Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Herbs Used for Disease Prevention and Chinese Medicine

There is allot of talk about preventative medicine, preventative health care, and healthy aging; when it comes right down to it, most Western practitioner are unaware of the benefits of Tonic Herbs. The Chinese were contemplating the affects of aging some 3,000+ years ago.

One of the first Chinese manuals on pharmacology, The Divine Farmers Materia Medica was compiled by The Taoist master, alchemist and pharmacologist Tao Hongjing who was born around 456 BC. He was also credited with the development of early grain cultivation and practiced under the imperial patronage of Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty.

Tao Hongjing artfully divided herbs into three categories; the first were the Superior herbs, or Tonic herbs, that were often used over a long period of time to strengthen the body and to prevent disease and deterioration. The second were medicinal, or general herbs, used to correct imbalance in the body and to rectify disease patterns. The third classification was inferior, or toxic herbs that had very strong actions on the body and could only be used for short periods.


Theory of Chinese Herbal Medicine and Formulas

Chinese herbs are selected and combined in to formulas based on principles that are based on Chinese medical theory. The majority of Chinese herb formulas include four herbs or more. In Chinese medicine, there are only a few herbs are used by themselves alone because formulas can be designed for optimal effectiveness without side effects.

There are three basic levels of herbs:


Designing Herb Formulas

Designing herb formulas that are affective and do not present side effects is a high art that takes many years to master. Here is a common format for combining formulas:

  • King or Emperor Herb at Top - This is the herb or herbs that is used to the strongest effect on the most important imbalance, pathology,  and organ system.
  • Minister or Deputy Herbs - This herb is directed to the main imbalance and to the secondary imbalance that may be involved in the illness or condition.

Adjunct Type Herbs: 

  • Helpful Assistant - strengthens the effect of the King 
  • Corrective Assistant - These herbs reduces or eliminates the harsh or toxic effects of the King and/or Minister Herbs and help to decrease digestive side effects of the herbs and increase the digestive potential.
  • Opposing Assistant - These herbs buffers the effect of the King. Typically, these are only used in complex combinations of imbalances and pathologies. 
  • Guide - Envoy - Messenger Herbs - guides other herbs in a specific direction or helps to focus other herbs on a particular organ, channel or region of the body.

Also taken in to account when herbs are blended are their affinity for certain organ systems and their energetic qualities:

  • Temperature - hot, warm, neutral, cool, cold
  • Taste - salty, sour, bitter, sweet, spicy

Most of the herbal therapies that you will run in to at your local health food store fall under the classification of medicinal, or general herbs; they address specific diseases and are only intended for short use periods. Examples of general herbs are Echinacea and Goldenseal; these herbs are wonderful in the treatment of colds or sinus infections, but are not to be taken for more than 10 days. Tonic herbs such as codonopsis are more of a super-food that can be consumed year round to strengthen the immune system so that you are not susceptible to a cold in the first place. There are examples of general herb therapies that are appropriate for an infection, or crisis condition.



Sen S., Chen S., Wu Y., Feng B., Lui E. K., Chakrabarti S. Preventive effects of North American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) on diabetic retinopathy and cardiomyopathy. Phytotherapy Research2013;27(2):290–298. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4719. [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]

Zhang Z., Zhang D., Dou M., Li Z., Zhang J., Zhao X. Dendrobium officinale Kimura et Migo attenuates diabetic cardiomyopathy through inhibiting oxidative stress, inflammation and fibrosis in streptozotocin-induced mice. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy2016;84:1350–1358. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2016.10.074. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

Yu W., Zha W., Guo S., Cheng H., Wu J., Liu C. Flos Puerariae extract prevents myocardial apoptosis via attenuation oxidative stress in streptozotocin-induced diabetic mice. PLoS One2014;9(5, article e98044) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0098044. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

Duan J., Wei G., Guo C., et al. Aralia taibaiensis protects cardiac myocytes against high glucose-induced oxidative stress and apoptosis. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine2015;43(6):1159–1175. doi: 10.1142/S0192415X15500664. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

Chang W., Zhang M., Li J., et al. Berberine improves insulin resistance in cardiomyocytes via activation of 5′-adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase. Metabolism2013;62(8):1159–1167. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2013.02.007. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.