Chinese Herbal Medicine is one of the great herbal systems of the world, with an unbroken tradition going back to the 3rd century BC. It is a major aspect of traditional Chinese medicine, which focuses on restoring a balance of energy, body, and spirit to preserve health rather than treating a sickness or medical condition.
TCM has relied on herbal therapy as a healing tool for thousands of years. Along the way, it has identified and classified the essential properties of literally thousands of herbs and just how they act on the body-mind-spirit. Interestingly, an extremely wide range of objects and hundreds of medicinal substances—primarily plants, but also some minerals and animal products—classified by their perceived action in the body – fall into the category of TCM herbs: dirt, stones, bones, insects, a diverse selection of animal parts, as well as more common plant parts, such as leaves, blossoms, stems, and roots. TCM recognizes that everything is energy, and so unique energies that can impact the human body and energy system are not limited to the plant kingdom.
Herbs are classified in two major dimensions. The first dimension refers to the temperature characteristics of the herbs: hot, warm, cold, neutral, and aromatic. The second dimension refers to the taste property of the herbs: sour, bitter, sweet, spicy, and salty.
The various combinations of temperature and taste give the herb its properties that can influence the yin and yang energy patterns of the body. There are herbs that will warm, herbs that will cool, herbs that will tonify, and herbs that will move stagnation and so on. It is also vital to know that herbs do not have one quality. They are a combination of properties and temperatures and may reach one to as many as twelve organ systems.
More than 3,200 herbs and 300 mineral and animal extracts are used in more than 400 different formulas. Herbal formulas may contain 4 to 12 different ingredients, to be taken in the form of teas, powders, pills, tinctures, or syrups.
Because of its clinical effectiveness it has for centuries Chinese Herbal Medicine had a very great influence on the theory and practice of medicine in the East, and more recently has grown rapidly in popularity in the West. It still forms a major part of healthcare provision in China, and is provided in state hospitals alongside western medicine.
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