Origin and Use: Traditional Eastern Herbal Medicine


East Asia has a rich heritage of a system of traditional medicine and herbal medicine is a popular practice in that region. Herbal medicine uses traditional herbal methods to promote health and healing and is commonly used in China (including the Taiwan region), Japan and Korea. For centuries, traditional oriental medical doctors have worked rigorously and trained to master the science of prescribing herbal formulas. Today, herbal medicine is making a resurgence and gaining popularity in western culture.

The Origin of Traditional East Asian Herbal Medicine

For many centuries, ancient herbal knowledge has been acquired, formulated, tested and handed down from one generation to the next. These herbal formulas are known in East Asia as Bi Bong Formulas, or “secret formulas” According to an article in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, archeological studies have shown that in China the practice of herbal medicine dates as far back as 8,000 years ago. Some written accounts specifically trace Chinese herbal medicine between 300BCE and 200BCE. East Asian herbology uses herbal formulas that consist of multiple( 4-10) herbs that were traditionally taken as a tea or honey pill or used as a topical application. It was known for the royal families of East Asia, notably Korea, to seek out highly renowned herbal doctors in the region to attain the most coveted “secret formulas” known.

Prominent Herbs and their Benefits

It is the East Asian practice to blend herbs in order to increase their synergy and potency, and also to eliminate the risk of unwanted side effects. These herbal custom formulas are based on a specific hierarchy of herbal ingredients, and herbs are assigned different tasks. Some of the most prominent herbs include:

  • Ginseng Root: This herb is known to have numerous benefits, including balancing the gastrointestinal tract, strengthening and harmonizing the digestive organs to regulate appetite, remedy upset stomach and alleviate abdominal distention and increasing circulation. Furthermore, ginseng root has anti-stress properties that have a calming effect, and it can also balance both the central and peripheral nervous systems and the cardiovascular system. Its antibacterial properties make it great for nourishing the skin cells and purifying the skin.
  • Green Tea: This plant enhances the body’s ability to burn fat, increase fat oxidation, and thermogenesis. It is packed with vitamins and nutrients that can slow the aging process and calms the skin. Its antioxidant properties protect the skin from oxidative stress and environmental damage.
  • Licorice Root: This root has rich detoxifying, anti-neoplastic and anti-inflammatory effects. It strengthens the digestive system, alleviates toxicity, moderates spasms and alleviates pain and has a positive effect on lipid metabolism.
  • Burdock Root: This herb moistens the mucous membranes of the intestines to help with constipation and promotes bowel movements, resolves toxicity and has an antibiotic effect.
  • Astragalus Root: This herb improves nutrient absorption, increases energy and performs as a cardio-tonic, lowering blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It also has adaptogenic effects.
  • Ginger: This root strengthens and harmonizes digestion, alleviates symptoms of an upset stomach and has a balancing effect on the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Dandelion Root: This root clears the liver and flushes the kidneys, alleviates toxicity, reduces abscesses, boosts metabolism and offsets cravings for sweets.

Herbal medicine is increasingly making its way into the mainstream biomedical system. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of the use of herbs, resulting from the negative side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, the absence of curative modern therapies for some chronic diseases and rising microbial resistance to drugs. Additionally, there is also an unprecedented pharmaceutical investment in traditional herbal medicine research and development today. East Asian herbal extracts are being added into today’s skincare and hair care products, cosmetics, supplements, and other products as well.

With growing research and development, East Asian herbal medicine will be more present in mainstream western medicine. With custom formulations and a need for traditional herbs where conventional medicine falls short, the allure will only increase. The space for East Asian herbal medicine in western culture will continue to grow as awareness and knowledge of herbal plants and herbal therapy increases.

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