"As in acupuncture there is an art to the creation of a balanced (and elegant) formula which matches the patient’s disharmonies, and this is one of the pleasures of practice."
What is Chinese herbal medicine?
Chinese herbal medicine, which goes back 3,000 years, is one of the great herbal systems in world medicine. It has continually developed to respond to changing clinical conditions and more recently has been sustained and enhanced by research into every aspect of how it is used. For centuries Chinese herbal medicine has had a great influence on the theory and practice of medicine in the East and it still forms a major part of healthcare in China where it is provided in state hospitals alongside Western medicine. More recently it has grown in popularity in the West.
Practising Chinese herbal medicine
Like acupuncture, herbal medicine treats disease conditions by focussing on the individual. The art of the herbalist is to produce an individual formula, often derived from classical formulae and tailored to the patient’s individual needs. As in acupuncture there is an art to the creation of a balanced (and elegant) formulae which matches the patient’s disharmonies, and this is one of the pleasures of practice.
What can herbs do?
Herbal formulae can clear pathogenic factors, nourish deficiencies, move stagnation, harmonise the qi and calm the shen. They are extremely valuable in the treatment of acute conditions, and equally valuable for the chronic and complex conditions we see so much of in the West. For acupuncturists, the addition of herbal treatment to nourish Blood and Yin, to clear Phlegm and Damp, to move Blood Stasis or stop bleeding can be enormously helpful. There is a great deal of evidence available for Chinese herbal medicine, including case histories and clinical outcome studies undertaken in China and elsewhere in the Far East. Examples of recent research in the West include studies of the treatment of endometriosis, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome and infertility.
What about the use of endangered species?
The RCHM co-operates closely with the public and regulatory agencies and provides its members with detailed information on endangered species to prevent any use of endangered species in the UK. The vast array of substances in the Chinese ‘materia medica’ means that substitutes are always available.
Haven’t there been adverse effects from Chinese herbal medicines?
Most Chinese herbal medicines are extremely safe and have a balanced effect. However, a small number of herbs are powerful and have to be used carefully by fully trained practitioners. Potential problems can be avoided by using RCHM approved suppliers and keeping patients and practitioners fully informed. Educating practitioners in safe practice is a key feature of our course.
Will my patients take the herbs?
Most patients soon adapt to taking herbs as part of their treatment. Many of them say that the more their condition improves, the better the herbs taste! For patients unable to prepare or take loose herbs, powders or capsules can be prescribed.
Is it true that changes to EU legislation have made it difficult for herbalists to practise?
EU legislation, introduced a few years ago, makes it impossible to prescribe pre-prepared (i.e. manufactured) herbal medicines unless these are licensed for use within the EU (there are exceptions for some herbal remedies – mostly in the western herbal medicine tradition – that have been in long-established use over many years).It is likely that the UK government will retain this regulation after exit from the EU. Most pre-prepared (‘patent’) formulas can no longer be prescribed for this reason. However, qualified herbalists would, in any case, naturally prefer to prescribe individually tailored prescriptions and there is no impediment to herbalists formulating their own prescriptions from single herbs, or powders, in their own dispensary following consultation with a patient. Similarly, following on from consultation with a patient, herbalists can request a supplier to supply an individualised formula to themselves for onward supply to a particular patient, so it’s still your choice whether you set up your own dispensary or use a commercial one.