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Our Love Affair With Chinese Medicine



West meets East and falls in love – not just a tale of human relations but also one that holds true for health and healing. Wellness publications have been touting the benefits of Chinese medicine and Chinese herbs for many years now and as individuals seek greater control over their own health, it continues to be a service industry that is growing strongly.

What is it about Chinese medicine that holds such a broad appeal? There are probably a number of contributing factors: a desire to live more simply, with fewer chemicals and synthetic products; an interest in the natural world and products derived more closely from nature; wanting to have a more influential role in caring for one’s own health and the prevention of illness; a long history of the use of Chinese herbs and medicines “tested” on thousands upon thousands of people over centuries. Where pharmaceutical companies rely on studies with a set number of subjects some Chinese herbal medicines have been “trialed” on a much larger number of subjects, though without the scientific rigor of modern Western approaches.

Chinese medicine is based on different principles of Western medicine. It treats the body as a whole and looks at how the different organs and systems interact and impact each other. The concept of “chi” or “qi” (life force) is central to the Chinese approach and the flow of chi through the body is observed in different ways to determine the health and vitality of different organs.

Types of Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine includes not just the use of herbs but also acupuncture, particular types of massage, and movement such as Qi Gong.

For a Western mind, herbs are probably the most easily comprehended: instead of taking a little white pill that comes in a neat foil packet, you might, instead, take little black pills out of a bottle (or an often-nasty tasting liquid concoction, also out of a bottle). This is not a huge conceptual leap to take. Acupuncture – the insertion of pins into the skin at key points across the body – can be a bit harder for people to embrace. For childbirth, acupuncture is becoming increasingly popular for speeding up labor and assisting with pain relief, however.

Common Chinese Herbs

So then, what are some of the most commonly used Chinese herbs? Following below are some of the better-known herbs used for managing health and illness.

  • Acanthopanax
  • Anemarrhena
  • Angelica
  • Asparagus (Shatavari)
  • Astragalus
  • Bupleurum
  • Chinese Licorice Root
  • Dong Quai
  • Eucommia
  • Fang Feng
  • Forsythia
  • Fo-Ti
  • Gentiana
  • Ginkgo Biloba
  • Gynostemma
  • Immortal Grass (curculigo)
  • Isatis
  • Korean Ginseng
  • Lonicera
  • Lycium Fruit
  • Morinda
  • Schizandra

Just as with Western medicine, there are practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine who understand how they work within the body and can help people select the best medicines for their ailments and body system type.