20 August 2020 - The practice of Chinese herbal medicine dates back thousands of years, and many of the herbal combinations (ie 'formulas') used today are still based on those from ancient medical texts dating back as far as circa 200 C.E.

Chinese herbs consist of a wide range of medicinal substances, such as seeds, fruits and berries, fungi, leaves, roots, stems, and minerals. Some of these herbs may already be in your kitchen or garden, such as ginger, fennel seed, cloves, goji berries, peppermint leaf, and cassia cinnamon bark. 

Chinese herbs are almost always prescribed in carefully designed formulas, usually consisting of around 4-15 medicinal substances. Each formula is designed with the interaction of its various herbal ingredients in mind, as well as the effect of the formula with the person's main health issue/s and constitution.

When prescribing herbal medicine, I look at how the person's main health complaint is presenting in the context of their overall health, as well as their digestive health, medical history, current medications and supplements, pregnancy/breastfeeding status, constitution, the current season, their lifestyle, and diet. 

Your herbal medicine formula is tailored specifically for you, and different people presenting with the same biomedically defined disease will often be given different Chinese medicine formulas. This is because Chinese medicine is a very individualised system of healthcare, and treats the person who has the disease, rather than the disease per se. 

There are a number of factors which will affect how long it will take to see results, including the length of time you have had a condition, the severity, your constitution, digestive health, the form and dosage of herbal medicine, and use of concurrent therapies such as acupuncture. Depending on these factors, it is usually several days to weeks before you start to notice an improvement.

I dispense most herbal formulas in either powdered extract or tablet form. Extracts are generally more potent than tablet form, however can taste unusual to the Western palate. If you find the unusual taste challenging, you can add honey, or follow your herbs with a shot of OJ. 

image: uuoott | Getty Images (Canva)