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The Practical Herbalist

Appropriate Presentation

A point of confusion when it comes to herbs is what medical conditions is a particular herb used to treat? I feel this has caused a lot of confusion in the medical community. Often herbs are promoted as curing a list of seemingly unrelated medical conditions. Medical practitioners I have talked to, often site this as proof that the use of herbs as medicine is based in folk belief and placebo effects. The confusion often arises from herbal marketers not understanding herbal medical concepts, and by the public not understanding how herbs should be used.

Herbal medicine goes back into the mists of time, long before the current biomedical definitions of medical conditions. Herbs were used based on the symptoms of the patient, not on modern medical diagnostics. As a result a herb or herb formula may have been used for many types of medical conditions based on a specific symptom. For example there are many herb formulas for rashes. From an herbal point of view it does not matter whether the rash is caused by the herpes zoster virus, bacterial infection, or allergic reaction. The symptoms of a red itchy rash are the same. Since the herbs are targeted at helping the body to overcome those symptoms rather than the specific causative factor, the same herbal formula might be used for all three conditions.

The problem really comes in when marketers look at past uses of a herb and try to translate the use into modern terminology. For example, herbal medicine identifies many types of headaches, and herbal formulas are customized to the various types. If a herbal marketer promotes that a herb is traditionally used for headaches, it is quite likely the consumer is going to get a herb that is not specific to the type of headache they have.

In the world of herbal medicine there is a famous book that has become a benchmark from which other herbal texts are judged. It is called Formulas and Strategies by Bensky and Barolet. This book lays out in great detail, how and why certain herbs and herbal formulas should be used in medical conditions. The book is written and organized following Traditional Chinese medical principles. At the end of each herbal formula entry, there is a list of modern biomedical conditions which may be treated using this particular formula. The difference between these lists and the ones found in other books and magazines is a phrase that repeated throughout the book: "With appropriate presentation, this formula may be used in treating such biomedically-defined disorder as...". In other words the determination of which herb formula to use is should not be based on the biomedically defined disorder but rather the Traditional Chinese medical indications. To do otherwise would not help the patient or may make their condition worse. Reading these lists with the accompanying Chinese diagnostic descriptions helps a person see how the seemingly unrelated lists medical conditions, have some common denominator. It also provides a great understanding of the power of herbal medicine to treat a wide array of medical conditions, even if we don’t know precisely what is the cause.

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