Why did herbs fall out of the favor with medical professionals?
In the past thousands of years plants have been our chief sources of medicine in many
cultures until 50 to 70 years ago. Following the development of human culture and the
human’s continuing scientific conquest, folk’s remedy gradually evolved to herbal medicine,
as a result, many ancient herbal books contained huge compilations of drugs that were derived from plants.
However, why did herbs fall out of the favor with medical professionals in the western countries and other countries alike? There are several potential explanations. First, when science of chemistry was developing, plants were considered unpredictable – varying in composition from specimen to specimen, and how were doctors ever able to come up with standard dosage? Furthermore, the lack of uniform naming system for plants made plant identification very difficult. Second, when physicians began receiving more formal education, they began to feel it was beneath their talents to prescribe treatments that common peasants had mastered; later this attitude was extended toward the treatments of Native Americans, whom colonists preferred to think of as ignorant savages. Third, the pharmaceutical industry realizes that unlike synthetic drugs, not only the plants cannot be patented, but they are also inexpensive, regardless their known benefits. Last but not the least, the herbal medicine has been practiced by countless “lay” herbalists, who often do not have any formal training, it might have ruined the reputation of the “real” herbalists, and tarnished the image of herbal medicine.
How does Herbs work?
In order to understand how herbs work, let us compare it with both food plants and manufactured drugs to explain how they work in the human body. In both instances, the action is chemical. Like fruits and vegetables, herbs contain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that help keep every cell in the body in good working order. When eaten, herbs enter the body’s various systems the same way food plants do. They are broken down chemically in the stomach and absorbed into the bloodstream, which carries food molecules to distant cells and organs. Like manufactured drugs, medical herbs contain powerful components not commonly found in everyday foods. Herbs have multiple active ingredients in smaller amount, instead of purely one ingredient in big amount, so their action is typically slower and less dramatic, however the compound ingredients are easily accepted and less likely to produce fatal side effect as compared with manufactured drugs. Especially Chinese Herbal Formula often contain multiple herbs, there is evidence that the additional herbs and components of herbs – nutrients and the like – help balance the more powerful ingredients, thus eliminating the side effects that often occur when purified drugs are taken. For example, aspirin irritates many people’s stomachs, but the herb Meadowsweet, which works like aspirin, contains tannins and mucilage, which protect the stomach lining.
The Unique Feature of Chinese Herbs
Herbal Medicine is essential to the practice of Chinese Medicine. As I have mentioned the Five Elements Theory and Yin-Yang theory in the Chinese Medicine Principle page. When applying this theory to diagnose and treat the individual health issues, the key is to find the imbalance then to revolve this imbalance. So when to construct the treatment plan, no matter it is acupuncture point prescription or herbal formula, the main focus is the major imbalance, at the same time it will take care of all associated disorders. Usually the point prescription or herbal formula will consist of at least 4 categories of points or herbs, they are called emperor, administer, deputy and envoy depending their responsibilities in the formula. Multiple herbs compounded formulae contain more powerful ingredients, eliminating the side effects that often occur when purified drugs are taken, while allowing the effective ingredients to work for a long time. Still, herbs are powerful enough that they should not be used carelessly, without consulting a well-trained professional.
The modern Chinese herbs are in capsules, tablet, granules, so we don’t have to prescribe you packages of bulky herbs to boil at home. If we do need to individualize special herbal formula, we can offer them in liquid form.