Frequently asked questions about Chinese herbal medicine
Here is a list of questions I am frequently asked about Chinese herbs:
- What is traditional Chinese medicine?
- What is Chinese herbal medicine?
- What are the benefits of Chinese herbs?
- How do Chinese herbs work?
- How will Chinese herbs make me feel?
- Are there any side effects?
- How do you take Chinese herbs?
- What do the Chinese herbs taste like?
- How often do I take Chinese herbs?
- Are Chinese herbs safe?
- Chinese herbs safe for fertility?
- Are Chinese herbs safe during pregnancy?
- Are Chinese herbs regulated?
- Are animal products used in Chinese medicine?
How do you take Chinese herbs?
Chinese herbal formulas come in different forms depending on the country you live in and the herbalist prescribing them. There was five different ways you can take Chinese herbs:
- Raw herbs
- Black Pills
Raw, powder, capsules and tablets are tailor-made herbal prescriptions for a specific condition and chronic conditions. The black pills are off-the-shelf formulas, which cannot be modified to a person's exact healthcare needs.
Raw, dried herbs
Traditionally, for thousands of years prescribed herbs come in their original dried form, for example bits of root, bark, leaves and seeds. Single herbs are never used. These would be cooked in a pot, drained and drank as an herbal tea. This traditional process takes hours and will leave a strong odour in your house.
How to take Chinese herb powder
Thankfully, there are more modern methods of taking Chinese herbs, for example in powder, capsule or tablet form.
If you are taking the powders, then you put the powder in a mug and add boiling hot water (half way), some honey to help with the taste and give it a good stir. Wait for it to cool down, stir it again and then drink, preferably in one go. It's not a drink that you sip and dunk biscuits into. After you have drank all the liquid, have some fruit to clear your palate.
How to take Chinese herbs as capsules and tablets
If you are taking herbs in tablet or capsule form, you will need to take 30 a day. Yes, 30! It sounds like an overdose, but as they are herbal, they are weaker than western medicine drugs so you need to take more of them. They are also difficult to digest.
The capsules can be a little heavy on the digestive system. You can take either 15 in the morning and 15 in the evening or take 10 three times a day. Always after food and with plenty of water.
Chinese black pills
Little black pills are another form of Chinese herbal medicine. These are commonly available to health food stores in the USA. This is a weak dosage and can take months to build up strength and work. They are often taken 3 times a day after meals with water.
Little black pills are illegal to sell in the UK and Europe although some traditional Chinese medicine practitioners still sell them.
There are a few Chinese herbal formulas for babies with health problems available in tincture form.
Chinese herbs dosages
Herbs have different dosages depending upon the format they are prescribed in and the herbalist.
The original (raw) form, capsules and tablets are all the same strength. The little black pills are a lot weaker, cannot be tailor-made and take longer to work.
The dosage for babies and children is between 50-75% less than the adult dose.
Like with any medication you should check for any side effects or allergic reactions to your body. These are rare, but if you believe you have any, you should consult your herbalist and doctor straight away and stop taking the herbs.
How often do I need to take Chinese herbs?
As Chinese herbs are natural, they need to be taken at regular intervals, often twice a day for several weeks at a time.
The Chinese herbs that I prescribe some in three ways; as powders, or in tablet and capsule form. If you are taking the powders, then I recommend taking them twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. If for some reason, you can't take the Chinese herbs in the morning, you can take them at lunch time.
What do Chinese herbs taste like?
Herbs taste like earthly, bitter roots and don't taste that great. Most herbal prescriptions take a bit like liquorice as it's added to almost every formula to make it taste better and bind all the plants together.
In East Asia they don't have a sweet tooth like in western cultures, so liquorice is enough. However, for western palates this is not enough, so people often add honey to make it taste better.
The herbs come as a powder. No need to cook up the bits of bark, twig or seed anymore! But the powder still tastes of herbs and isn't that nice.
Believe it or not, people do get use to the taste after a while. Some people even like the taste. Other people add hot milk instead of hot water, which takes away the bad taste and makes it taste more like Ovaltine.
If you find it really hard to drink, you can have the powder put into tablets or capsules, which has no taste.
Are animal products used in Chinese medicine?
In Europe and the UK, it is illegal to use animal parts within Chinese medicine. Only plants can be used in Chinese medical formulas in the UK and Europe.
In the USA and East Asia it is legal to use animal products such as tiger bones and rhinoceros horn in Chinese medicine. However, endangered animal products are not allowed to be used in the USA but endangered species are allowed to be used for medical purposes in China.
Recently, the use of bear-bile has been banned in parts of East Asia, which I completely support. I do not agree with the use of endangered animals in medicine or the wildlife trade of animals.
I don't use any animal products in my Chinese medical formulas. I only use plants in my formulas, such as bark, roots, leaves and seeds.