The Gift of Chinese Herbal Medicine
- an article by Dr Cheng published in the Journal CADUCEUS Issue 87
The vital contribution of herbal medicine
On 9th November, 2013, the Oxford Campaign to Protect Herbal Medicine (www.ocphm.org.uk) hosted a conference that brought together Western, Chinese, Ayurvedic and Tibetan herbal traditions, reports acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist Louanne Richards. The conference was introduced by herbalist Michael McIntyre who, from early on, recognized the threat posed by the 2011 EU Directive for the entire herbal profession and who has spearheaded the campaign for statutory regulation for herbalists.
The question of regulation in no way dimmed the intent of the conference to focus on the wisdom of Nature that has inspired herbal healing from ancient times. The four speakers, while staying true to the roots of their traditions, were able to demonstrate the increasing rigour of herbal research that promises to secure their standing within the medical world and strengthen their rights to gain proper legal status.
Dr Ming Cheng, who spoke at the Oxford conference (right), describes the evolution and current development of Chinese herbal medicine
Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) is a traditional medical system that has been used by the Chinese for thousands of years. Still widely used in modern China, it is growing fast in other parts of the world, in tandem with the development of modern China.
CHM has a holistic approach to diagnosing, preventing and treating diseases by identifying patterns and then applying individual or – most of the time – a combination of a number of herbal ingredients. Its unique characteristics that distinguish it from ‘orthodox’ medicine are rooted in the concept of holism, zheng ti guan nian, and treatment according to syndrome differentiation – bian zheng lun zhi.
The fundamental theories of Trad-itional Chinese Medicine (TCM) include those of Qi, Yin Yang, the five elements, zang-fu, the four diagnostic methods and syndrome differentiation systems. It emphasises the importance of the relationship between humans and Nature.
This unique and independent medical system that originated from China and developed through the centuries is imbued with the spirit of Chinese civilisation and culture. For thousands of years, CHM has played a vital part in maintaining the health of the Chinese people and the growth of its population.
It was established through centuries of clinical practice and following countless trials and errors, taking a very long time from the beginning of the practice to the establishment of a complete medical system. Thus, although the recorded evidence for CHM reveals its origins to be more than 2,000 years ago, its social history, traditions and roots pre-date this, making it a fundamental part of Chinese civilisation.
There are numerous works on Chinese herbal medicine, of which the following are good examples:
Shennong Bencao Jing – Shennong’s Herbal Classic. First compiled sometime during the end of the Western Han Dynasty – several thousand years after Shennong; considered to be the earliest Chinese pharmacopoeia; records 367 medicinal materials graded into upper, middle and lower classes; tea, which acts as an antidote against the poisonous effects of some 70 herbs, is also said to have been his discovery.
The Bencao Gangmu – Guidelines and Details of Materia Medica. China’s most important traditional book on pharmaceuticals, 52 juan (scrolls) long, written by the famous Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644) herbologist, Li Shizhen (1518- 93), and published in 1596; it contains 1,892 herbs and 11,096 prescriptions.
The Chinese Pharmacopoeia 2010, English Edition, Vol I, published by the Chinese Government. 2,165 monographs, 1,019 new admissions (439 for prepared slices of herbs) and 634 revisions; modern Chinese Materia Medica; crude drugs prepared from slices of herbs; vegetable oil, fats and extracts; patented Chinese Traditional Medicines; single ingredients of Chinese crude drug preparations.
Herb that combats malaria
Chinese herbal medicine can be used as singular or compounded medicines. Qing Hao (Herba Artemisiae Annuae) is an example of a singular Chinese herb that has been at the forefront of combating malaria.
Artemisia annua has been used by Chinese herbalists for more than 2,000 years in the treatment of many illnesses, such as skin diseases and malaria. The earliest record dates to 200 BC, in the Fifty-two Prescriptions unearthed from the Mawangdui Han Dynasty tombs. Its anti-malarial application was first described in Zhouhou Beiji Fang (The Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies), edited in the middle of the 4th century by Ge Hong, in which 43 malaria treatment methods were recorded.
Artemisia annua contains Qing Hao Su (Artemisinin), which is an effective anti-malarial, chemical ingredient. It was first extracted from the herb in the 1970s and is an effective treatment for malaria that is resistant to the anti-malaria drug, Chloroquine Diphosphate. It is now one of the most important medicines to combat malaria in the world, as in Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT).
Compounded Chinese herbal medicines are more commonly practised. The formula that was used successfully in treating severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) by the Chinese as part of an integrated treatment protocol contains two most important herbs, Yin Hua and Ban Lan Gen. The former is honeysuckle flower in English, but it is the Chinese version that has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. The latter is Isatis Root in English, which has stronger anti-viral functions.
Influence of CHM
Chinese herbal medicine has influenced the development of many herbal medicine systems, such as Japanese (Kempo) and Korean medicine. There have also been exchanges of the Chinese herbal medicine system and other traditional herbal medicine systems, such as Ayurvedic and Tibetan medicine. Through the Silk Road and other cultural exchanges, CHM was exported to Europe and other continents for hundreds of years and is practised in more than 100 countries around the world today. The contribution of CHM to the health of the world could potentially be much more profound and significant than we realise, a positive development that deserves promoting!
Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, cupping, tuina and other modalities of TCM have been used for thousands of years by the Chinese to treat all kinds of diseases. As a general TCM practitioner, we follow these traditions and apply Chinese Herbal Medicine to help people with all kinds of common clinical conditions. This is our right and our patients’ right and nobody should take this right from us.
Ming Zhao Cheng MD, MSc, PhD, received his MD from Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine in 1983, an MSc in Medicine from Oxford (1991) and a PhD from London (1995). He is currently an Associate Professor and Postgraduate Course Leader in Traditional Chinese Medicine at Middlesex University and an Executive Council Member of the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine. See www.mingchengclinic.co.uk; firstname.lastname@example.org