The Politics of Chinese Herbs: by Dr Damiana Corca

Would one be correct in thinking that designing an herbal formula is simply a matter of blending a few herbs together? Not quite correct. With your permission, I will endeavor to enlighten you on this point. Devising an herbal formula is a complex process which requires much more than thinking symptomatically and merely blending herbs together. It’s sort of like cooking. A meal is not just ingredients put together; it rather involves a touch of art and skill.

There are a couple of subjects, one of them politics, where people seem to come to a disagreement pretty fast. When asked about political views I simply respond that I leave politics to politicians. Then why am I talking of politics here? Believe it or not, Chinese herbs formulas have more in common with politics than you might have ever imagined.

Certain things seem to have been around for as long as humanity has. Political hierarchy is one such thing. Let me explain why I am making this assertion. There was a Yellow Emperor, who lived about 4000 years ago during Xia dynasty, and besides being the first leader to bring the Chinese tribes together, his contribution to medicine was tremendous. His books are of immense value even in our time but what I want to emphasize is that he is the one that introduced the herbal formulas system of combination that has been used for thousands of years and continues to be taught nowadays in every school and applied in every formula.

This system is called Jun Chen Zuo Shi. Got it? Probably not! So let’s take it word by word and finally explain how politics fit into this. The first word, Jun, means emperor, king or why not – president. One herb is used for this role and it treats the main disease. It is usually prescribed in higher dosages. After all, isn’t the leader of a country the most powerful person? However, as any other leader, he would be nothing without his helpers.

Chen comes into the picture as the most trusted person and it could be translated as deputy, associate or minister. As this job holds many responsibilities, a couple of herbs are used to help and support the chief herb. Besides helping the leader, Chen also has his own unique tasks such as taking care of other diseases and patterns present at the same time in a patient.

Guess who follows? Nobody else but our secretary or assistant that runs and does all the chores – here called Zuo. Not only that he lends a helping hand to the chief and deputy herbs, but he also knows how to keep things running smoothly. Being a chief or a deputy comes at a price, but Zuo is always there to balance everything. Likewise, the assistant knows how to balance the toxicities that the other herbs might have when used alone and it can also moderate the chief herb.

Finally, Shi is our envoy or why not call him the ambassador, as it takes all the other herbs and focuses them on certain parts of the body and can negotiate and balance the side effects of the other herbs.

That’s all folks!

Anyway, you should bear in mind that many formulas do not have exactly this hierarchy of ingredients. In fact, most of them only have a chief herb and a few deputies. When the formula needs to be moderated or needs to be directed towards specific parts of the body, the assistant and the envoy come in to help.

Average formulas are made up of 5 to 10 herbs skillfully combined after the diagnosis of each patient is made. Chinese Herbs are generally not prescribed for a disease but rather for a pattern present in a specific patient at a certain moment.  So, we are talking about customized treatments. But this is a different kettle of fish into which I will delve further in another article, where I will show how Chinese Medicine is focused on patterns present in a patient at the time of the visit, not on disease names.

Until then, keep healthy and always be happy!

More on my blog:

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

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