Chinese Herbs in a Nutshell by Dr Damiana Corca
If you know a few things about Chinese herbs, then the title might give you a giggle as you well know that not even the tip of the iceberg can be touched in a few hundred words article. Well, I’m fully aware of that! So, let’s think of this as an intro to the magic kingdom of Chinese herbs. They have changed my life with their wisdom and healing powers, and I think I owe it to them, myself and you to share some facts that might surprise you more than you’ve ever thought.
First of all, did you know that the phrase Chinese herbs does not necessarily imply that those herbs originate from China, but rather that they are applied through Chinese Medicine concepts? So, here we have our old friend Dandelion – if we call it Pu Gong Ying, it becomes a Chinese herb. True, many of the herbs used in Chinese Medicine today are coming from China and other Oriental countries, but in reality, over the past thousands of years, plants have migrated from a continent to another by different means. Take, for instance, licorice – Gan Cao in Chinese – which is one of the most commonly used herbs for over 2000 years. Does that make it Chinese? Not really, since the Greeks and the Romans have also used licorice since ancient times.
Chinese Herbal Medicine has about 2500 years of written history. However, increased herbal usage dates back at least 5000 years. You might say so what? What has this got to do with me? Maybe people have used herbs since the beginning of humankind. What if I tell you that Chinese Medicine has between 30.000 and 40.000 books written before the turn of the century with thousands additional articles and books written only in the past few years. Of course, Chinese Medicine is more than Chinese Herbs; it also incorporates Acupuncture, tuina (Chinese massage), qi gong, tai chi and nutrition.
As you see, there is a huge amount of books that beautifully trail Chinese Medicine. How about talking of the first book written on Chinese Herbs. Let’s travel back together some 5000 years ago and meet Shen Nong aka “The Divine Farmer”. This name is not your average kind of name, it was given to Shen Nong because he literally changed the lives of billions of Chinese and not only. He not only changed the future of herbal medicine but he influenced and took agriculture to a different level. He has tasted hundreds and hundreds of herbs to discover their medical qualities. He stuck to that practice until the end of his life, dying poisoned by one the herbs he tasted. Our knowledge of herbs is vast enough today and thankfully we don’t have to walk around and taste herbs to find their qualities. So thank you Shen Nong! Various authors collected together his legacy in the first book on herbal medicine called The Herbal Classical of Shen Nong.
We discussed about herbs and not really got to the root of the concept. What are herbs? If you thought common weeds are herbs that you are not wrong, but they are actually much more than that. In fact, most of the herbs used in Chinese medicine are roots, fruit and seeds, but leaves, flowers, stems, barks and minerals are also used. And something more: animal parts. How about that? If this is against your belief, you are a vegan, or only the thought of eating something else than chicken and fish sends chills down your spine, they can be replaced with something else. However, some of them are truly irreplaceable in the benefits they offer. My personal belief is that, when appropriate, being tolerable shows much more wisdom than having a closed mind and choosing to refuse trying something else that is temporary anyway.
An important thing about herbs in China is that there is a clear-cut distinction between herbs and drugs. There are about 500 herbs that are named drugs, while about 4500 herbs are documented as folk medicine. Drugs are the herbs of choice for Chinese Herbalists in China, while the herbs classified as folk medicine are mostly used by lay people. These drugs are what we, the Chinese Herbalists in the US, prescribe but we call them herbs due to the US regulations. A more appropriate name in my opinion would be natural drugs.
The amount of knowledge that a Chinese Herbalist accumulates is vast and there are so many exciting and fun facts that I want to share with you and I will do it in many of the articles to come. So, keep an eye out! Let’s walk together and we will all learn more of the wisdom of nature.
My blog: www.elitehealthplex.blogspot.com
Damiana Corca, DOM, AP, Dipl. O.M., Dipl. C.H.
Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture Physician
Board Certified in Oriental Medicine
Board Certified in Chinese Herbology
Western Family and Consultant Herbalist
Candidate, Board Certified Classical Homeopath