Chinese Herbs for the Mind: What's So Special About Chinese Herbs?

Chinese Herbs for the Mind: What's So Special About Chinese Herbs?

Introducing Chinese Herbs to the West

Q: “If Chinese Medicine is so great, why don’t we know about it?”

A: “How long did it take us to ‘discover’ Chinese food?”

It wasn’t until the mid 20th century that most people in the Western world learned just how tasty Chinese food could be. Once we made that discovery it wasn’t long before we found ourselves surrounded by Chinese, Japanese, Tai, Korean, and Indian restaurants.  Asian restaurants abound almost everywhere now.  So, in about 50 years we’ve gone from being largely ignorant and a bit suspicious of what Asians eat, to not being able to get enough of their food.

Moreover, it's not only Asian cuisine, but we're doing Asian martial arts, Tibetan chants, and Buddhist meditation, all of which have breached the cultural gap and taken root in the West. Chinese medicine has arrived and, after thousands of years of practice, isn't going away.


Why Is Chinese Herbal Medicine Different From All Other Herbal Medicines?

Chinese herbal medicine is easily the most highly evolved medical system in the world. Its immense scale of experience spans countless trillions of administrations over thousands of years.  It is the original holistic medicine.

Over 10,000 natural substances are catalogued in Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia. These "herbs", consist of thousands of plant species from all over the world, and also includes both mineral and animal substances.

Of course medicinal herbs aren't unique to China; they're used throughout the world.  Native cultures in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia all know about their local plants and use them for healing. Native Americans might use willow bark for pain, or a tribal medicine man might prescribe yohimbe for impotence. This is 'folk medicine', simple and simplistic, an herb for a symptom, and sometimes it works.

TCM, on the other hand, isn't folk medicine.  Like Western medicine, it’s a highly evolved medical system, using herbs according to diagnosis rather than strictly by symptom.  Pain, for example, can have many causes.  A TCM doctor first needs to diagnose the cause of the pain to know which herb to use.  Pain caused by a ‘cold obstruction’ requires the use of herbs that, not only relieve pain, but also have a warming nature, whereas pain caused by ‘heat’ or inflammation requires herbs with cooling or neutral properties.  Using a hot herb for a heat condition probably wouldn’t work, and even worse, it could harm the patient by exacerbating the symptoms.

  © 2017 Joel Harvey Schreck 

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Did you know that Dr. Shen is also the artist and photographer Joel Schreck? See his work at

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