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Home : China Guide : Traditinal Chinese Medicine

The walls of TCM pharmacies are lined with drawers full of medicinal ingredients.Traditional Chinese medicine falls under three categories: plant, mineral and animal. The plant category is the largest. The Shennong Materia Medica, published between the first and second centuries, is the earliest materia medica extant, and lists 365 medical ingredients. The Newly Revised Materia Medica of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) that lists 884 medical ingredients, was the first government commissioned pharmacopoeia in the world. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Compendium of Materia Medica, compiled by Li Shizhen, records 1,892 medical ingredients. According to contemporary statistics, there are now a total of 12,800 medical ingredients used in TCM.

Traditional Chinese medicine theory covers ingredients' properties, taste, prescriptions, type of medication, and usage.

There are five medicinal properties: cold, hot, warm, cool, and plain. Cold and cool, and hot and warm are similar, varying only in degree. The plain property is neutral, and comes between the two greater categories. Classification of medicinal properties has close links with the causes of disease.

Traditional tools for processing herbal medicines.According to TCM theory, human illness has two causes, one internal and the other external. External factors include climatic changes beyond human endurance, and the invasion of toxic substance. Internal factors refer to strong and sustained stimulus as caused by the seven human emotions of joy, anger, sorrow, fear, love, hate and desire, or an improper diet, that cause an imbalance or dysfunction of internal organs. The human body is believed to encompass, like nature, six natural factors: wind, cold, summer-heat, dampness, dryness and fire. Any imbalance or abnormal change in these factors causes illnesses.

An important function of traditional Chinese medicine is to regulate or restrain these six natural phenomenon so as to maintain balance, and hence the normal physiological mechanism. For instance, cold property medicines cure febrile diseases, and those with hot properties cure cold-like syndromes.

Traditional Chinese medicine is also employed to eradicate or inhibit any germs or viruses known as toxic factors that invade the human body.

There are six classifications of taste in traditional Chinese medicine: pungent, sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and bland. The two pungent remedies are the pungent-hot such as ginger, and pungent-cold such as peppermint. These are generally used to induce sweat and stimulate the qi. Sweet ingredients act mainly as a tonic; sour ingredients are to stop sweating or diarrhea; bitter ingredients purge intense heat and remove dampness; salty ingredients diffuse masses in the abdomen; and bland ingredients remove dampness and promote diuresis.

Forms of traditional Chinese medicine include decoction, bolus, powder, soft extract, pills, and medicated alcohol. (Source: China Today)

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