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Traditional Chinese Medicine

What makes Chinese herbs so special?

By Chinese herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine

In Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) we do not simply use the herbs that grow in our gardens. These may be classed as food medicine but would not be potent enough for herbal medicine. In the long, rich tradition of CHM, herbs have been used that have the correct Dao Di. This roughly equates to high quality provenance. Over thousands of years of gathering herbal knowledge, the Chinese established what the best growing locations were for specific herbs, what the correct growth conditions were, and also, crucially, when the best time to harvest was to achieve the maximum therapeutic benefit:


Daodi medicinal material is defined as medicinal material that is produced and assembled in specific geographic regions with designated natural conditions and ecological environment, with particular attention to cultivation technique, harvesting and processing. These factors lead to quality and clinical effects surpass those of same botanical origin produced from other regions, and thus is widely recognized and has long enjoyed a good reputation.” (Zhao, Guo & Brand, 2012).


The earliest reference to the importance of herbal production regions in the Chinese Materia Medica was in The Divine Husbandman’s Classic of Materia Medica (Shen nong ben cao jing) from the Eastern Han Dynasty 25-220CE. The Newly Revised Materia Medica (Xin xiu ben cao) from the Tang Dynasty (618-907CE) stated “if medicinal material is not produced from its native environment, the effect will be different.” And the Song Dynasty (960-1279CE) text, Extension of the Materia Medica (Ben cao yan yi), declared that “All medicinals must be chosen from suitable production regions”.


It is well understood that plants and their bioactive components are influenced by environmental factors such as topography, climate, soil conditions, light and humidity. The ancient Chinese people said that “tangerine plants grown south of the Huai river produce tangerines, but if they grow north of the Huai river they produce bitter oranges; the leaves are similar but the flavour of the fruit is different.” As Zhao, Guo & Brand note, “Ancient observers recognized that different environments not only produce changes in appearance, they also produce differences in medicinal nature.”


In modern times, we can measure this in labs and ensure that only the highest quality medicinals with the correct levels of active constituent chemicals are used. The approved suppliers of the RCHM all adhere to stringent quality testing to ensure both therapeutic benefit and safety. Herbs are safety-checked for any potentially toxic constituents, adulterants, substitutions or misidentification. We can be sure that the herb is what it claims to be, is of clinical medicinal standard and is safe for human consumption.


But even with our modern quality-controls, in CHM we still adhere to the old traditions of Dao Di. A study from 2003 used high-performance liquid chromatography and spectrophotometry to establish whether there was any difference in the main chemical constituents of San Qi (Panax notoginseng) depending on regional and seasonal variations (Dong et al, 2003).  They found that the best quality San Qi was to be found in the southwestern parts of Wenshan and that the best harvest season was September-October which are in line with the traditional Dao Di for this herb.


Further research into Dao Di medicinal material is ongoing: (1) the application of quantitative genetics methods to explore the genetic material basis in order to reveal the molecular mechanism of the formation of Dao Di medicinal material; (2) the application of omics and systems biology to elucidate the contributing factors of Dao Di medicinal material; (3) the application of geographic authentication and protection of the intellectual property rights of Dao Di medicinal material based on its biological, chemical and pharmacological features (Pan, 2011), and this research is one of the key projects sponsored by the National Natural Science Foundation of China.




Dong, T. et al., 2003. Chemical Assessment of Roots of Panax notoginseng in China: Regional and Seasonal Variations in Its Active Constituents. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 51: 4617-4623.

Pan, F., 2011. Doadi medicinal material is the essence of Chinese medicine—a review of the 390th session of Xiangshan Science Conference. Science Times, Feb 28, 2011. Beijing, China.

Zhao, Z., Guo, P. and Brand, E. 2012. The formation of daodi medicinal materials. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 140: 476-481.

2016 – Year of the Clever Red Fire Monkey

By Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chinese New Year is almost upon us. This falls each year on the New Moon between 21st January and 21st of February and this year is celebrated on 8th February. Traditionally, this festival is a time to honour ancestors and deities. It is a time for families to gather together, then cleanse the house – ridding it of any ill-fortune and making room for good luck.
According to legend, the tradition of the Chinese New Year began when a mythical beast called the Nian troubled villagers, eating them and their children. They would leave food on their doorsteps at the beginning of each year to keep him away. One day a god visited the village and advised them to place red paper on their houses. The villagers realised the Nian was afraid of the colour red so they wore red clothes, hung red lanterns and set off fire crackers to scare him away. The Nian never troubled the village again.


Fire monkey
2016 is the year of the Fire Monkey. In Chinese astrology, each year is assigned one of the Five Elements (water, wood, fire, earth and metal) and one of the 12 animals. The Monkey is intelligent, inventive and a good problem solver. He is witty and social in groups but also independent. The Monkey is playful and youthful and symbolises curiosity and creative energy. He represents the unfettered mind freed from inhibitions and guilt. He can also be cunning, opportunistic and untrustworthy.
The year of the Fire Monkey, then, is one in which anything can happen. There is little point in storing things up or making plans this year. The social aspect of the Monkey, his cheeky nature and enthusiasm help us to deal with stresses through open communication and good humour. The Monkey is fast and active and we should follow his lead this year by increasing our activity levels. Help the body to discard its stresses by moving – take up a sport or try walking, yoga or dance.
The year of the Fire Monkey is largely optimistic and should see upturns and growth. However, in our financial concerns, we need to be wise and vigilant to outsmart the monkey and look after our investments. The status of events can change very swiftly this year and we should take care before making changes that may affect our finances, career, family or relationships. Insecurity and trickery abound this year and decisions should be made carefully, using logic rather than emotion.
This year is especially auspicious for inventiveness. This is a time to take risks with new ideas and embrace rebelliousness, guts and bravado. But only for those who can outsmart the trickster Monkey – the slow and dull-witted will struggle.
The year of the Fire Monkey is one in which to enjoy and live life to the full. Happy New Year everybody!

Five Elements: Are you a Fiery one?

By Traditional Chinese Medicine

Summer is the season of the Fire Element. The energy is of outward radiation like the sun in full force, and is known as “Radiant Yang”. According to Gabriel Mojay, Fire is energy at its “most refined and sensitive, it is associated with both conscious awareness and self-identity”.

The organ of Fire is the Heart. The Yellow Emperor describes the Heart “like the minister of the monarch who excels through insight and understanding… it is the root of life and causes versatility of spiritual faculties”. The Heart governs and circulates the Blood and also houses the Mind, or Shen. The Shen encompasses all mental-emotional activity, thinking, feeling, imagination, memory and is the source of self-awareness.

It is no coincidence that we speak of the Heart as a place of emotion. When we feel anxious, we often feel palpitations, when we are in love a fluttering in our hearts. Our hearts feel full with love, broken hearted when we suffer loss. The Heart is the organ of love and affection – the giver and receiver of love. The root emotion of Fire is joy. The Fire element is one of open communication and enjoyment of social activities.

As the Heart houses the Shen, it will be involved in most psychological issues. When the Fire element is imbalanced, emotional and psychological problems can occur. Fire can blaze out of control or can burn out. Fire may not burn hot enough or be doused out.

Here is a checklist of typical Fire prsonality traits. The beginning of the list represents a healthy, balanced Fire element. You can see as the list progresses how Fire can become imbalanced or out of control. How fiery are you?

I am empathetic towards others
I am enthusiastic
I laugh loudly and often
I am talkative
I enjoy emotional intimacy
I am optimistic
I can get over-excited
I talk too much
I wear my emotions on my sleeve
I care what others think about me
I am easily hurt by others
I can be absentminded and scatter-brained
I need lots of support and praise
I lack excitement and enthusiasm
I can be self-centred and selfish
I tend to be apathetic and despondent
I have poor self-image and low self-esteem
I may lack compassion for myself and others
I am often anxious
I suffer with insomnia
I can become hysterical


Here are some physical signs and symptoms of a Fire imbalance:

Red, blotchy complexion / ashen complexion
Tendency to blush
Tongue problems – ulcers, swelling, etc
Cold hands and feet / poor circulation
Varicose veins
Dizziness and fainting spells
Skin eruptions
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Palpitations especially when anxious
Sleep disturbances – insomnia, vivid / disturbing dreams
Speech problems – slurring, stuttering


If you suffer with any of the above symptoms or feel your Fire element tipping out of balance, an acupuncturist can help to bring you back into harmony. You can help yourself at home using the following essential oils: Jasmine, Lavender, Melissa, Neroli, Palmarosa, Rose, Rosemary, Spikenard, Ylang Ylang. Fire and the Heart respond well to floral fragrances in particular – the scents of love and joy.