The Root of Healing
Our topic for this week will center on the use of Traditional Chinese Medicinal (TCM) herbs and some of the theories behind their use. At first glance, the TCM herbal practice may seem a bit too esoteric for the western medicinal mind to comprehend but when one looks at the history of medicine it really isn’t that farfetched. Nearly every medicine in use today came from a plant, or mold, or some other substance in nature, Aspirin from birch bark, penicillin from mold, morphine from the opium poppy, and succinylcholine (a paralytic used in many surgical operations) from the curare vine in the Amazon jungle, to name a few. Although the Chinese use their language to name these herbs it is important to understand that these plants, or variations of them, exist all over the world and have been used for thousands of years and, true to the TCM ethic, have much more interesting stories behind them.
According to TCM history, Shennong was the first Chinese herbalist who, in the 28th century BCE, decided to eat every medicinal herb and catalog them according to their effects on his body, mind, and spirit. Some legends go as far as to say he had a clear stomach and could see how the herbs were digesting within him. But like any good legend stemming from oral tradition, today we need to filter out what may seem fantastic and that which could be more rooted in fact. The result of this legend is the Shennong Bencao Jing, a book which TCM practitioners have used to help ailing patients for nearly 2,000 years and elucidates the use of such agricultural medicinals as licorice, ginseng, jujube, cannabis, cinnamon, and another 360 natural substances and their clinical applications.
When considering a medicinal’s efficacy, western medicine uses studies and statistics to illustrate its success. These compounds, however, are the result of an analytical process which attempts to break down the effect of a medication to its finest level and impact only one aspect of the target ailment. TCM practice uses a more macrocosmic approach when diagnosing an ailment in order to see all the effects of that pathology on the human system. To put it more simply, western medicine would look at a city’s population to find the one bad person, remove them, analyze the impact of that one person being gone, and call the loss of their impact a success. TCM would find the person, acknowledge the impact their removal would have on the community around them, and try to help that person find balance within the community. One of the truly endearing aspects of TCM practice is that it strives to heal the problem rather than remove it or cover it up. We’ve all seen the yin/yang symbol in our lives and TCM practitioner uses it to remind themselves that everything in the body exists for a reason and true health comes from convincing those things to operate in balance within the body. TCM herbal formulas acknowledge that balance and help to target areas of the body that might be operating a bit off kilter, realigning them to promote a more healthful condition.
Any review of scientific journals today will quickly show how one study can be negated by another and, as is so common in society, we try to latch on to the most recent study to establish our opinions. TCM practice may have used some variations of these studies in its infancy but, over the course of two millennia, have been able to determine which medicinals work in their various applications. Since the time of Shennong many more substances have been added to the TCM material medica but not until they’ve been vetted over the course of several centuries. That being said, we cannot ignore the poetry inherent in the fact that much of what we need to maintain health can be found in our garden or along a local hiking trail. Be sure to speak with your Nevada OMD about which herbal formulas might be right for you. Side effects may include: relaxation, increased contentment, a reduction of gastrointestinal distress, and a feeling of independence.