Recent herbal research

Chinese Herbal Remedies

A user's introduction to Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine with Sifu Tony Dove

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is practised throughout the world. Used in China in hospitals alongside Western medicine, practitioners can be found working alone or in large specialist clinics. In Britain, all herbalists should be qualified and belong to a governing body such as the UK's Association of TCM.

Research has now been published about its effectiveness in the current pandemic. A study into the use of herbal medicine for prevention (1) reviewed studies into SARS and H1N1 prevention alongside Covid prevention and concluded -

Chinese herbal formula could be an alternative approach

for prevention of COVID-19 in high-risk population.

Although it did also state-

Prospective, rigorous population studies are warranted to

confirm the potential preventive effect of Chinese Medicine.

Good news indeed. A second study (2) into the effectiveness of Traditional Chinese Medicine concluded-

TCM has a systemic theoretical understanding on the pathological evolution

and a positive clinical efficacy on Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia.

This was achieved through several processes partly focused on improving digestion (called Spleen energy in TCM) concluding-

The Chinese Medicines of invigorating spleen

and removing dampness improved patients' recovery,

In TCM theory there are distinct stages in dealing with illness.

There is the preventative stage with a desire to build the immune system and general health. In this case strengthening the lungs and digestion is emphasised. Tonic herbs are often used. Like food however, too much can cause stagnation.

In the acute stage, as the pathogen enters the aim is to fight it quickly preventing it escalating into a full infection. Here the colourful language of TCM comes more to the fore in trying to disperse Heat ( fever) and Wind (the infectious pathogen). Dispersing and moving herbs become more important, although not exclusively. Too much movement would scatter your resources so a balance is always required. At this point dietary restrictions also become more important.

If the infection enters more deeply then an individual's constitution will dictate where the problems develop. This is why any underlying conditions are so important. It is also why the first stage, prevention, is so important. TCM does have some interventions at this stage and in China is used alongside Western Medicine.The final stage, recovery, returns to dispersing the final pathogens; in this case Damp and Phlegm, and tonifying the injured systems in the body.

It could be that one, two or more formulae are indicated at each stage depending on the individual and how they progress. It is also possible to go full round and end on the same or similar tonics that were used in the first instance. I hope it is clear from this that there are differences in active herbs that try to expel pathogens, and tonic herbs used to build your natural healing ability. There is also a constant balancing act to try to return the client to good health known as 'Upright Energy'.

Of the studies I looked at most included which herbs and formulae were used and one solely studied this (3). The most common herbs and formulae are ones that I use, some of which are pictured below. I keep over 100 herbs in stock to make up the formulae and their variations.

If you consult a TCM practitioner they are likely to start with at least an hour's initial consultation followed by regular check ups. Below is some background information about how the system is delivered and how you would actually use them.

Over a long time and a vast area the Chinese categorised the actions of hundreds of herbs. Alongside this research they also discovered that the preparation method, dry frying or soaking in vinegar for example, also had an impact by enhancing specific effects or removing toxins. They also ingeniously noted how these plants interacted. Today individual herbs are still used but if you visit a herbal practitioner it is more likely that you will be prescribed a formula containing several herbs.

Traditionally there are several ways to take herbal medicine; in teas, pills, tinctures, powders and poultices. These methods continue today but thanks to modern technology we can now use dried powders for ease of use. Due to EU regulation it is currently illegal to sell proprietary herbal pills. Formulae must be prepared for clients by qualified practitioners individually. The use of any animal products are also banned so don't expect tiger bone or earth worms in your tea!

Herbal Teas made from dried and prepared herbs are generally boiled for 20 minutes, although some heavier herbs may take longer or delicate ones added at the end . The tea is then drunk hot. Excess tea can be saved and reheated for later use. For many practitioners this is the preferred method. Disadvantages can be the strong taste and the effort of cooking herbs every day.

Today these teas can be made from powdered herbs. They are simply added to boiled water and drunk like instant coffee. The taste can still be quite strong, in which case less water is used. Some people consider they are not as strong in effect as whole herbs however the drying process is carefully controlled even using a special method to capture the volatile oils escaping during cooking. All herbal suppliers I use have verified quality assurance methods in place.

Jows or tinctures can be made from soaking the single or multiple ingredients in alcohol for 6 weeks to a year or longer. Although they take a long time to prepare, tinctures have a long shelf life and therefore can be stored and used as necessary. The alcohol can also aid in the absorption of the active ingredients. They can also be pleasant to drink.

Externally herbs can be used in trauma and pain relief. Dried and powdered herbs can be applied directly as a poultice, or prepared as a Jow or Gao (thicker ointment, like Tiger Balm). Poultices are often used in martial arts healing, which is where I initially developed my interest in herbs. There are many elixirs to aid training which promise stronger tendons and ointments to heal bruises. Many formulae are kept in schools passed from teacher to student and are kept secret even to this day. In my experience some work much better than others. There is a bottle of my general purpose jow in the living room, car and first aid kit, alongside Balmy Tiger and a Gua Sha tool. But that is another story.

All herbs can have deep and powerful effects and should be treated with respect. I would therefore advise seeing a qualified herbal practitioner if you want to benefit from the rich array of Chinese Herbs.

Notes-(1) Can Chinese Medicine Be Used for Prevention of Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)? A Review of Historical Classics, Research Evidence and Current Prevention Programs Hui Luo; Qiao-Ling Tand; Ta-Xi Shang et al.Chin J Integr Med. 2020 Apr;26(4):243- 250

(2) Treatment Efficacy Analysis of Traditional Chinese Medicine for Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia (COVID-19): An Empirical Study From Wuhan, Hubei Province, China Erdan Luo ; Daiyan Zhang ; Hua Luo et al. Chin Med. 2020 Apr 15;15:34.

(3) Analysis of Medication Characteristics of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Treating Coronavirus disease-19 Based on Data Mining Tiantian Fan ; Yongcan Chen ; Yu Bai et al. Zhejiang Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2020 May 25;49(1):0.

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