Traditional Chinese Medicine Herbs List
The system of herbal medicine that developed in China differs in several significant ways from European herbal medicine. The most obvious difference is that the Western herbal tradition focuses on “simples,” or herbs taken by themselves. In contrast, traditional Chinese herbal medicine (TCHM) makes almost exclusive use of herbal combinations. More importantly, these formulas are not designed to treat symptoms of a specific illness; rather, they are tailored specifically to the individual according to the complex principles of traditional Chinese medicine. For this reason, TCHM is potentially a deeply holistic healing approach. On the other hand, it is both more difficult to use and to study than its Western counterpart.
TCM is widely used in Asian countries, both in its traditional holistic form and in a simplified disease-oriented version. There have been a few properly designed scientific trials of TCHM, but the evidence base remains highly inadequate. In addition to questions regarding effectiveness, there remain serious safety concerns to be resolved.
History of Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese herbal medicine has a long historical tradition, although it is not quite as ancient as popularly believed. Ancient herbology in China focused on potions whose function was part medicinal and part magical, and it lacked a substantial theoretical base. Sometime between the second century B.C.E. and the second century A.D., the theoretical foundations of traditional Chinese medicine were laid, but the focus was more on acupuncture than on herbs. 1 Only by about the 12th century A.D. were the deeper principles of Chinese medicine fully applied to herbal treatment, forming a method that can be called TCHM. This was further refined and elaborated during various periods of active theorizing in the 14th through the 19th centuries. Western disease concepts entered the picture in the 20th century, leading to further changes.
In China today, TCHM is used alongside conventional pharmaceutical treatment. Considerable attempts have been made to subject TCHM to scientific evaluation; however, most of the published Chinese studies on the subject fall far short of current scientific standards. (For example, they generally lack a placebo group.)
In neighboring Japan, a variation of the TCHM system known as Kampo has become popular, and the Japanese Health Ministry has approved many Kampo remedies for medical use. The scientific basis for these remedies remains incomplete, but several studies of minimally acceptable quality have been reported.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Herbs List
There are thousands of plants that are used as medicines. The following list represents a very small portion of the TCM pharmacopeia.
- Monkshood root
Monkshood root is commonly used in TCM. It was once so commonly used it was called “the king of the 100 herbs”.
- Birthworts (family Aristolochiaceae) are often used to treat many ailments, including hypertension, hemorrhoids, and colic.
- Camellia sinensis
Tea from India, Sri Lanka, Java and Japan is used in TCM for aches and pains, digestion, depression, detoxification, as an energizer and, to prolong life.
- Cayenne pepper
Cayenne pepper is believed under TCM to be a prophylactic medicine.
- Chinese kabootar
The fruit of Trichosanthes kirilowii is believed to treat tumors, reduce fevers, swelling and coughing, abscesses, amenorrhea, jaundice, and polyuria. The plant is deadly if improperly prepared; causing pulmonary edema, cerebral hemorrhage, seizures, and high fever.
- Chrysanthemum flowers
Chrysanthemum flowers (Ju Hua) are used in TCM to treat headaches, fever, dizziness and dry eyes. They are also used to make certain beverages. Chrysanthemum flowers are believed to “brighten the eyes, pacify the liver, break blood, clear heat, stop dysentery, disperse wind, relieve toxicity, and regulate the center”.
- Cocklebur fruit
Cocklebur fruit (Xanthium, cang er zi) is one of the most important herbs in TCM, and is commonly to treat sinus congestion, chronic nasal obstructions and discharges, and respiratory allergies.
- Croton seed
Seeds of Croton tiglium are used in TCM to treat gastrointestinal disorders, convulsions, and skin lesions. They are often used with rhubarb, dried ginger and apricot seed.Care should be taken as the seeds are toxic and carcinogenic.
- Dioscorea root
In TCM, Dioscorea Root (Radix Dioscorea, Huai Shan Yao or Shan Yao in Chinese), benefits both the Yin and Yang, and is used to tonify the lungs, spleen and kidney. It can “be used in large amounts and 30g is suggested when treating diabetes”. If taken habitually, it “brightens the intellect and prolongs life”.
Ginger root, Zingiber officinale, has been used in China for over 2,000 years to treat indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea, and nausea. It is also used in TCM to treat arthritis, colic, diarrhea, heart conditions, the common cold, flu-like symptoms, headaches, and menstrual cramps.
Ginkgo biloba seeds are crushed and believed under TCM to treat asthma. G. biloba has been used by humans for nearly 5,000 years. However, further scientific studies are needed to establish the efficacy of G. biloba as a medicine.
- Blister beetle
Blister beetles (Ban mao) are believed under TCM to treat skin lesions because they cause them. They contain the blister agent cantharidin.
Powdered centipede (wu gong) is believed under TCM to treat tetanus, seizures, convulsions, skin lesions, and pain. It is toxic.
- Hornets nest
Hornets nest (lu feng fang) is used to treat skin disorders and ringworm. It may be toxic.
Hirudo medicinalis is used in TCM to treat amenorrhea, abdominal and chest pain, and constipation.
Dried scorpions (Chinese: 全蠍, Pinyin:quan xie) may be ground into a powder and mixed with water. It is said to aid in detoxification A scorpion venom peptide was found to help with arthritis in vitro.
Various fungi are used in TCM. Some may have scientifically proven medicinal value, while others may be extremely toxic.
The supernatural mushroom (lingzhi mushroom, Chinese “linh chi” = “supernatural mushroom”, “reishi mushroom” in Japan) encompasses several fungal species of the genus Ganoderma, and most commonly refers to the closely related species, Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma tsugae. G. lucidum enjoys special veneration in East Asia, where it has been used as a medicinal mushroom in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years, making it one of the oldest mushrooms known to have been used medicinally. Today, the ling zhi mushroom is used in a herbal formula designed to minimize the side effects of chemotherapy.
There are many different therapeutic methods used in traditional Chinese medicine, the most popular being acupuncture. Since traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes individualized treatment, healing methods vary widely from patient to patient. These methods often include:
- Acupuncture: Though acupuncture’s roots lie in TCM, it is used as a western treatment for a variety of health concerns.
- Acupressure: Finger pressure is applied over acupuncture points and meridians.
- Cupping therapy
- Diet and nutrition: Foods are thought to have warming/cooling properties and are said to have specific healing properties.
- Herbal medicine: Herbs and herbal tea may be suggested.
- Moxibustion: A practice that involves burning an herb near the skin to warm the area over acupuncture points.
- Tuina: a type of bodywork that combines massage and acupressure.
- Exercises such as tai chi and qi gong