Chinese Herbs 101

“It is easy to get a thousand prescriptions, but hard to get one single remedy.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese herbs have powerful healing properties. Yet they are safe and work without many of the side effects of conventional medicines prescribed today.

by Susan Tretakis – If you watch any amount of television you soon realize that in any given hour, you’re going to see a commercial for some new drug. Usually, the commercial begins by asking if you are suffering from an array of illnesses:   allergies, anxiety, arthritis, constipation, depression, digestive issues, headaches, etc., etc. Then after insisting their new drug will cure you, the same friendly voice lists “potential” side effects of the advertised drug. These “potential” side effects – can range from dizziness, skin disorders, blood clots, and increased heart, kidney and lung issues and in some instances, even death.

I don’t know about you, but death as a potential side effect of a FDA-approved drug makes me wonder. It makes me wonder about the FDA, Big Pharma and more importantly, why more people don’t take advantage of Chinese Herbs.

Wikipedia defines Chinese Herbology as that “which accounts for the majority of treatments in “Traditional Chinese Medicine.”

The University of Michigan published a recent report in which they explain that “herbal therapy, next to dietary therapy is perhaps the most widely used Traditional Chinese Medicine modality. TCM relies on herbal therapies both for the treatment of illness and in the optimization of health and the prevention of disease.”

The Academy for Five Element Acupuncture explains it this way: “Chinese herbal medicines treat the underlying causes of illness rather than individual symptoms. A TCM doctors uses Chinese herbs as part of a holistic approach to address the patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs. A custom made formula puts their specific needs and just as importantly takes into consideration any possible interaction with prescribed medicines.”

Speaking solely for myself, my acupuncturist has blended herbs for me that have resolved a multiple of health issues. Chinese Herbs for joint pain have gotten me off of taking three prescribed 800mg tablets of Ibuprofen daily to silence my screaming knees. By taking my herbs closer to my bedtime, I am able to fall asleep sooner and stay asleep longer. Herbs have helped soothe me in much the way 3 mg of Xanax used to do on a daily basis. Chinese Herbs have helped my hair growth, helped strengthen my fingernails and clear my sinuses.

The National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health writes that “when thinking about Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is important to separate questions about traditional theories of concepts of health and wellness from questions about whether specific interventions might be helpful in the context of modern science-based medicines and health promotion practices.”

Again, speaking solely for myself, my Medicare year-to-date drug costs for 2016 totaled over $600.00. After beginning acupuncture and starting a prescribed routine of herbs in October of 2016, my total year to-to-date-drug costs for 2017 was $48.00.

And I have never felt better.

NCCIH continues explaining that the ancient beliefs on which TCM is based include the following:

  • The human body is a miniature version of the larger, surrounding universe.
  • Harmony between two opposing yet complementary forces, called yin and yang, supports health, and disease results from an imbalance between these forces.
  • Five elements—fire, earth, wood, metal, and water—symbolically represent all phenomena, including the stages of human life, and explain the functioning of the body and how it changes during disease.
  • Qi, a vital energy that flows through the body, performs multiple functions in maintaining health.”

The Chinese Materia Medica (a pharmacological reference book used by TCM practitioners) describes thousands of medicinal substances—primarily plants, but also some minerals and animal products. Different parts of plants, such as the leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and seeds, are used. In TCM, herbs are often combined in formulas and given as teas, capsules, liquid extracts, granules, or powders. According to GOOGLE, this text lists over “5500 medicinal substances currently in use as well as information on traditional uses and dosages and contraindications for each substance, as well as any conventional medical research that has been published.”

Again, speaking solely for myself, I find this much more comforting then the Western doctor who gives you a sample of whatever the drug representative dropped off earlier in the day.

I understand that the “mind-shift” to Chinese Herbs is difficult for many Westerners; so is the mind-shift to homeopathic remedies. If we have a headache, we want it gone. If we have itchy eyes, we want it gone. If we have an upset stomach, anxiety, arthritic pain, we want it gone. If we are tossing and turning at night, we want to sleep.

I fully understand this Western impatience; worse, I fully understand the disbelief of my friends – who with far more post-graduate degrees than me – who very clearly remember my Woodstock, flower-child days and remember how I fully embraced the concept of “Better Living through Chemistry”. And they look at me, over a table in a restaurant or on a blanket on the beach and ask me “What happened to change my mind?”

Well, for starters, I got both lucky and smarter.

“Lucky” in the sense that I found my way to a wellness center where I was not viewed as just another old crone and where they believe “the ‘I’ in illness is isolation – and the crucial letters in wellness are ‘WE’”.

“Smarter” in the sense that I was willing to take responsibility for my health.

For those of you young enough to remember the original “Karate Kid” movie, you’ll remember that Grasshopper is the student to the Master, Mr. Miyagi. I found my “Mr. Miyagi” in my TCM doctor because, without a doubt, I am his “Grasshopper”.

Like Mr. Miyagi, my TCM doctor continually teaches me. I now listen to my body. I understand that there are alternative and complimentary treatments for many of what I once considered “illnesses”. My TCM doctor has helped me think less of “illnesses” and more of “symptoms”. Thanks to my Mr. Miyagi, this “Grasshopper” now knows more about Chinese herbs, food as medicine, understands the importance of balance and can view her aches and pains of aging without flying into an emotional panic.

Drug companies will continue to advertise in all types of media; they will continue to lure you and possibly frighten you. The list of men’s and women’s health issues will only grow longer. What we as consumers need to remember is that there are options.

Now, when I see or hear a drug being advertised in a pretty print layout or spoken about in a warm and friendly voice, my immediate thought is “there’s an herb for that”.

Learn more about the herbal pharmacy serving residents of Margate, Coconut Creek, Coral Springs, Parkland and Tamarac



  1. Dr. Landon Agoado
  3. Wikipedia