Herbal Medicine

In the following pages we hope to give you a sense of how Chinese herbs are used and what benefits they hold.
We encourage you to take the initiative and seek Chinese herbs that address your own health problems.

Wisdom you can swallow

The historical roots of modern pharmacology are embedded in herbal medicine. Aspirin was originally derived from the bark of willow trees, morphine from the seeds of poppy flowers, penicillin from fungus, quinine from the bark of the cinchona tree, and digitalis from the leaves of foxglove. Pharmaceutical laboratories continue to extract active ingredients from plant materials (a quarter of modern prescription drugs include plant extracts) as well as preparing wholly synthetic compounds. Yet by the time we see the white aspirin tablet imprinted with a brand name, or a vial of morphine, the willow tree and poppy field have slipped far from view and are forgotten. About 75 percent of the world’s people still continue to rely on traditional medicine.

On the shelves of Chinese herbal pharmacies, jars of barks, roots, flowers, and seeds are visible, sitting alongside rows of glass bottles filled with herbal formulas compressed into pills. Most Westerners feel like strangers to the apothecary herbs of China, yet some of these herbs – chrysanthemum, magnolia, forsythia, honeysuckle, gardenia, hawthorn, quince, mint – inhabit our own gardens. Others are known to us by their common name (like licorice), but not by their Mandarin equivalent (gan cao) or the Latin botanical name (glycyrrhizae). Even when the name and reputation of an herb are familiar, like ginseng, its use within the framework of Chinese medicine remains puzzling to many. This section will help to make sense out of the enigma of herbal medicine, satisfying a passing curiosity for some and initiating a lifelong quest in others.