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The Practical Herbalist

Time and History

It is easy to forget that the United States is really a very young country. When we talk about an "old" building, we are often referring to one that is maybe a hundred years old. In China when you talk about an "old" building they may be referring to a place that is a thousand years old. It is easy to forget that perspective in our fast paced society.

Herbalists have to remember that the knowledge we have, has been built up over thousand of years of documentation, and clinical experience. Herbalists have learned over time, and the understanding of medicine has changed and deepened. There have been many shifts in clinical thought as to how to treat various conditions based on the understanding of the day. The same is true in Biomedical medicine, where the treatments of the past are sometimes discarded for better treatments of the present. If we truly want to understand why we use a particular modern treatment, then it is helpful to understand the treatments that lead to the modern understanding. Essentially all types of medicine learn from the mistakes and successes of the past.

This concept became very clear in one particular herb class. The class was added to the curriculum based on the requests of several students. We had an instructor, who had been trained in many of the ancient classics of herbal medicine. One particular book called the Shan Han Lun is one of the most important ancient clinical texts we have. It contains medical advice on using many herbal formulas that are still in use 1700 years after this book was written. Translations are never perfect, so we wanted to learn from someone who was trained in the ancient version of the Chinese language in which the book was written.

As we went through the book we learned much about the original uses and understanding of many important formulas that we regularly prescribe to patients. One day we were puzzled by one of the entries in the book. It described the clinical symptoms of a patient and the diagnosis. The formula that was recommended was gui zhi tang. We students were familiar with gui zhi tang, and asked why it was used in this case, since the obvious formula to use for this patient was a formula call yin chiao san. Our teacher smiled and simply said; "remember this book was written 1700 years ago. yin chiao san is a "modern" formula that has only been around for 200 years". Modern verses ancient is a very relative concept.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066