Chinese Herbal Medicine: How does it taste?

  By Dr. Spencer Greene

By Dr. Spencer Greene

Plants have been used for healing purposes since before history has been written down. You may have heard of the “Iceman” or “Otzi” who lived and died 3400BC. His body was well preserved in ice and he was found with a sachet of plants. Some of which were used for medicinal purposes. This is a clear demonstration of medicinal herbs being used for at least 5,500 years!

In many ways herbal medicine has acted as the bedrock for modern medicine. Many drugs originate from plant substances. Consider the pharmaceutical chemist Tu Youyou, who won the Nobel peace prize in 2015 for a malaria drug synthesized from a plant used for malaria in ancient China since at least 100AD.

The manner in which herbs are used in Chinese Herbal Medicine has a long history linking back at least to 475BC and the Huang Di Nei Jing or “Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine.” The roots of Chinese Herbal Medicine are sunk deep into the theories and principles put forth within this text.

One of the most fundamental aspects of Chinese Herbal Medicine is the concept of Flavor and Nature.

Flavor is quite literally how the herb tastes (see how we got here?) ;) Nature has to do with the thermal property of the herb on a spectrum of cold to hot.

The flavors utilized in Chinese Herbal Medicine are Acrid, Bitter, Salty, Sour, Sweet and Bland. The use of these flavors individually and in combination (called formulas) is where the art of Herbs really comes forth. Almost like a medicinal version of the artful combination of flavors and textures that you would find at a restaurant. There’s a strong history of “kitchen medicine” or the use of herbs in recipes to promote health and healing. This is generally done for the joy of flavors. Medicinal formulas, on the other hand, are generally utilized to help a person navigate a definitive illness.

So what does each flavor do? That is what will be discussed over the next several weeks. Each flavor will be broken down and discussed from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective. In order to shine light on some of the ambiguities of herbal medicine, as well as to help guide you, dear reader, toward asking the right questions.

Stay tuned for the details in the next blog post! Also, don’t be shy about calling our office at 781-829-9355 and I, Dr. Greene, will be happy to answer any of your questions.


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