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Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine is the use of plants for medical purposes. Besides plants, animal parts, mineral products and even human parts are also used in traditional Chinese medicine. However, Chinese herbal medicine is the most crucial part of traditional Chinese medicine.

A great variety of plants are used in Chinese herbal medicine. Herbs are processed into dried plants or are used to reserve a specific part of the plant such as the leaves, flowers, roots, seeds or fruits.

Chinese herbal medicine focuses on the restoration of energy, body and spiritual balance and unlike Western medicine, Chinese herbal medicine aims to maintain health rather than cure a particular illness.

According to incomplete statistics, more than 3,200 kinds of herbs and 300 kinds of mineral and animal parts are used in Chinese herbal medicine in more than 400 prescriptions. Chinese herbal medicine prescriptions may contain 4 to 12 different ingredients and come in the form of powders, pills, tea, tinctures, or syrups.

The first herbalist in Chinese herbal medicine history is widely recognised as Shen Nong, who tasted hundreds of herbs and imparted his medicinal knowledge to farmers and taught them how to recognise toxic plants. Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Shennong's Materia Medica) is considered to be the oldest book in Chinese herbal medicine. In this book he classified 365 types of Chinese herbal medicine including plant roots, grass, woods, furs, animal parts and minerals into three categories, which were high-grade, medium-grade and low-grade.

The most famous book regarding Chinese herbal medicine is Li Shizhen's masterpiece Compendium of Materia Medica (Ben Cao Gang Mu), which involved nearly two-thousand kinds of herb and over ten-thousand prescriptions for illnesses.

Traditionally, Chinese herbal medicine has four classifications (Four Natures) which are hot, warm, cool and cold. Hot and warm herbs are used to treat cold diseases, while cool and cold herbs are used to treat heat diseases.

Chinese herbal medicine has Five Flavour categories, which are: acrid or pungent, sweet, bitter, sour and salty. One kind of Chinese herbal medicine may also have more than one flavour, or none. The Five Flavours correspond to five internal organs (heart, liver, lung, spleen, and kidney) and the Five Phases (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth). Accordingly, saltiness corresponds to kidney and water; sweetness corresponds to spleen and earth; pungency corresponds to lung and metal; bitterness corresponds to heart and fire; sour corresponds to liver and wood.

Over three hundred kinds of Chinese herbal medicine are commonly used nowadays. Some of the most commonly used are Ginseng, atractylodes, astragalus, wolfberry, Dong Quai, bupleurum, licorice, coptis, ginger, ephedra sinica, rehmannia, hoelen, peony, rhubarb and salvia.