Healing with Herbal Medicine

Hugh Hayward - Chinese Medicine Practitioner

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Chinese herbal medicine is one of the oldest herbal systems on the planet and has been evolving as a practice for over five thousand years. 

Based on traditional diagnosis, classical formulas have been refined and passed down through an ancient lineage of practitioners and their clinical experiences. 

In the 20th century though, Chinese herbal medicine has leaked out into a blend of modern adaptations and research into individual herbs and isolated active ingredients. The ‘Super Food’ movement has taken over health and wellness and the market is flooded with shelf available hybrid cocktails of latin names and ancient wisdom. Processed herbs and synthetically derived supplements overflow from the medicine cabinet and with all of the chasing the macronutrient dragon and the wellbeing information overload, how are we to know if we even get a benefit anymore?

Health coach gurus and snake oil vendors pump out cure all potions based on the buyers most recent social media or health blogger crash course self diagnosis. This is good for this and this is good for this and this, so lets pop them all together in a bottle and whack a hefty price tag on it. Throw in the suggestive word play to tie it all together and remind everyone that this herb has been used for centuries to treat ghosts in the head. Never mind the two page spread sheet of potential interacting pharmaceutical drugs and over the counter supplements to add to the gut or the skin or the tea. Herbal medicine is risk free! 

Apologies for my ranty write up, but I can’t help but feel like the point has been missed. Don’t get me wrong, I think that most of these products are ace and I have an abundant collection at home myself, but I think it is a terrible addiction of which I need curing. If there is a herbal supplement to cure supplement hoarding please, I am in desperate need haha!..

Herbal medicine in its raw plant form is vastly more complex in nature compared to isolated and synthetic compounds. There has to be more to these plants than their active ingredients in creating a therapeutic effect, and the results speak for themselves. I think for me it comes back down to laziness. I know popping 15 caps twice a day in amongst the tri-daily super smoothie orgy is hard work, but actually it is just another mutation of the magic bullet syndrome. We are all looking for that symptomatic fix, and we want it to happen NOW.

The growing revival of herbal medicine culture is a great thing and I am so stoked to see these products on the shelves and even more stoked to work in a community of like minds and well informed people and parents sharing this knowledge with their kids. Every day someone comes into the clinic, and teaches me about a product which has been helping them for years or which they have been researching, and it reminds me that we are on the right track with medicine. I just can’t help but notice the similarities to pharmaceutical prescription and careless symptomatic diagnosis lately.

The growing body of research into active herbal constituents and macronutrients is an amazing tool to get the word out. To have recognition in the scientific community is a bonus in this age of information, but the systematic diagnosis and subsequent prescription of a carefully refined formula is the quickest and safest way to get results in my opinion. In traditional Chinese herbal medicine, the formula that someone is prescribed often changes from week to week as the body changes and heals. The first and most important prescription is dietary and lifestyle adjustments before herbs are even considered.  

We need to remind ourselves of the origins of this medicine before we lose the roots of holistic diagnosis. We need to stop taking holistic practices and making them trendy. Health loses all meaning when it becomes something we check off the list three times a day and then forget about for the rest of our waking life. Before we relinquish our healing power to a pill, we as patients should be our own best practitioners and focus on the obvious, the healthy habits. Sleep, exercise, real food and nature.