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Did you know that herbal formulas designed over 2,500 years ago are still used today?

The most precious herbal strategy books come from the Eastern Han dynasty  (25 AD – 220 AD). They were compiled by an outstanding physician called Zhang Zhongjing (張仲景; 150–219), formal name Zhang Ji (張機). The first book called Shang Han Lun (On cold damage) talks about how external factors affect us internally and what herbal formulas are best used in each layer of the body. The second book called Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential prescriptions of the golden cabinet) talks about miscellaneous (complex) conditions. Up to this day, the prescriptions from these compilations are widely used and applied for 21st century conditions. Amazing!

Did you know that Chinese herbs are mainly categorised by their flavour and temperature rather than their chemical compounds?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) has evolved over 5,000 years and until today works for the management of disease, maintenance of health, and prolongation of life not only in Southeast Asian countries but also in the West.

Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) is one of the main modalities of TCM. Up to 20 herbs might be used in an herbal formula. Those herbs are used because of their synergistic effect and not due to their individual chemical compounds. The herbs work as a team in a formula that is tailored to your needs. Based on the model that combines different herbs, the principle of Emperor–Minister-Assistant-Courier is used to classify individual herbs and their action. This is important to best achieve the desired therapeutic effects and to minimise any adverse effects.

Further on, the herbs have both a temperature and a flavour. Each flavour is associated with a certain action in the body. This is how CHM is viewed energetically, rather than their compounds having a particular effect on target tissues in the body. This is very different from the Western medical paradigm. Flavours are also associated with the 5-element model and the use of warm herbs in cold conditions, cooling herbs for hot conditions and neutral temperatures for either is self-explanatory.

Did you know that herbal formulas treat the whole person and their imbalance rather than a particularly labelled illness?

We always say that Chinese medicine is a wholistic system and we mean it when we make that statement. Even though there are different ‘diagnostic’ systems to assess the ‘imbalance’ of your health, we still always regard it as part of a whole system. We use different language to address those parts that are imbalanced such as Yin or Yang deficiency or excess, internal or external as well as hot and cold.

We might use pulse or tongue diagnosis, abdominal or ‘channel’ (meridian line) palpation. We might use 5-element or Zang Fu (hollow and full organ) diagnosis. We could use laboratory analysis or a combination of those or combine with a different other than Chinese medicine systems such as kinesiology or laboratory analysis. But our highest aim is always to treat the person and not the condition.

Did you know that Chinese herbs are not supplements but rather medicines that are taken for a period of time and not in definitively?

From the Western medical system, we are used to thinking that we can take certain compounds, pills, powders, or tablets to impact a process, an organ, a deficiency, an excess, or pain.

In Chinese medicine, we have a slightly different approach and so do herbs. Herbal medicines are considered a medicine and not something like fish oil, Vitamin C or Vitamin D that you always take. The herbal formulas are chosen based on a disharmony and are only administered as long as this imbalance exists.

We very much consider our bodies as being very capable in making corrections, rebalancing and by this gaining health and wellbeing. We also believe in the body and mind connection and herbs might be given with a focus on the mind to get the body better or vice versa. So, herbs are only given in the same composition for a period.

Did you know that pulse and tongue diagnosis are an integral part of Chinese medicine diagnosis?

Chinese medicine pulse diagnosis is based on the idea of the internal organs manifesting their state of health on both wrists of a person. Several different interpretation models exist and have evolved over time. Common principles and interpretation of the pulses (there are at six different ones, three on each side)  is based on three positions on each side.   

Left

Position

Right

Heart 

Closest to wrist (cun)

Lung

Liver

Middle position (guan)

Stomach or Spleen

Kidney Yin (and Yang)

 

Furthest from wrist (chi)

Kidney Yang (and Yin)

 

(Figure 1 From ‘Chinese Pulse Diagnosis, A Contemporary Approach’ (2).

230 K. Bilton et al.)

 Extending from the pulse positions and the organs they ‘represent’, we also assess a variety of pulse depths to help us refine our evaluation. We further compare the qualities of the two wrist pulses with one another. Based on this palpation, we identify a pattern diagnosis which means that a condition of disease is expressed in a configuration of imbalance such as yang deficiency, yin deficiency, stagnation, or stasis, etc.). and sometimes, several patterns at the same time. Pulse diagnosis assists us to identify the body layer(s) involved with the presenting condition. Pulse taking and diagnosis takes time and effort to study, practice and master.   

In Chinese medicine, we are very interested in tongues. So, during your consultation with a registered Chinese medicine practitioner, we will ask you to stick your tongue out. We will look at the body colour, the body shape, and the coating/absence of coating. Tongue diagnosis is very useful in complex conditions where there are a variety of contradicting signs and symptoms present. In Chinese medicine, we believe that the tongue has connections to the organs, the state of body fluids (which includes blood) as well as the meridians.  

These diagnostic methods are unique in Chinese medicine. According to the style of practice of your practitioner, they may be used as single point of diagnosis or could be used as an add-on or confirmation of a Chinese medicine diagnosis.  

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