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Do Chinese Herbs Really Work?

As the new Chinese lunar calendar begins, welcome the Chinese herb offerings to treat common ailments.

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

TTraditional Chinese Medraditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) through the use of herbs is very popular not just in Asia, but in other parts of the world as well. On record, 5,767 medicinal substances exist, which include plant, animal, and mineral substances. But even before breakthroughs in research about various herbal formulations, Chinese herbs have been used medicinally for centuries. Find out the beginnings of Chinese herbal medicines and the most popular herbs that are used to treat almost any form of malady.


Ancient Chinese Shennong (“Divine Farmer”) was the first traditionally recognized herbalist. He was a mythical god-like figure who was believed to have existed in 2800 BC. People believe that Shennong tasted hundreds of herbs and shared his knowledge to farmers. He came out with a Materia Medica that is considered as the oldest book on Chinese herbal medicine. The book classifies plant and animal species into three categories:

  1. Superior–herbs that treat multiple diseases with almost no unfavorable side-effects and promote overall body balance.

  2. Tonics and boosters used as supplements or for longer periods of time.

  3. Herbs taken in small doses to treat specific illnesses only.


Chinese herbs were rampant during the medieval age in western Asian and Islamic countries. The herbs were bartered through the Silk Road from the East to the West. Through time, the herbs were combined with other ingredients to yield formulations that were standardized and exported. With so many herbal formulations present, we will zero in on five essential and most popular “super” herbs that are known for their specific medicinal properties.

Chinese herbs have been used medicinally for centuries.

Let’s look at the five most popular Chinese herbs.

Astragalus Root 

Use: To boost immune system

AstragalusThe herb is commonly prescribed to treat or prevent infections such as the common cold and boost the body’s overall immunity. It is also known to help cure diabetes and fibromyalgia. Furthermore, it stimulates the body’s liver, lungs, spleen, and urinary system. Biotechnology firms are studying how the herb can help combat HIV and other aging-related infections and chronic illnesses. Astragalus comes from a legume family called Fabaceae.

Ginkgo Biloba

Use: To treat memory disorders, eye problems, headaches, dizziness, allergies, and pre-menstrual symptoms

Ginkgo aids in improving blood flow to the brain and serves as an antioxidant.  Several studies have revealed that the herb helps with memory problems for those who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Evidence has also shown that ginkgo aids in circulation problems and eases PMS symptoms. There are also people who take ginkgo to prevent high altitude sickness while others use it to treat tinnitus from a vascular origin. Ginkgo is the only existing species in the plant division Ginkgophyta. All the rest are now extinct.

“The body may be healed but not the mind.” – Chinese proverb

Medicinal Mushrooms

Use: To boost immune system, fight free radicals, lower cholesterol, protect the liver, fight viruses and microbes

Medicinal-Mushrooms-e1485950624830They are also known as medicinal fungi. In Chinese medicine, there is a wide variety of these mushrooms. While there are a lot of mushroom varieties, all of them have been proven to promote immunity and help prevent cancer. The highly popular and perhaps easiest to find kind is the shitake mushroom. You can buy this variety in most groceries and specialty stores. Mushrooms are also great in fighting inflammation and high levels of stress.

“We are most closely related to Fungi than to any other Kingdom.” – Paul Stamets, Mycomedicinals

Panax Ginseng 

Use: To combat stress and fatigue, improve memory and concentration, increase energy level

People use the root of the plant to make medicine that targets the memory, concentration, and physical stamina. Users of Panax refer to the herb as “adaptogen” because it helps them cope with stress and improve their overall well-being. Panax Ginseng has a variety of uses. Medics also prescribe it for depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and cystic fibrosis.

Schisandra Chinesis

Use: To increase resistance to illness and stress, increase physical endurance, fight early aging signs, treat liver disease

It is also called a five-flavor fruit or magnolia berry. The plant promotes body resistance to stress and enables quick recovery from an illness or injury. Since the Chinese discovered the healing properties of the berry, medics have been using it to prevent early aging by increasing lifespan, regulating blood pressure and sugar levels, and treating the liver.

There are numerous herbs that you can find in the market or read about, but these five, commonly prescribed herbs are the main players in the field of traditional Chinese medicine.

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