What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Herbal medicine, like acupuncture, is a major component in Chinese medicine which has been practiced for 4000 years. It shares the same underlying theories and principles with acupuncture. They are complementary to each other and rarely practised separately. However, unlike acupuncture, where (with a few exceptions) the wrong choice of acupoint is unlikely to be significantly detrimental, herbs can be highly specific in their actions, and herbal formulae contain a range of herbs that not only possess different qualities and properties but also target different aspects of the patient’s disharmony. In addition, some of the herbs have several different functions at the same time. When preparing a formula, the practitioner has to weigh up many factors and need to pay more attention. The inappropriate choice of herb or the dosage may lead to problems. To avoid any possible problems, the best advice is to make sure consulting an appropriately trained and experienced practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine. In the West, most practitioners of Chinese herbal medicine are also trained in acupuncture, but the reverse is not the case. They need deep understanding of Chinese philosophy and Chinese culture in addition to Chinese medicine and long time practising to develop confidence and experiences. Months or two-year part-time of training like some other acupuncturist did is far more from achieving the goal.

chinese-herbal-medicine-illustration-650x238There are over 400 Chinese herbs commonly used to make formulae. Majority of herbs are made from parts of plants, like: roots, stalks, bark, leaves, fruit, seeds, and so on. Some other materials may also be included such as animal parts or minerals in origin. However, In UK, most animal ingredients used in Chinese herbal medicine have been banned. If you are concerned about using any animal products in this area, it is important to discuss it with your practitioner. In most cases, alternatives can be prescribed.


Although there are some modern and convenient formats of herbs available, such as tablets, capsules and powders, decoction is still the most recommended way to prepare Chinese herbal medicine. In a complex formula containing a large number of different herbs with their own energies and tastes, it is important that they all work well together and careful weighting of the proportions is also crucial to achieve the optimal healing results. Normally a complete treatment has a number of sessions depending on each individual case and thorough diagnosis. This also involves close observation throughout the treatment process, as the ingredients and doses may change in response to how the patient reacts during the process.


What can Chinese herbal medicine help and who can have the treatment?

Chinese Herbal Medicine is an ancient system of health care that has undergone continual research and development over the centuries as the causes of illness of people have evolved. As a result, there are numerous classic formulae developed. In China, herbal medicine is not an alternative but a main stream therapy used alongside modern medicine in the state hospitals. People of all ages or constitutions are suitable to take herbs. Most people tend to choose it for more chronic illness when conventional medicine does not do much good and can cause long term side effects, although Chinese herbal medicine can be very effective in acute conditions such as common colds or flu. Having been practicing 15 years in UK, I found that the Chinese Herbal Medicine is probably most renowned in the West for its effects on:


  • Skin conditions including Eczema, Acne, Psoriasis and many others.
  • Gynecological conditions: periods related problems, menopausal syndrome
  • Reproductive Health including male and female infertility
  • Digestive complaints
  • Respiratory conditions: colds and flu, chronic cough
  • Disorders of the immune system
  • Stress, insomnia, depression


Same as for acupuncture, there are few problems that cannot be helped by Chinese herbal medicine. The best advice is to consult a qualified and experienced practitioner, who has skills and knowledge to modify and fine-tuning the herbal formulae to match the characteristics and variations in a patient’s disharmony. The length of treatment required depends on the severity of the condition, its duration and the general health of the patient.

How to Cook Chinese Herbal Medicine

The Pot

The most suitable pot is ceramic. Glass is okay. It is important that your pot has a lid. Materials to avoid include cast iron and aluminium. Stainless steel is better than other metals. Teflon coatings are not as good as ceramic.


1. Soak the herbs: Place the herbs in water. The water should cover the herbs by about an inch. Let them sit for one hour.

2. Boiling the herbs: Bring to a rolling boil. Then turn down to a low simmer. Cook the herbs for 20-30 minutes with the lid on. At the end of the cooking approximately 1 mug of liquid remains.

3. Strain the infusion into a mug.

4. Repeat: Leaving the residue in the pot, add another one pint of water. Repeat the above cooking method: bring to boil, and then simmer again for another 20-30minutes until about one mug of liquid remains. Strain the tea again.

5. Mix the two shares together, then divide into two (for one day) or four (for two days) equal portions to take twice a day. The volume taken each time should not be over 200 ml (about 7 fl. oz.).


It should be drank warm or at room temperature. If the taste is so unpalatable that you can’t drink it, water it down a bit.

Generally, as a rule, it is best to take your herb tea 30-60 minutes before eating, on an empty stomach. This provides the best absorption of the ingredients. If the herbs cause a little stomach upset, drink the herb tea 30-60 minutes after eating.

This is just general guide. Different cooking time and drinking method might be needed for different herbs or conditions. The practitioner should tell you exactly way to prepare your herbal tea.