Every culture has their own traditions for using plants and herbs as medicine. Most pharmaceutical drugs actually have their origin in indigenous plants and herbs from the main continents of the world. In China, over literally thousands of years, herbalists have selected and identified the particular plants and herbs that can be taken on a daily basis for improving the physical condition, energy levels, immunity and longevity. These herbs, known as “tonic” herbs, especially distinguish Chinese herbs from anything else that may be available.
If you’ve heard the argument for eating local, how does this apply to Chinese herbs? Some people suggest that whatever condition one may be suffering, that there is in close geographic proximity, the natural remedy for the condition. In modern times, we are much more detached from our natural environment than our ancestors ever were. We typically consume foods grown in another environment. Many of today’s diseases are a result of exposure to harmful toxins and synthetic chemicals which are independent of the pure environment. Additionally, on the side of the herbs, the potency and medicinal quality of a plant in many cases may vary with the region it is grown in. Just as we may choose to enjoy chocolate from Switzerland or wine from France more than a similar product made in, for example, the Midwest of the US, many herbalists all over the world choose herbs sourced from particular regions, even if the plant can grow locally.
What about the quality of Chinese herbs? Some Chinese herbs are collected from the wild, some are grown naturally without pesticides, and some are grown with pesticides. Fortunately, most Chinese herbs are derived from seeds, roots, and tree barks that are not directly exposed to pesticides because the soil bacteria usually degrades pesticides before they can be absorbed by the roots. Many herbs are washed and processed before they go to market and any residues are removed then. Ultimately, the quantity of herbs consumed is small compared to food, so the potential for exposure is much less, relatively speaking.
How do you take Chinese herbs? Traditionally, Chinese herbs are ingested either by making a decoction (a tea made by simmering herbs in hot water for at least 45 minutes) or in powder form, sometimes compressed into pills or capsules, or added to hot water like a tea. Today, the preferred methods are to make a decoction under controlled conditions and then dry the decoction to make a concentrate, or to finely powder herbs and make them into tablets or capsules.
Do Chinese tonic herbs have side effects? We’re used to expecting often unpleasant side effects with regular prescription medication; however, the good news is that with Chinese tonic herbs rarely have any side effects at all. The intention behind a tonic herb is to balance the body as a whole, and these herbs have been chosen, through thousands of years of use and experience, for their particular kind of action on the body, so they are very safe for anyone to take.
What is the cost? The price of Chinese herbs can vary greatly. Tonic herbs, which are among the most important and unique herbs of this ancient herbal system, can range from moderate to expensive. Compared to a standard multivitamin, the retail price of a Chinese tonic herb may be relatively high for good quality products, however, Chinese herbs are very cost effective. For an investment of approximately one dollar per day, the average consumer can obtain many tangible benefits. Compare this with the amount most people are willing to spend on unhealthy food or habits (such as cigarette smoking) or on a visit to the doctor, and it is easy to see that Chinese herbs are a good investment.