As early as prehistoric times, man has exploited the medicinal properties of plants, animal products, and minerals. In modern-day China, physicians still employ a medical system that finds its roots in traditions dating back thousands of years. And this does not mean that no changes have been made over the span of those thousands of years: new theories have been elaborated, new classification systems implemented, old treatment methods revised or discarded, and lots of experimental research has been conducted, in a stream of continuous improvement. What once begun as assembled folk wisdom and crude basic theories, thus grew out to become a solid, yet still ever-changing, whole. Scientific, though perhaps not in the way we are accustomed to hereabouts.
The vast majority of the medicinal substances used in Chinese herbal medicine are plants and plant parts, hence the general term ‘herbs’ – the few substances of other origin are fungi, minerals, and animal products (such as shells). Frequently, a particular part of the plant is used, such as the rootstalk, flowers, or seeds; sometimes the entire plant. There are herbs that are also used as culinary spices, herbs that are (slightly) toxic in high dosages yet possess medicinal properties in low dosages, and even herbs that are commonly eaten as a daily food but which can be combined with other herbs to alleviate specific complaints. All herbs are subdivided into groups with the same general properties, yet no two herbs are exactly the same: each and every herb has slightly different characteristics and distinct usages, its own unique energy.
It rarely happens that one chooses to use only herb. Nearly invariably, a herb’s full potential is exploited best in combination with other herbs, in herbal formulas. The different herbs of a formula all mutually affect one another: a herb may amplify, balance, or redirect the action of a fellow herb. Carefully determining their mutual ratios is paramount, as increasing or decreasing a herb’s relative dosage will grant it a higher or lesser position within the formula, respectively.
Herbal therapy consultation
A consultation for Chinese herbal therapy takes about 45 to 60 minutes, with a thorough anamnesis taking up most of that time. First we will discuss the complaint that brought you to me, and the results you wish to achieve by using the herbs. Then I will ask questions about your primary complaint, any secondary complaints, and your general well-being and lifestyle. I will palpate your pulse at both wrists and inspect your tongue, to find out what the body can tell us. After the consultation, I will compose a formula and send it to the supplier. The herbs will then be delivered to your home within the following couple of days.
Usage and application
You will receive the herbs I prescribe either as pills or as granules. The pills are standard formulas for common complaints. The major advantage of the granules (a sort of soup powder to be mixed with warm water and taken as a tea) is that any herb can be added or omitted, and the mutual ratio of the herbs adjusted. This way, the herbal formula can be exactly tailored to fit to your personal constitution and the complaint. The herbs are taken two or three times a day after a meal, unless otherwise specified – a formula to treat insomnia, for example, would be taken about an hour before going to bed.
Furthermore, many herbs are beneficial not only when used internally, but also when made into cremes and other products for topical application. This will often effectuate quicker alleviation of the complaint, and can help fix the underlying problem. In general, you will use these products once a day, or when the complaint pops up.
Monitoring and safety
The herbs I order for you have been thoroughly checked, their cultivation monitored, the chemical composition of every batch meticulously measured. This makes their use as safe as possible. Click here for more information on the production process by the supplier of the granules (Dutch only).