I can remember the first time I ever walked into an herbal pharmacy. It was at the acupuncture school that I would later attend, and I was being given the twenty-five cent tour. When we walked into the pharmacy, I was awestruck to see that such a thing existed in the United States. Along the walls there were large jars of raw herbs, powdered concentrates, and bottles of pills. On the counter top was a scale, mortar and pestle, and ceramic pots for boiling the herbs. It all felt so…organic, and I wanted to know more!
So I went to school, studied acupuncture and Chinese herbs, and have been a practitioner since then. Today, so many years after that tour of the herbal pharmacy, I am still a huge fan of treating health conditions with Chinese herbal formulas. Here’s why:
1) They’re effective. There is much research on the effects of the herbs used in Chinese medicine. They have been prescribed in a clinical setting for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Basically, they work or they’d be gone.
2) Chinese herbs are safe. When formulated and processed by a reputable manufacturer and prescribed by an herbalist trained in Chinese medicine, herbal formulas are safe. There are few side-effects associated with Chinese herbs–certainly far fewer than those associated with prescription drugs.* In fact, if you are taking an herbal formula and have side effects, it is likely that you are taking the wrong herbs for your condition
3) Herbs are not one size fits all. Your herbal formula is individualized and formulated to fit your specific needs. Your herbalist is able to create a prescription for you, choosing from hundreds of herbs, minerals and other extracts.
4) They’re flexible. Your formula can be adjusted as your condition changes. In general, herbs are prescribed for a week or two, and that’s because things do change, and your practitioner is able to reformulate your herbal formula to reflect and treat those changes.
5) Chinese herbs are a way of extending your acupuncture treatment. They work on the same principles and patterns of imbalance as acupuncture. By taking herbs at home, you are able to continue the benefits of your acupuncture session.
6) Because of the flexibility of herbal formulas and the wide variety of herbal and mineral substances available, Chinese herbs can treat a wide variety of conditions. They can be used in treating everything from anxiety and depression to bladder infections and digestive problems.
7) Don’t like taking pills? Chinese herbs can be taken in a variety of ways. They are available in teas, tinctures diluted in water, and powders that can be dissolved in liquid. Of course, if you’re a pill-loving type, they come in tablets, capsules, and tiny little round things called tea pills.
8) Thing Chinese herbs are woo woo? Actually many Western medications are derived from herbs, many of which are Chinese in origin. Some examples include willow bark (aspirin), senna as a common laxative, and artemisia used as the basis for a modern anti-malarial drug.
9) Chinese herbs are slow medicine. That means that your practitioner spends the time to diagnose and treat your condition, and the herbs work effectively on the cause of your problem–not just the symptoms. But Chinese herbs can take time to work, which sounds like a negative thing, but the slow and gentle action of an herbal formula gets the job done without the side effects of a powerful prescription medication.
*Our role is not to prescribe or advise people about their medications. What we can do is support those people who are looking for an alternative (when appropriate), a way to complement the meds they’re taking, or for support as they wean off their Western drugs. All of this must be done under the supervision of the Western doctor who prescribed the medications in the first place.