Herbal medicine is a highly refined system of natural medicine that has been time-tested with thousands of years of clinical experience by Asian physicians and herbalists. It has rapidly become a potent and effective medical practice in Western cultures that complements Western bio-medicine. When prescribed by skilled practitioners, herbal medicine safely and effectively treats myriad illnesses and conditions – holistically, addressing both the symptoms and the underlying root disharmony.
Herbs are derived from plants, although minerals and animal products are also part of the “herbal” medical materials. Some herbs are used by themselves, but Chinese herbal medicine is mostly comprised of formulas containing multiple herbs that work synergistically. Because the dosages of herbal medicines are relatively low, the chances of side effects are also very low, making herbal formulas quite safe.
Patent, or ‘over the counter’ medicines, are prepared herbal formulas that are usually made into small pills, tablets, syrups, plasters, and lozenges. They address common ailments and conditions. These are conveniently packaged, lower cost, easily transported when traveling, convenient to consume, and have very little to no taste.
More complex and chronic conditions require custom herbal formulas which are created specifically to the current needs and unique nature of each patient. Custom formulas may involve dried herbs that need to be decocted (boiled) into a ‘tea’, or herbal granules that are simply dissolved in hot water and ingested. Dried herbs are highly potent with immediate effect on the body, and are easily assimilated. Granules are “time released” to breakdown and assimilate over time. Granules and decocted herbs can have a ‘rooty’ or grassy taste, and most people don’t have any trouble taking them. Many people come to enjoy the earthy taste of formulas, and associate the taste with feeling healthier and more connected to natural foods and medicines.
In contrast to herbal formulas, many Western drugs are composed of single, pure, ‘active’ chemicals that target specific biochemical functions, and are distributed in one-size-fits-all dosages. These can cause side effects, requiring other drugs to offset each side effect. Analogously, herbal medicine is like using many small levers to precisely and subtly affect the body, compared to a strong-acting western drug ‘sledge hammer’ that harshly, and quickly affects the body. In emergency situations where quick-acting and significant changes to body chemistry is required, Western drugs are essential. Herbal medicine is more suited for non-emergent situations, shifting chronic conditions over time, preventing illness, and maintaining health.
Most herbs available in the US comply to GMP standards, and are distributed by reputable companies. “Good Manufacturing Practices” (GMP) require that manufacturers, processors, and packagers of drugs, medical devices, some food, and blood take proactive steps to ensure that their products are safe, pure, and effective.
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