Do you have a particular herb or an herb for a particular condition are the most frequently asked questions. The short answer is yes, but read the following to gain a better understanding of how Chinese Herbal Therapy works. The Chinese Medicine pharmacopeia has thousands of herbs for specific conditions. Herbs are categorized according to function. For example, in the Chinese Herbal Materia Medica by Bensky and Gamble, there are about 30 herbs in the “Herbs That Release the Exterior” Category. Within this category are the sub categories of warm, acrid herbs and cool, acrid herbs. All the exterior releasing herbs address disorders of a superficial nature, such as a wind cold invasion commonly known as a cold. “They are mostly diaphoretic, i.e. they release or expel the external pathogenic influence through sweating.”
In the sub categories each herb’s comparative functions are further defined. This means that even though both cinnamon (gui zhi) and magnolia flower (xin yi hua) are in the warm, acrid, release exterior category, they are used differently. Cinnamon has the ability to disperse wind or prevent the onset of a cold, while magnolia is used exclusively for nasal problems. Herbs are rarely used alone. Most of the time, they are combined in a synergistic formula. The purpose of this is to increase the effect or function of the formula, address accompanying symptoms or alleviate any possible side effects. Chinese herbs are combined in teas (decoctions), powders, liquid extracts, pills, capsules and even as plasters, patches or creams for external use.
Furthermore, each individual’s unique pattern is addressed. Let’s say three people come in with a wind invasion (common cold), they will be questioned about their symptoms, health history and any other information that may needed to prescribe the appropriate formula for their specific need.
The reason I bring this up is to illustrate the complexity of this 5000 year old herbal system. It’s become common in western society to market a single herb as a cure or as beneficial in healing many illnesses. This is, for the most part, misleading because while the herb may at times provide some measure of relief, it’s often used in a way that limits its full capacity to assist in the healing process. So, when asked if we have an herb for…? The answer is invariably always yes, but there’s more to understand.