Herbs for Health
The importance of herbs has been acknowledged by people of all nations, but the Chinese, through the infinite wisdom of the "Sons of Reflected Light", were given a wonderful start at understanding the value and properties of them. At around 3,000 bc, Shen Nung, later known as Huang Ti (the Yellow Emperor), drew up a list of hundreds of herbs and specified their useful and harmful properties After his death he was given the title of "The Divine Husbandman" (he is also credited with the invention of the plough and construction of the first wheeled cart, with devising various systems of irrigation, and with extending the arts of husbandry) and was chosen to be one of the gods of the apothecaries of China. He is probably best known for his classic of Chinese internal medicine, the Nei Ching, which to this day is widely consulted by physicians.
Since the reign of the Yellow Emperor the tremendous work of listing all the herbs and their properties has continued, and today Chinese traditional medicine recognises over 30,000 herbs and has at its disposal even more recipes for the use of them. The herbs are of course, subject to the Yin and Yang influences, as is everything else in the universe, and they can be used internally or externally or both at once. Their efficacy has been proved over thousands of years, but depends on the proper use of them (i.e. when and how they are taken or administered).
When being used internally, they can, for instance, be taken hot or cold, in the form of pills, powders, drinks or soups, depending on need. For certain complaints they may need to be administered before a meal; for others after; sometimes in the very early morning, on an empty stomach; and sometimes in the late evening after the last meal has been digested. According to the illness, a slow, gentle influence, working over a long period, may be required, or the need may be for a quick expansion, with rapid results.
Similar considerations apply to external use. Should the preparation be applied hot or cold, over a long period or a short period? How much of the body should it cover? Does it need to penetrate the body only a little way, or must it have a very deep effect?
Whilst the internal is Yin and the external is Yang, everything, as we have seen earlier, has something of both, and a balance needs to be maintained. That is why people living in the colder climates (Yin) should eat more Yang foods, whilst those living in the tropics (Yang) should concentrate on more Yin foods (always remembering that the food in question should be naturally and locally grown, and that nothing should be consumed in excess).
The ancient herbal textbooks classify the whole range of herbs into five categories:
1 those that are nutritious and can be mixed with the food of a Ch'ang Ming diet; 2 those herbs that can be used in medicines and are non-poisonous; 3 poisonous herbs that may be used in very small quantities; 4 herbs which can be used only for a short period of time; and 5 herbs that can be safely used over long periods.
Most of the herbs that grow in the West are also known and found in China, but the size and climatic variety of China is such that many herbs that are found there do not occur in the West. In this chapter we shall concentrate on herbs that can be grown or are readily purchasable in the West, and shall pay particular regard to their health-giving properties. Shortage of space means that only a selection of herbs can be covered.