Herbal Consultations

herbal medicine consultation

What can herbs treat?

Well, the list is as long to write as if you had a Western physician what medications are good for!Colds, body pain, digestive issues, menstrual pains, UTIs are but a few of them. Herbs are wonders of nature, amazingly tuned in to human body needs and provide us with a bounty of remedies to alleviate pain, heal disease and help us achieve health.

Did you know that aspirin is a synthesized version of its white willow predecessor? That digitalis, used for heart disease, is a plant?

Chinese medicine has, over centuries, compiled a very sophisticated classification of herbs and herbal formulas.

I use herbs both to treat acute ailments or as part of a long time strategy.

What is a Chinese medicine “formula”?

Typically, a Chinese medicine-based formula includes several herbs. The approach is very unique and quite different from Western herbalism. While it is also very common for a Western herbalist to choose several herbs to address a specific problem, those herbs are most often chosen for the same effect (several herbs known for their laxative action in the case of constipation for example.) A potential problem of this kind of approach is that it can lead to a combination that might be effective but harsh on the body.

In contrast, Chinese medicine will choose herbs with different actions in a very sophisticated way to alleviate possible side effects of specific herbs within the formula. An herb cold in nature for example could cause some diarrhea or stomach problems. The Chinese medicine formula will therefore include a warming herb to counteract the potentially damaging effect of cold on the digestive system. A liver tonic will include herbs to support liver but also the Spleen or the kidney within the Chinese medicine map of how herbs can support each other or negate potential side effects.

Some of the most common herbal prescriptions have made their way to the shelves of our supermarkets and health food stores. One of the best known is Yin Qiao Jie Du Pian, based on Honeysuckle and Forsythia, for common colds.

How do herbs differ from medication?

Herbal prescriptions are based on individual needs and health conditions so that two people suffering from similar symptoms might be prescribed a different formula. This approach differs from the allopathic tradition where medication is prescribed according to a specific disease. In the Chinese medicine model, someone suffering from a stomach ache for example, might be suffering from excess cold in the stomach (after eating too much ice cream and drinking cold beer for example) while the other one might be suffering from excess heat in the stomach (after too rich of a meal for example). Both might be vomiting and suffer from stomach pain but the herbs and formulas will be different. While this is a simplified explanation, it does illustrate the Chinese medicine approach of what is called the “syndrome” or underlying cause as opposed to the disease name and symptoms.

Insomnia might be another example. Waking up around 1:00 to 3:00 in the morning might indicate and “excess” and stagnation in the liver (hang overs and alcohol consumption for example typically create that type of insomnia, although that is far from the only cause), while insomnia in someone suffering from anemia and palpitations might be ascribed to “Blood deficiency”. By the same token, constipation might be ascribed to an excess of “heat” in the Liver or Gallbladder or to a deficiency of “Qi” such as often seen in elderly people I will therefore typically ask about accompanying symptoms to determine the syndrome involved. who literally do not have enough life force to get the peristalsis movement going.

Another characteristic of Chinese medicine herbalism lies in the way it “builds” formulas. In the case of insomnia due to Blood deficiency (anemia) for example, the formula would include herbs to calm the spirit, herbs to tonify Blood, herbs to tonify the Spleen since Spleen “creates” blood and also herbs to “move” blood since a Blood deficiency, like a river that does not have enough flow, tends to create stagnation and possible accumulation of debris, dead wood or, in the body, toxins.

Chinese medicine formulas and herbs have proven extremely effective when used judiciously and have a long history of successful use. For hemorrhaging during menopause or during periods for example, herbs can offer solutions where Western medicine can only offer D&C (dilation and curettage) or surgical options. There is a whole world to explore and I recommend that you do explore it. After all, where does our aspirin come from if not originally from willow bark? isn’t digitalis one of the best-known treatments for angina? yes, the pharmaceutical industry creates synthetic versions of those initially natural remedies and, while they may make them stronger and more concentrated, they also create harmful side effects. Even our aspirin is not harless and is known for its effect of potential erosion of the lining of the stomach with risks of bleeding, ulcers and hemorrhaging. White willow does not have those side effects.

Whenever possible, I recommend using herbal remedies and turning to medication when absolutely necessary.

Why would you use herbs?

The wisdom of herbs and their symbiosis with human beings is truly amazing. Let’s look at a simple, humble herb like dandelion...yes, that very same dandelion that we consider a “weed” on our urban lawns. Dandelion is known in herbal medicine as a diuretic and liver and gallbladder cleanser, getting rid of excess water and “fire” in the liver. Chinese medicine uses it also for skin inflammation. As we know in Western medicine, diuretics can help hypertension and water retention, but diuretics are also know to leach minerals, in particular potassium, from the body. Well, apparently nature knew something about that and dandelion is rich in...did you guess? yes...potassium, besides iron and many other minerals yet to be discovered in the complex making of such an unpretentious simple herb, one that our grandparents knew to use as a food in soups and salads, just like our nettle friends...yes, indeed, a whole world to explore right at our fingertips, one that people of old knew and that Chinese medicine preciously preserved and classified for us.

Herbs are our natural friends and allies. They contain all the minerals, vitamins and healing qualities that we need. Medicines all over the world have used them to treat, soothe and heal!

Side effects and “rebound effects” of over-the-counter medication.

I strongly recommend to my patients to keep a simple “emergency herbal kit” at home for the most common ailments. Even people convinced that it is best to reserve medications for emergency situations end up finding themselves at the pharmacy and getting over-the-counter medications when faced with colds, flu, sinus infection, stomach ache or food poisoning for which they are unprepared.

Unfortunately those over-the-counter medications are far from harmless. Many nasal sprays for common sinus medications, for example, are well-known, from the Western medicine point of view, for their “rebound” effect (a Western medical term), meaning that when you stop the medication, the problem might actually get worse. Here is a medical dictionary definition:

    • Rebound effect: The production of increased negative symptoms when the effect of a drug has passed or the patient no longer responds to the drug. If a drug produces a rebound effect, the condition it was used to treat may come back even stronger when the drug is discontinued or loses effectiveness.

The most common drugs known for their rebound effects include drugs for insomnia, anti-depressants, headache and sinus medications. Actually the sinus rebound effect is so common so it was given a name: “rhinitis medicamentosa.” It usually occurs 5 to 7 days after the use of the medication. The swelling of the nasal passages caused by rebound congestion may eventually result in permanent turbinate (also known as nasal concha or cavity) hyperplasia (increasing of cells) which may block nasal breathing and need to be surgically removed. None of this is a big secret. We only need to tune in to our TV, newspaper and radio ads and pay attention to know that the list of side effects is quite long and should invite us to think twice before using any of those meds. Apparently the pharmaceutical industry counts on its customers’ desperation or lack of attention to get its products sold in spite of the warnings, just like cigarettes. It is up to us, therefore, to make the effort to become aware and prepared.

Are Chinese herbs safe?

Nowadays, many people worry about the safety and potential toxicity of Chinese herbs. Most berbal Chinese medicine found in this country are actually made by US companies even though the formulas are Chinese (Bio essence and Plum Flower are two US brands). Herbs are tested for lead, arsenic and toxic contents and reputable companies only rely on safe sources. I work with a very reliable company located in North Carolina whose management is always looking for the best quality available.

It should also be noted that, if we compare to the side effects routinely listed for Western medications and the numerous accidents (including addiction) and deaths to which they are linked, Chinese medicine remedies have proven amazingly safe. Regular alarming news and warning about their use and their interaction with Western medicines have more to do with politics and pharmaceutical marketing than with real facts.

That being said,herbs CAN HAVE SIDE EFFECTS. Even 2000 years ago, practitioners knew that herbs like Ephedra need to be taken or prepared in certain ways. That is where the architecture of formulas comes in…Ephedra for example was never traditionally used by itself, nor was it used for weight loss..which was the cause of two deaths in Europe and let to the unfortunate ban of Ephedra, traditionally used for asthma and balanced by other herbs in formulas.

Do not hesitate to ask your practitioners where they are getting the herbs and remedies they are selling in their practice and you can check the companies on the internet. People who are proud of their sources and care are only too happy to point it out on their site. A good practitioner will also ask you to fill out a full medical intake form that includes questions about the medications that you are presently taking.

Chinese medicine remedies often do not have a very good reputation because of their taste. It is true that in China and in the East in general, people seem to have a remarkable ability to ingest bitter herbs and decoctions in a way that seems quite difficult fo Westerners. It has partly to do with the fact that they usually have stronger Spleen and Stomach and can literally “stomach” stronger potions and decoctions.

Technology, though, has changed the map of herbal therapy. The old style decoction is now only one form available, one that some people still prefer. Here are the versions available:

    1. Raw dried herbs: the most efficient and quickest in terms in results; the herbs are cooked in decoction (bringing to a boil and simmering), traditionally in two consecutive cookings.
      • Advantages: quick acting, strong in action, especially suited for severe disease, fever and acute conditions. Some people enjoy the direct contact with the herbs, their shape and smell.
      • Drawbacks: time consuming; some people -- sometimes spouses or families -- dislike the smell in the house, the preparation involved and the time. The taste might be too unpleasant or too strong for some. Difficult to use when traveling.
    2. Powder extracts: these are very common as the technology enables the industry to make concentrated extracts in 5:1 or even 10:1 concentrations.
      • Advantages: easier to use than decoctions and still quite potent; less time consuming; can be taken along if traveling as long as one has access to hot water;
      • Drawbacks: a bit less potent than the decoction although highly effective; the problem of the taste remains though. More expensive than the raw herbs.
    3. Capsules: the powder is encapsulated;
      • Advantages: Easier to take and carry; solves the problem of taste.
      • Drawbacks: more expensive as you pay for the encapsulation (unless you do it yourself an buy capsules and encapsulator, which also requires time but keeps the price down); Capsules hold a very minute amount of herbs, so taking the recommended dosage is often ineffective. To get the equivalent of either powder or decoction, you usually need quite a few capsules and, therefore, end up ingesting a significant amount of “gel” or gelatine unless you open the capsules but then, why use capsules in the first place?
        • Price versus effectiveness becomes more of a factor and, because the amount might not be optimal, results may be either delayed or compromised.
    4. Pills and teapills: the herbs come in pill form or in little round “teapills” traditionally coated with licorice.
      • Advantages: easy to take, especially for children. very common and relatively cheap; some traditional remedies for colds or digestive problems are very quick and effective. They are easy to take, easy to carry and easy to ingest and digest. They have a long shelf- life.
      • Drawbacks: the quality of herbs used in those folk remedies greatly varies. They are often less effective than the raw herbs. Some practitioners are disdainful of those folk remedies. Yet, in my practice, time and time again, I have had the opportunity to witness their effectiveness for a variety of complaints, from cough to sinus issues, digestive problems, food poisoning, shingles, herpes etc. and I have come to love and respect them.These are actually the ones I recommend for the basic emergency pharmacy. Unless one has a strong interest in learning about herbs, these can easily take care most common ailments. When I want something stronger, I usually switch to powders. They are stronger acting the quantity can be easily adjusted.

Herbal Emergency Kit

An herbal pharmacy as well as what I call an “emergency kitchen” is therefore a wise and simple step to take. Those simple herbal and home remedies are gifts from nature.

Even though the names may seem strange (they are Chinese after all) and difficult, they are actually very simple once you understand them. “Wan” at the end means “pill,” “Pian” tablets, while “San” means powder. The rest of the name either refers to the herbs themselves or to the action of the formula. These are just basic examples and can constitute a foundation to which to add according to your needs. Essential oils and local herbs and remedies for example can be added to your “emergency kit”...

    1. Chuan Xin Lian Wan (Andographis pills): Sore throat, beginning of cold, flu and fever, uninary tract infection, any infection such as herpes etc.
    2. Yin Qiao Jie Du Pian (Honeysuckle and Forsythia): Cold, chest congestion, cough, sinus congestion: Best if taken right at the beginning of symptoms, as often as every 2 hours or so.
    3. Bi Yan Pian (Nose Inflammation Tablets) : Sinus infection and congestion.
    4. Huo Hsiang Cheng Chi Pien (Agastache to Correct Qi Tablets): Food poisoning, upset stomach, headache, diarrhea, la turista, fever, hangover etc.
    5. Culing Pills (“Curing” pills) famous and great remedy for upset stomach, nausea, digestive troubles, bloating, motion sickness etc.
    6. Lienchiaopaitu Pian (Forsythia Fruit Tablets): Poison Ivy, herpes lesions, rashes, and itching.
    7. Ma Zi Ren Wan (Hemp Seed Pills): Constipation.
    8. Thunder and Lightning Pearls: Intestinal parasites, malaria, dysentery.
    9. Yunnan Bai Yao (White medicine from Yunnan): a staple of any Chinese household and considered a national treasure by the Chinese government that keeps the exact formulation secret although most of the ingredients are known. Great to stop bleeding from wounds, trauma or any bleeding associated with stagnation (including uterine bleeding or heavy periods). Good to take along when traveling, hiking or camping as a fantastic emergency first-aid item. It will promote and speed up healing of tissues and bones, stop pain and restore circulation. This remedy is famous because many soldiers have used it on the battlefield or in the jungle to stop bleeding from gun wounds. It can be taken internally or applied externally as a powder. It can be used before and after surgery to speed up recovery. It can be used for pets as well. A truly beautiful and life saving herbal remedy!
    10. Ginger (fresh and dried ginger powder): a must in your fridge and wonderful ally for all stomach troubles, from diarrhea to vomiting and nausea. Bath with hot ginger water can stop a cold in its tracks. Keep some in powder form so that you always have some on hand.

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