Guide to Chinese herbalism

Natural medicine is becoming increasingly popular in the West and many are turning to herbal medicine in a bid to avoid the side effects associated with conventional drugs.
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The first manual on Chinese herbalism is named the Materia Medica. Dating back to the 1st century Han dynasty, it lists some 365 medicines, 252 of which are herbs.

This work has since been expanded and updated throughout Chinese history.

An imbalance of chi - the life force which many Asian nations believe permeates the world - is what can lead to ill health or discomfort.

Following a consultation, a Chinese herbalist will often prepare a mixture of herbs specifically for the patient, usually boiled into a liquid, which aims to restore balance to the chi.

Practitioners will diagnose via questions, visual observation (mood, face colour, and so on) and by smelling and listening to the patient's body or voice.

Some of the most common herbs used will be familiar to many:

Ginger - excellent for digestive problems and various causes of nausea, including morning sickness as well as treatment of coughs and the common cold.

Ginseng - believed to help boost energy, reduce stress and increase endurance.

Cinnamon - believed to warm the body and invigorate circulation. It's also used to reduce allergic reactions.

- reliable as a laxative but can enhance the appetite, promote blood circulation and relive pain and inflammation.

However, some herbs are highly toxic and care should be taken when choosing a practitioner as it takes many years of experience to practice herbalism safely.

Check with your GP before starting any new treatment and remember that herbs, just like prescription medicines, can cause side effects. If you feel any ill effects after taking a herbal prescription, you should stop taking them immediately.