A Modern Guide to Chinese Herbal Medicine

Dec 09, 2019

by Macey Wolfer

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM for short) is not all ancient history. Practices like tai chi, acupuncture and superfood herbs have been used for centuries in China to restore balance in the body, and the rest of the world is finally waking up to the benefits of these ancient practices that can help alleviate all of the stress of modern life. Phone-induced headaches, stress, and sleeplessness included.

As the benefits of TCM are vast, it can be overwhelming — not to mention time consuming — to sift through all the information available and contextualize it for modern life. So to break it down in its simplest terms: TCM is all about normalizing imbalanced energy to heal the body. Read on to discover just how this philosophy can be applied to your modern routine — no degree in history necessary. 


Basics of Chinese Herbal Medicine 

TCM is rooted in balancing Yin and Yang — two opposing forces of energy — and all of its practices and remedies are designed with this in mind. In TCM, there are five elements that make up the human body: fire, earth, metal, water, and wood. Fire is for the heart and small intestine, the earth is for the stomach and spleen, metal is for the lung and large intestine, water is for the kidney and urinary tract, and wood is for the liver and gallbladder. Each of these organs is also governed by either Yin or Yang, and all are constantly in flux to work to keep your body in a state of harmony. 

If something is off-balance, acupuncture and herbs are used to restore well-being. Herbs are also classified into five tastes that correspond with the elements — salty, sweet, bitter, pungent, and sour — and are chosen based on the corresponding element in the body needing repair. So, let’s dive into a few of the ingredients that are best suited to solving 21st-century problems. 


Modern Ways to Use Chinese Herbal Medicine

Many of the conditions TCM is designed to treat have hung around in the modern world and these ancient herbs can still be used to alleviate them:


Dampness is a concept in TCM where the body is sluggish and clammy. This can sometimes manifest as bloating and low energy — basically that general blah feeling you might get after a week or two of over-indulging and not getting enough sleep. It is not recommended to be damp or dry (dehydrated), it’s ideal to achieve a balance. This balance is key for healthy hydration and getting rid of that uncomfortable bloating.

Hops flower is one of the Chinese herbal medicines used to clear dampness from the body. Hops flowers are bitter and pungent, two tastes suggested for promoting blood circulation and removing blood stasis. Hops are considered useful for stress, anxiety, eczema, cramps, and other conditions. Traditionally, Hops flowers were ingested in tinctures, teas, or through fermentation (we’re looking at you, beer). Today, they’ve been formulated into supplements and wellness stacks, where they are paired with other ingredients chosen to help target the body’s imbalances. 

Qi Deficiency 

Qi deficiency is a lack of the body’s vital energy — something that not getting enough sleep or feeling constantly stressed out at work can easily zap. Low qi levels can look a lot like burnout, think low energy, fatigue and even getting sick. Tai chi, acupuncture, and herbs may all help with Qi deficiency. 

Lion’s Mane mushrooms are one of the most popular herbs used in Chinese herbal medicine to treat qi deficiency. In TCM, Lion’s Mane is suggested to help the liver, lung, spleen, heart, and kidneys. Lion’s Mane is also believed to restore balance to the body. It’s been suggested to promote healthy digestion, improve vigor, and increase overall strength and energy.  These mushrooms can be eaten raw or cooked or drank in tea. Many health supplements also include Lion’s Mane to combat a variety of afflictions. For a full look at the impressive list of benefits associated with the king of mushrooms, check out our guide to Lion’s Mane

Unbalanced Inner Temperature

Balancing “cool” (Yin) and “hot” (Yang) foods is a crucial aspect of TCM. Our bodies respond to everything we consume, so to achieve balance in your mind, body, and qi, we need a variety of foods that contrast one another in their effects to keep the body in balance on a daily basis. Yin foods include soy products, meats like crab and duck, cold drinks, green tea, and watermelon, among others. Some Yang foods include chicken, pork, eggs, alcoholic drinks, ginger, and cinnamon. 

Green tea, for example, is a cooling Yin drink. Green tea contains a lot of the amino acid L-theanine, which may modulate some brain functions. With its restorative and cooling effects, L-theanine may support stress relief and have calming effects. 


Final Thoughts 

As you’ve just learned, there are tons of ways you can incorporate TCM’s concept of balancing Yin and Yang in the body in your everyday life. But you don’t need to keep a medicine cabinet full of separate herbs you can tap into if you’re feeling a qi imbalance, damp or dry, as modern brands like us here at FOCL are combining the best of these ingredients into a single supplement stack that can be taken in no time at all. Our FOCL Day supplement stack features each of the herbs we just walked you through, along with CBD (the benefits of which is also thought to have been enjoyed by the ancient Chinese). So you can say goodbye to sluggishness, brain fog, and fatigue for good. 

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Macey is a freelance writer from Seattle. She's passionate about cannabis, music and animals and is always trying to learn more about the world.

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