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Home >> China Guide >> Chinese Culture >> Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine provides treatment by plants. Besides plants, animal parts, mineral products and even human part are also utilized in traditional Chinese medicine. However, Chinese herbal medicine is the most crucial part of traditional Chinese medicine.

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

Chinese herbal medicine focuses on the restoration of energy, body, and spirit balance and unlike Western medicine, Chinese herbal medicine aims at maintaining health rather than cure of 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. One Chinese herbal medicine prescriptions may contain 4 to 12 different ingredients, and could be taken in the form of powders, pills, tea, tinctures, or syrups.

The first widely recognized herbalist in Chinese herbal medicine history is Shen Nong, who tasted hundreds of herbs and imparted his medicinal knowledge to farmers and taught them to recognize toxic plants. His notes Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Shennong's Materia Medica) is considered as the oldest book on Chinese herbal medicine. In this book he classified 365 species 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 masterpiece of Chinese herbal medicine is Li Shizhen’s masterpiece Compendium of Materia Medica (Ben Cao Gang Mu), which involved near two-thousand kinds of herb and over ten-thousand prescriptions.

Traditionally, Chinese herbal medicine has 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.

Besides, Chinese herbal medicine also has Five Flavors, which are: acrid or pungent, sweet, bitter, sour, and salty. One kind of Chinese herbal medicine may also have more than one flavor, or none. The Five Flavors are corresponding 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 presently.  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, etc. 

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