Tao of Health – Chinese Herbal Medicine Cabinet
Things have changed.
The great advantage of Chinese herb pills, of course, is their ease of use. Preparing and drinking teas and decoctions is time-consuming and difficult to swallow for those with taste sensitivities. The disadvantage of the prepared herbal pills is that they fail to take advantage of the true skill of the herbal physician. The Patent medications although based on the classical formulas, generally are only the basic formulas that the herbalist would modify to meet the specific needs of an individual patient’s pattern of disharmony at a particular time. Nevertheless, there are certain Patent remedies with a fairly wide range of safe application. Typically in Chinese communities there were certain "home remedies" kept in the medicine cabinets which people knew how to use without necessarily consulting the herbalist. The following discussion introduces some of these commonly used Patent medications.
Common Cold or Flu
In the earliest stage of a cold (first 6 - 12 hours), there are several remedies which if taken early enough actually can assist the body’s resistance to the viral invasion and avert or minimize symptoms. The most frequently used is Yin Chiao Chieh Tu Pien. This formula should be taken at the very first signs of cold or flu: sneezing, slight sore throat, cough, runny nose, chills, and body ache. Avoid the sugar-coated variety of this formula that also contains western pharmaceuticals.
After a cold or flu is in progress, use of this remedy is ill advised. This is a formula to "expel wind-heat from the surface" and after a day or two the "evil pathogen" is no longer at the surface, but has gone deeper. Many students overuse this formula and actually end up weakening their "Spleen/Stomach Qi" that is needed to fight the "wind-evil."
If by day two, one’s symptoms are primarily flu-like — chills, fatigue, sore muscles, mild headache, and sore throat, then Zhong Gong Ling often is used. An American manufactured formula called Isatis Gold, which mixes western and Chinese herbs is excellent if sore throat and swollen glands are a primary symptom. If there is dry cough with thirst, there are numerous herbal cough syrups based on the herbs Loquat Leaf and Frittilariae Bulb mixed with honey. These formulations often are referred to as Pei Pae Mat. If the cold deepens into the lungs and there is copious yellow phlegm, then Pinellia Expectorant Pill (Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan) can be appropriate.
Asians generally are more conscious of their digestion than Americans. Simply drinking a little hot water or tea after meals is an excellent aid to improving digestion. There are many teas in herb stores such as Bojenmi tea and others that promote digestion and assimilation of fats. Good Japanese green tea or twig tea will do the same. Indians are very fond of cardamom and ginger as digestives. Health food stores also have Ayurvedic teas to balance Pitta, Vata, and Kapha; these teas also help digestion when matched to one’s constitution. The brand I have tried, "Maharishi AyurVed," is quite good.
If one should experience sudden indigestion and suspect bad food, then Huo Hsiang Cheng Chi Pien is the formula of choice. Traditionally, it was used for cholera. The smell of Patchouli, one of its constituent herbs, is noticeable. The variety manufactured by Tung Jen Tang in
Curing pills, based on the above classical formula, along with a formula called Er Chen Wan, are essential for the treatment of hangover, motion sickness, and nausea. Curing pills alone, or Bo Chai pills, are useful for non-specific diarrhea and simple indigestion.
If you could not resist that extra pint of Häagen Dazs, and you are so stuffed that you cannot move, then drink some fresh or dry ginger tea and take a handful of Ginseng Stomachic Pill (Jian Pi Wan).
For pre-menstrual symptoms such as swollen, tender breasts, irritability, cramps, bloating, impaired digestion, poor appetite, and food cravings, the classic formula is Xiao Yao Wan. There are variations of this basic formula depending on the constellation of a woman’s symptoms; therefore, one may need one of the formula variations to properly address the specific symptom pattern.
For feeling weak and exhausted after menstruation (especially if the tongue looks pale), Women’s Precious Pills (Ba Zhen Wan) often are effective. They can be used with chicken soup for post-partum fatigue and dryness as well.
Women suffering from stress-aggravated menopausal and peri-menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats can, if their digestion is good, try Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan. This clears deficient heat and moistens the Yin. It can be combined with Xiao Yao Wan if there is strong Liver Qi stagnation with blood deficiency.
For seasonal hay-fever with sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, and postnasal drip, Bi Yan Pian is recommended. In acute attacks of repeated sneezing, double the dose given on the bottle.
For sinusitis and sinus headache, Pe Min Kan Wan is very effective, especially in conjunction with acupuncture and dietary therapy.
While the Chinese Patent formulas have been used safely by mothers and grandmothers for generations, there are cautions and contraindications for herbal medicines just as for western pharmaceuticals. The prepared pill formulas, while fairly palatable, nevertheless are medicine. Moreover, the most effective application of herbal remedies is within the context of a skilled, differential diagnosis. For example, in the treatment of colds and flus, it must be considered at the onset whether it is attack of "Wind-Cold" or "Wind-Heat," and whether the patient’s constitution is in excess or deficiency. As the cold or flu progresses, attention must paid to the appearance of "dry evil" or "damp evil" as complicating factors. Finally, be it must be determined when to begin tonifying the patient and assisting their body’s struggle against the pathogenic factor.
Have fun experimenting with the Patent medicines, but play it safe too. If your grandmother is not around, consult a licensed professional.
Eyton Shalom M.T.O.M., L.Ac., has been working in the holistic health field since 1973, including three years teaching and traveling in the