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Longevity Mountain Herbs FAQs



Chinese herbal medicine FAQs answers most frequent questions that are relevant to people seeking help from the most developed alternative medicine. Chinese herbal medicine is based on a complex system of diagnoses along with the knowledge of plants, animals, and minerals’ energetic and therapeutic properties.

Chinese herbal medicine is a system of health care that uses Chinese herbs to prevent imbalance and eradicate ailments. It originates from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and has been used for thousands of years.

It is the most popular form of herbal therapy used in the world today. TCM practitioners use yin and yang theory in concert with indicators and recognized patterns to prepare herbal formula that include medicinal properties to remedy an extensive array of acute and chronic health problems. TCM herbalists have chosen individual herbs for their therapeutic characteristics and impact.


Chinese herbs have a short-lived history in the USA (1970s) while much longer in East Asia (500-2000 BC). The use of plants probably originated not long after fire was discovered, and people started cooking. This knowledge later developed into one of the most sophisticated and unbroken herbal medical traditions of the world. Whereas most medical libraries all over the world were destroyed during conquest, Chinese medicine enjoyed longevity through the security of the Great Wall of China and its recorded military history (2200 BC).

The earliest known herbal textbook is a list of prescriptions for specific ailments, found in the Mawangdui tombs in China, which was sealed in 168 BC. Traditionally the oldest Materia Medica is Shénnóng Ben Cao Jing (Shennong’s Materia Medica). It classifies 365 species of roots, grass, woods, furs, animals and stones into three categories of herbal medicine: The famous medical textbook the Neijing Suwen – The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine is thousands of years old and outlines the theories of traditional Chinese medicine.

Herbal medicine is one of the main modalities or methods within Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. TCM is the world’s oldest, continually practiced, professional medicine. Its written history stretches back not less than 2,500 years and its practice is undoubtedly much older than that. Although acupuncture was the first Chinese modality to gain wide accept­ance in the West, Chinese herbal medicine is quickly establishing itself as one of the most popular and effective alternative therapies in the West.

Today, food (first tier) is still used by Chinese medicine practitioners as the first line of medicine in East Asia where different herbs are added to the cuisine for their health benefits. If this first line of medicine fails, then people seek an herbalist for an herb medicine prescription (second tier). The third tier of Chinese medicine is exercise (Taichi, Qigong). If this regimen fails to impact then treatment intensity is increased to the fourth tier of practice (acupuncture, cupping) by the practitioner. There are hundreds more modalities which are effective after the first four tiers have been applied. USA practitioners have been trained to ignore these steps and typically begin the fourth stage of practice procedures which is inconsiderate of the patient’s condition and capability.   

Chinese herbs with herb scale

We have received thousands of questions from our web site visitors regarding Chinese Herb Medicine. The senior herbalist, Mark Hammer CMH-III has reviewed these questions and selected the most frequent, important questions and answered them in the following Chinese Herb Medicine FAQs:   

1. What are Chinese herbs?

Chinese herbs are an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and have been utilized for centuries in the treatment of various disorders and conditions. Comprising a diverse range of plant-based substances, Chinese herbs are derived from roots, bark, flowers, seeds, fruits, leaves, and branches. With a history spanning over 3000 years, TCM places significant emphasis on the use of Chinese herb medicine alongside other modalities such as food therapy (diet), exercise (TaiChi, Qigong), and if needed, cupping and acupuncture.

Within China, there exists a vast array of more than 3000 different herbs that can be employed for medicinal purposes. However, it is noteworthy that only a subset of approximately 300 to 500 herbs are commonly utilized in clinical practice. To ensure optimal efficacy and safety, it is crucial to source most herbs from their native environment in China. The specific conditions and unique characteristics of the Chinese ecosystem contribute to the cultivation of high-quality herbs, thereby maximizing their therapeutic potential.

When utilizing Chinese herbs, it is imperative to adhere to the principles of TCM diagnosis and treatment. The selection and combination of herbs are based on the individual’s specific pattern of disharmony, which is determined through a comprehensive assessment of their characteristics, Chinese medical history, and overall constitution. By tailoring the herbal formulas to address the underlying imbalances within the body, Chinese medicine aims to restore harmony and promote natural healing.

In addition to their therapeutic effects, Chinese herbs are formulated to enhance their synergistic actions and mitigate potential side effects. This strategy allows for a comprehensive and holistic regimen that considers the intricate interplay of various herbs to achieve optimal therapeutic outcomes.

It is crucial to emphasize that the quality and authenticity of Chinese herbs play a pivotal role in their effectiveness. To ensure the desired therapeutic benefits, it is recommended to obtain herbs from reputable sources that adhere to strict quality control standards. By doing so, one can harness the full potential of Chinese herb medicine and take advantage of its rich history and accumulated wisdom in the recovery of human ailments.

2. How does herbal medicine work? 

Herbal medicine operates within the framework of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), where each herb possesses specific actions, flavors, and affinities for certain internal organs. In TCM, a herbal prescription typically consists of 6-12 different plants that work synergistically to address the health problem at hand. These herbs have the potential to enhance the body’s vital energy, restore balance to the mind and body, and exhibit anti-inflammatory properties and much more.

Chinese herbs function in a distinct manner compared to Western medicine drugs due to their holistic nature. Being natural substances, Chinese herbs may require a longer duration to manifest their therapeutic effects; however, they are generally associated with minimal to no side effects. Keep in mind, the power of Chinese herbalism lies in the knowledge of formulation. Over thousands of years, specific combinations of not just a few herbs but usually 8-12 plants have been determined resulting in effective and rapid results. 

The efficacy of Chinese herbs is supported by a growing body of research, further substantiating their clinical utility. These herbs have been used safely and medicinally for thousands of years, with minimal side effects when prescribed correctly by trained herbalists. The safety and effectiveness of Chinese herbs lie in the art of combining them to form carefully balanced prescriptions, known as herbal formulas. It is uncommon for Chinese herbs to be consumed individually. Instead, they are customarily blended to not only address the patient’s primary health concern but also to target associated secondary level problems.

Chinese herbal formulas are rooted in standard, classical prescriptions that have undergone extensive clinical use for millennia. These prescriptions have been tried and tested, and they are modified to suit the individual needs of each patient. The herbalist adjusts the prescription by removing unnecessary herbs or those with redundant functions, and by incorporating additional herbs to address any supplementary conditions experienced by the patient.

Nourishing and harmonizing herbal formulas serve as exceptional tonics, strengthening individuals who may be weakened by factors such as overwork, serious illness, childbirth, or poor diet and irregular eating habits. Herbs with cooling properties can effectively counteract fevers, night sweats, and hot flashes, while herbs with warming properties can provide relief for those experiencing sensations of coldness. Chinese herbs not only exert their effects on the body but also on the mind, remedying conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. They can be used for a wide range of acute and chronic conditions, including but not limited to colds, allergies, digestive disorders, menstrual and menopausal conditions, rashes, and pain. The utility of herbs extends beyond these examples as they have been utilized for thousands of years to achieve and maintain good health.

In conclusion, herbal medicine in the context of TCM operates by utilizing the distinct characteristics and properties of each herb to restore balance and promote recovery. Chinese herbs, with their holistic approach, offer a safe and effective therapeutic option. Supported by extensive clinical use and ongoing research, they have demonstrated their efficacy over centuries. The individualized nature of Chinese herbal formulas allows for a comprehensive treatment approach, addressing both the primary health concern and any associated secondary root causes. By harnessing the power of herbal combinations, Chinese medicine provides a time-tested and reliable method for achieving and maintaining optimal health.

3. Are Chinese herbs safe? 

Chinese herbs are generally considered safe when prescribed correctly by a trained herbalist. The chief advantage of Chinese herbal formulas is their ability to minimize side effects while maintaining clinical efficacy. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, Chinese herbs exhibit a comparatively gentler action, thus reducing the potential for adverse reactions.

When using single herbs, higher dosages may be required to achieve therapeutic effects, increasing the likelihood of side effects, similar to drug therapy. However, the combination of herbs with similar functions in an herbal formula allows Chinese herbalists to lower the dosages of individual herbs. Although rare, if side effects do occur, they are generally limited to mild gastrointestinal discomfort such as gas, indigestion, or changes in bowel habits. These side effects typically cease when the use of the herb is discontinued. To prevent future occurrences, TCM herbalists can modify the formula by incorporating herbs that improve digestive function, thereby counteracting any potential harsh properties of the herbs.

It is important to note that Chinese herbs are used in the United States as traditional foods and not as drugs. Consequently, there has been limited formal testing of the safety and efficacy of individual herbs or formulas. However, the Chinese have extensive experience in using these herbs, and informal reports suggest that they are safe to use. In clinical studies, the Chinese claim that not only are the herbs safe but that healthy children are usually born without complications during delivery. Nevertheless, it is crucial to recognize that the use of Chinese herbs is relatively new in the United States, and current safety standards have improved in the last 20 years.

In summary, when prescribed correctly by a trained herbalist, Chinese herbs are generally considered safe with minimal side effects. The combination of herbs in an herbal formula helps to lower individual herb dosages, reducing the likelihood of adverse reactions. While limited formal testing has been conducted, the long-standing use of Chinese herbs in China and anecdotal evidence support their safety.

4. Why Use Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine is widely used and has been practiced by various cultures throughout history. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 4 billion people around the world utilize herbs for medicinal purposes. As a result, herbal medicine has become an integral part of primary healthcare in many societies. In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in the use of herbal medicine among Americans to address their health conditions.

An herb is defined as a plant or plant part that possesses medicinal, aromatic, or savory qualities. These plants contain a diverse array of chemical substances that exert specific effects on the body. It is worth noting that many of the drugs commonly used in modern medicine have their origins in herbal remedies. For instance, digitalis, which is derived from the foxglove plant, is used in the treatment of cardiac conditions. In fact, approximately 25 percent of prescription drugs dispensed in the United States contain at least one active ingredient sourced from plant material.

The WHO has observed that out of 119 pharmaceutical medicines derived from plants, around 74 percent are used in modern medicine in a manner that directly aligns with their traditional usage as plant medicines by native cultures. This recognition of the therapeutic potential of plant-derived substances has prompted major pharmaceutical companies to conduct extensive research on plant materials from around the world. The goal is to explore their medicinal properties and ascertain their potential value in developing new drugs.

The use of herbal medicine offers several advantages. Firstly, herbs have a long history of use in different cultures, providing a wealth of traditional knowledge and wisdom regarding their therapeutic properties. Secondly, herbal medicine often takes a holistic approach, considering the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and spirit. This comprehensive perspective aligns with the principles of traditional healing systems such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Additionally, herbal medicine can provide a more gentle and natural alternative to conventional pharmaceutical drugs, as it is believed to have a comparatively lower risk of adverse effects.

Moreover, herbal medicine holds promise for addressing a wide range of health conditions. Herbs can be used to alleviate symptoms, support the body’s natural healing processes, and promote overall well-being. They have been employed in the treatment of various acute and chronic ailments, including but not limited to respiratory infections, digestive disorders, hormonal imbalances, musculoskeletal conditions, and mental health issues.

In conclusion, herbal medicine is a widely practiced and respected form of healthcare that has been utilized throughout history by diverse cultures. With its holistic approach, rich traditional knowledge base, and potential for developing new pharmaceutical drugs, herbal medicine offers a valuable and effective means of addressing health conditions. As the field continues to evolve, further research and exploration of the medicinal properties of plants will undoubtedly lead to advancements in the understanding and utilization of herbal medicine.

5. What is the difference between Western folk herbalism and Chinese (Eastern) herbal medicine?

The difference between Western folk herbalism and Chinese (Eastern) herbal medicine lies in their approaches to diagnosis, treatment, and the use of herbal formulas.

In Western folk herbalism, the focus is primarily on treating specific diseases or symptoms. Herbal remedies are often used to address common ailments such as headaches, runny nose, or menstrual pain. The emphasis is on finding herbs or groups of herbs that target a particular symptom or disease. Single herbs or combinations of herbs with similar properties are commonly utilized in Western herbalism.

On the other hand, Chinese herbal medicine, when practiced as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), adopts a more comprehensive and individualized approach. Diagnosis in TCM involves both disorder (disease) diagnosis and pattern diagnosis. In addition to identifying the specific disorder or condition, TCM practitioners also assess the individual’s unique pattern of disharmony. This pattern considers the person’s warning signs, emotional temperament, and bodily constitution. Based on this comprehensive assessment, a custom herbal prescription is formulated to address both the superficial sign(s) or disorder and the individual pattern.

Chinese herbal formulas, unlike Western folk herbalism, typically consist of a combination of 6-18 different herbs. These formulas are carefully crafted to include herbs that target 1) the main conditions or ailments, as well as 2) herbs that address the underlying pattern of imbalance. This approach aims to not only alleviate ailments but also treat the root cause of compromised health. In TCM, the same five-element, constitution and meridian system of diagnosis used in acupuncture is utilized to identify patterns of imbalance and guide the selection of appropriate herbs.

Another distinction between Western folk herbalism and Chinese herbal medicine is the sourcing of herbs. Chinese herbs are generally harvested in regions of China, although some (15%) may be sourced from various locations around the world. In contrast, Western herbs are typically harvested in North, Central and South America.

In summary, Western folk herbalism primarily focuses on treating specific diseases or symptoms using single herbs or combinations of herbs that target the same condition. Chinese herbal medicine, as part of TCM, takes a comprehensive and individualized approach by addressing both the disorder and the individual pattern of disharmony. Chinese herbal formulas are carefully crafted combinations of multiple herbs that aim to treat the root cause of health issues while alleviating symptoms. The use of the five-element, constitution, and meridian system of diagnosis in TCM guides the selection of herbs.

6. Are Chinese herbs effective like western drugs?

Chinese herbs can be highly effective in treating a wide range of conditions, comparable to the effectiveness of Western drugs. Numerous health issues that are commonly addressed with Western medications, such as hypertension, diabetes, headaches, pain conditions, fibromyalgia, allergies, sinus infections, acid reflux disease, bowel problems (such as IBS and Crohn’s disease), bladder infections, skin conditions, menstrual cramping, peri/postmenopausal syndrome, Parkinson’s, insomnia, anxiety, and depression, can also be successfully remedied with herbal medicine.

Patients and their physicians often find themselves dissatisfied with the undesirable side effects associated with Western medications or the prospect of having to rely on these drugs for extended periods of time. In many cases, Chinese medicine offers superior clinical results and longer-lasting effects compared to conventional medicine, particularly for chronic conditions.

When embarking on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments, patients who are currently taking Western medications are advised to continue their medication regimen. As their condition improves and with proper guidance and clearance from their prescribing physician, patients may gradually reduce their reliance on the drug under the supervision of their doctor. Once transitioned off the medication, are symptom free, with approval from their prescribing physician, patients may engage with their Chinese medicine practitioner. 

It is important to note that the effectiveness of Chinese herbs, like any form of treatment, may vary depending on the individual and the specific condition being addressed. However, the extensive historical use of Chinese herbs and the growing body of research support their efficacy in treating various health conditions. Patients and healthcare providers are increasingly recognizing the potential of Chinese herbal medicine as a valuable and effective alternative or complementary approach to Western drugs in achieving optimal health outcomes.

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