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Deepening Your Understanding of Chinese Herbs...

If your a TCM student, and you're studying the Chinese herbs, there is a good chance you're overwhelmed. There are a lot of them. Chinese herbs are usually learned herb by herb, one category at a time. The problem with studying the herbs this way is that it doesn't always lend itself to your own intuitive understanding of the relationships in Chinese Medicine.

In this article, I'd like to show you how to approach the herbs from a general TCM perspective, and then slowly deepen your friendships (details) with the herbs over time. Remember, this is just a perspective... learning the TCM herbs and their use is a lifelong adventure.

In order to deepen our understanding of the herbs, we need to start with a strong understanding of Chinese Medicine theory, the treatment methods, general herb properties, and how the herbs behave in the channels they enter... let's call this the 'basics'. While you may want to immediately dive into each herb's unique characteristics, taking the time to get clear on the basics will not only save you a huge amount of time, it will also make you a better practitioner.

While each TCM herb category gives us a general sense of what those herbs will do; the temperature, properties, channels, actions, and indications can be very different even within a single category. The strategy then, is to first apply as many of the basics to each category and herb as possible, and then eventually learn an herb's unique personality. Deepening your understanding of the relationships and connections in TCM will lead you closer and closer to the herbs you will choose in treatment.

Some review...

1. The Eleven Treatment Methods

Let's stick with the basic warming and clearing methods. For example, if you know you need to use the clearing method, you are probably going to want to use at least some cooling herbs to 'clear' the heat. Likewise, warm herbs for the warming method. This may seem intuitive, but keep in mind that a balanced TCM formula will most likely have multiple herbs, with varying temperatures, travelling to different channels.

2. The Five Tastes (Wu Wei)

Learn these, and keep them in mind every time you think of a partcular herb's properties. If you know the general actions of each of the 5+ tastes in Chinese Medicine, you'll have a much better sense of what an herb (with that property) might do. For example, both 'bitter' and 'salty' substances can drain and be used for damp disorders.

Study...

1. Know The Theory and Patterns For Herb Categories

As you initially study a set of herbs, always keep in the mind the category they are in. For instance, almost all of the herbs in 'Cool and Transform Phlegm-Heat' are either cold or neutral. Also, many of these herbs are bitter or salty. Notice that the herb properties can be connected to the name of the category. If you understand the theory behind transform phlegm, you'll also understand why some of the herbs in this category are sweet.

2. Learn an Herb's Temperature, Properties, and Channels First

Within each category of herbs, these three basic characteristics can tell you a great deal about which TCM pattern(s) a particular herb treats within that category. Instead of starting with the memorization of actions, indications, and cautions... spend time connecting the TCM patterns treated in the category with the characteristics of the herb.

3. Deepen Your Understanding

When you have a solid understanding of the patterns treated by the TCM herb categories, and you know the general properties of each herb in that category... you can then deepen your relationship with the herbs by studying their actions & indications (and reading good textbook commentary). For example, once you know the handful of 'Cool and Transform Phlegm-Heat' herbs that go the Lungs, then it's time to differentiate which ones clear the lungs, or benefit the throat, or treats nodules.

 

Further Exploration...

When I was a student, I was fascinated by similarities and connections between all the TCM herbs. I wanted to be able to see them all at a glance, and I wanted it to be a spring board for exploring more relationships. One of the tools I created for myself was the Herb Explorer. You can check it out below.

TCM Herb Explorer

Posted in 'Herb Updates' on Fri. Mar 15, 2013 by Thomas -
2nd Edition Changes
Since the first edition of the book, there have been a handful of pinyin and Chinese character updates/changes along the way. Now, there are over 30 updated photos. They either correct misidentified/adulterated herbs, or they are a better representation than existing photos. The new books also have sharper photos, and the color is more accurate than the 1st edition. Check the VMMCH-Rev2-Changes PDF for major changes.
Posted in 'Herb Updates' on Sun. Mar 07, 2010 by Thomas -
Misidentified Herb Updates...
After reading Eric Brand's blog post, I took a trip up to Spring Wind Herbs in Berkeley, CA. Andy Ellis was kind enough to help me identify, as well as let me photograph, the misidentified and aldultered herbs on sacredlotus.com (and then some). If you're interested in the highest quality Chinese herbs for your practice, as well as organic Chinese herbs, I would highly recommend checking out Spring Wind Herbs.

The following herbs have new photos, and possible changed information:

Bai Jiang Cao | Bai Qian | Bai Tou Weng | Bai Wei | Ban Lan Gen | Ban Xia | Fu Shen | Cang Er Zi | Ce Bai Ye | Chaun Niu Xi | Chuan Bei Mu | Dang Gui | Da Xue Teng (Hong Teng) | Dong Chong Xia Cao | E Bu Shi Cao | Fu Ping | Fu Zi | Ge Gen | Hai Feng Teng | Han Fang Ji | He Huan Hua | He Shou Wu | Huang Qi | Mi Meng Hua | Qing Hao | Sheng Ma | Wang Bu Liu Xing | Wu Jia Pi | Xi Xin Gen | Yi Mu Cao | Zhi Shi | Zi Cao

If you find any discepancies or issues with this new information, please let me know by phone or by email.

Posted in 'Herb Updates' on Thu. Feb 25, 2010 by Thomas -