold or hot nature is not so remarkable and whose action is relatively mild, but these herbs still have differences in their tendencies to cool or warm so that they are still in the range of four natures. The five flavors are pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty all which can be tasted with the tongue. With the expansion of the theory dealing with the medicinal properties, the flavors could best be described as abstract concepts, as the flavor definitions have arisen more from observations of the clinical actions of the herbs than from the taste sensations (Liao, Banbury and Leach, 2007).
Most herbs contain a combination of a number of flavors like bitter with sweet and pungent. The nature and the flavor are two types of medicinal properties that every Chinese herb has. Contemporary scientific research has been undertaken on the four natures since 1960, mainly in China and Japan. There are two main research areas on the four natures. The first is pharmacodynamic study, exploring the effect of cold and hot herbs on central nerve transmitters, sympathetic-adrenomedullary system, prostaglandin and endocrine system. The second is significant foundation research, including chemical components and especially trace elements. Some ground-breaking research was from biophysics and biochemistry to study the natures of Radix ginseng, Folium ginseng, Flos ginseng and Radix quinquefolium using a microcalorimetry method (Liao, Banbury and Leach, 2007).
The results of four natures of 60 Chinese herbs were observed on organs and tissues of mice using C-2-deoxy-glucose and autoradiography. The consequences showed that there were character distinctions among four natures on organs and tissues. Measuring up to with the research on natures, the study on flavors has focused on the relationship between chemical component and different flavor especially abstract flavor and the pharmacologic actions of the main components in China (Liao, Banbury and Leach, 2007).
Herbs of dissimilar natures and flavors exhibit different effects and are categorized differently in terms of yin and yang. Chinese herbs are also mostly classified on the basis of their function in theory and in the clinical setting. Circulation related herbs are classified as: function 1, drugs whose principal effects are to stop internal and external bleeding, function 2, drugs that make free the passage of blood in the vessels, promote blood circulation and disperse blood stasis, function 3, drugs that nourish the blood and are indicated for syndromes of blood deficiency and, function 4, drugs with the effects of dispelling pathogenic heat from the blood systems. These theories are the necessary basis for the analyses and clinical usage of Chinese herbs (Liao, Banbury and Leach, 2007).
Herbology and herbal medicine has been around for a long time. There are several different theories as to how herbs can be used to treat people, but all of these theories have one thing in common. They all treat the whole person based upon whatever symptoms that they are experiencing. This makes this form of medicine a very individualist approach. Since each person is different each person is often treated with a unique combination of herbs in order to heal them as an individual.
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