Ancient Chinese medicine origins are rooted in mythological people and lore. The three ancient emperors affiliated with the science are Fu Hsi, Shen Nung, and Huang Ti. While the feats of these men are questionable in their possibility, their legendary nature is necessary for the understanding of ancient Chinese medicine.
Fu Hsi’s reign is said to begin in 2852 B.C. He is credited with authorship of what is said to be the first of all Chinese books, the I Ching. The I Ching, or Book of Changes, is a classic text and has been in existence for thousands of years. The point of the I Ching is centered around an ancient system of philosophy and cosmology. It contains an intricately developed system of symbols centering on the concepts and ideas that influence many areas of Chinese thought, including ancient Chinese medicine. One of these concepts that should be noted due to its direct relationship to ancient medicinal practices is that of dynamic balance of opposites, as depicted by the Taoist Taijitu. The Taijitu is also known as the Yin-Yang symbol, and literally translates into “diagram of the supreme ultimate.” Thus, Fu Hsi is also credited with that which is considered to be the most profound accomplishment in Chinese history: formulation of the Yin Yang doctrine, which is the basis of the I Ching (Hyatt 17-33).
Shen Nung, also known as the Red Emperor (Lucas 1-9), is second in descent of the three mythological emperors. He could be considered the father of agriculture and herbal medicine. It is said that his reign ended in 2697 B.C., 155 years after Fu Hsi. Shen Nung is credited with the authorship of the Pen Ts’ao Ching. Of the texts that are directly related to ancient Chinese herbalism, this is considered to be the oldest. Pen Ts’ao Ching translated means Shen Nung’s Herbal and is based on the emperor’s own experimentation with herbalism. According to popular legend, prior to Shen Nung’s experimenting and research it is unknown if any documented pharmacopoeia provided necessary knowledge of what plants and herbs to stay away from when conducting fieldwork. Therefore, when the emperor would travel into fields, marshes, and forests to conduct research on the native botanicals, he would eat them whenever necessary. It is said that he poisoned himself eighty times in a day, but since he was a great physician, he always recovered. Today, he is still held in esteem as the patron saint of herbalism (Hyatt 17-33).
Huang Ti, or the Yellow Emperor, reigned from 2697 – 2595 B.C. His most celebrated work is known as the Nei Ching, or The Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine. Later, the Nei Ching was divided into two separate parts: the Su Wen and the Ling Shu. Huang Ti first established rank, court, and ritual, and due to this is known as the first true emperor. He is also credited with numerous inventions and has become the most prolific of the three ancient emperors. Some of the revolutionary ideas credited to Huang Ti are the first wheeled vehicle, known as the chariot, the planetarium, cloth clothing, currency, and musical notation (Hyatt 17-33).
With the mythological nature of the three emperors credited with creating the foundations of ancient Chinese medicinal knowledge, it seems easy to doubt the legitimacy of knowledge learned from their texts. However, Chinese medicine has always developed from empirical knowledge. While the guidelines of how to treat the body and live a healthy life are told through fable and myth, the actual practice of Chinese medicine comes not from mythological origin but has been proven sound in centuries of study, training, and experience. Inventions that are considered to be a part of Western medicine are often found to be discovered thousands of years prior in ancient Chinese medicinal texts such as the Nei Ching. The circulation of blood throughout the body and diagnosis by pulse are two commonly thought of techniques practiced in medicine.
In the Nei Ching, extraordinary similarities to modern thought on preventive medicine are found. The classic text states that the human body can be protected against disease by adaptation to environmental changes. Also of importance is the idea that ailments must be cured before they arise by proper diet, rest, and work, and by keeping the mind and heart calm. It is said to cure an illness after it arises is like forging weapons after the battle has started, or digging a well after you have become thirsty. In the Nei Ching, Huang Ti asked the following question to one of his physicians: “I have heard that in ancient times, human beings lived to the age of 100. In our time, we are exhausted at the age of 50. Is this because of changes in circumstances, or is it the fault of man?” Physician Ch’i Po answered, “In ancient times, men lived in accordance with Tao, the ‘Principle.’ They observed the law of Yang and Yin, were sober, and led regular, simple lives. For that reason, being healthy in body and mind, they could live to the age of 100. In our time, men drink alcohol as if it were water, seek all pleasures, and abandon themselves to intemperance. The sages teach that one must lead a simple and peaceful life. Thus keeping all its energy in reserve, the body cannot be attacked by illness…By living in such simplicity, men can still reach the age of 100 in our time” (Lucas 1-9).
When Huang Ti composed the celebrated Nei Ching, included in it is knowledge of psychosomatic ailments, as well as knowledge of circulation of blood through the body. Understanding that stress-induced illnesses are able to be healed and prevented creates a large role in how the concept of balancing one’s Yin and Yang plays into living a healthy life. This is explained clearly by the following passage from the Su Wen, “We must know how to determine whether a disorder is caused by perverse energy coming from the outside [e.g., wind, cold, dampness, heat, dryness], or by emotional stress. Psychic disturbances, like perverse energies, can give rise to muscular disorders and all sorts of illness” (Lucas 1-9).
In addition, the understanding of blood flow throughout the body and diagnosis by pulse are the most important methods for determining the health of a patient by Traditional Chinese Medicine standards. According to ancient Chinese chronicles, the taking of the pulse was discovered by Pien Ch’ueh, a famous physician of the second century A.D (Lucas 1-9). By Western standards, the discovery of the pulse as means of diagnosis was not discovered until 1628 by William Harvey, who concluded that there had to be a direct connection between the venous and arterial systems throughout the body, and not just the lungs. Other discoveries in Traditional Chinese Medicine that were ahead of Western findings include anesthetics and the catheter. Anesthesia has been administered by Chinese surgeons as long ago as the third century B.C. The catheter is described in The Thousand Golden Remedies in the seventh century B.C. and was not designed by the West until 1885 (Lucas 1-9).
Yin and Yang
The Chinese concept of Yin and Yang is the accumulation of thousands of years of empirical knowledge and research on how to life a healthy lifestyle. The early Han dynasty was the first to compile the pieces of Classics into a comprehensive explanation for the metaphysical workings of the entire universe. Before the Han, the Ch’in and the Legalists began to standardize Chinese thought by burning the books of rival schools and by making it a capital crime to speak of Confucius, Lao Tzu, or Mo Tzu. The Han took a syncretic approach and attempted to fuse all the rival schools of thought into a single system. This syncretic project of the early Han is known as the Han synthesis.
Concentrating specifically on the I Ching, the Han philosophers attempted to derive the principle of the workings of the universe of Tao. This new theory of the universe, they appended to the I Ching to explain the metaphysical workings of the entire universe, is the origin of what is called the Yin-Yang school of Chinese thought (Hooker). The Nei Ching, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, defines Yin and Yang as:
The Yin Yang principle is the basic principle of the entire universe. It is the principle of everything in creation. It brings about all change; it is the root source of Life and Death, it is found within the temples of the Gods.
In order to treat and cure diseases, one must search into their origins. Heaven was created by an accumulation of Yang, the light element, while earth was created by an accumulation of Yin, the dark element. Through their interactions and functions, Yin and Yang, the negative and positive principle in nature, are responsible for the diseases which befall those who are in rebellion against the laws of nature (Hyatt 17-33).
Yin and Yang are idealized states. Without one, the other does not exist. These conditions are mutually complementary and antagonistic. Yang and Yin are in a constant environment of transformation. Continually blending with each other, there is always some Yang in Yin and some Yin in Yang. The Chinese texts explain, “If Yin and Yang are not in harmony, it is as though there were no autumn opposite the spring, no winter opposite the summer” (Lucas 1-9). Maintaining the balance of these ideals in one’s life is critical in maintaining personal health and longevity.
While a complete list of Yin-Yang contraries would theoretically be endless, here is a chart briefly illustrating basic qualitative differences.
|Tendency||To Condense||To Develop|
|Direction||Descending (to earth)||Rising (to heaven)|
|Attitude||Gentle, Negative||Active, Positive|
|Taste||Hot, Sour||Sweet, Bitter|
In addition, there are several axioms and theorems pertaining to the laws governing Yin Yang. They are as follows:
1. All things are the differentiated apparatus of one infinity.
2. Everything changes.
3. All antagonisms are complementary.
4. No two things are identical.
5. Every condition has its opposite.
6. The extremity of any condition is equal in its opposite.
7. Whatever has a beginning has an end.
1. Infinity divides itself in yin and yang.
2. Yin and yang result continuously from the infinite movement of the universe.
3. Yin is centripetal. Yang is centrifugal. Together they produce all energy and phenomena.
4. Yin attracts yang. Yang attracts yin.
5. Yin repels yin. Yang repels yang.
6. The force of attraction and repulsion between any two things is proportional to the difference in their yin yang constitution.
7. All phenomena are ephemeral and constantly changing their yin yang constitution.
8. Nothing is solely yin or yang; everything involves polarity.
9. Nothing is neutral. Either yin or yang is always in excess.
10. Yin and yang are relative. Large yin attracts small yin. Large yang attracts small yang.
11. At the extremity of their manifestation, yin produces yang and yang produces yin.
12. All physical forms are yin at the center and yang at the surface. (Hyatt 17-33)
Ginseng [Panax Ginseng]
Chinese Pronunciation – Jen Shen
The Chinese pharmacologist states that ginseng has positive action as a nerve and cardiac stimulant. The properties of this herb are as follows:
– Increasing metabolism, retarding impotence, regulating blood pressure and blood sugar
– Large doses reputed to have resulted in insomnia, depression, and nervous disorder
– Prescribed as a tonic, stimulant, aphrodisiacUsed in treatment of neurasthenia, dyspepsia, palpitation, impotence, and asthma
– Abstinence from tea is essential during ginseng therapy; iron is also regarded as incompatible (Keys 85-86)
Ginger [Zingiber Officinale]
Chinese Pronunciation – Sheng Chiang
The basic form of this herb is the dried rhizome. Its properties are as follows:
– Used as a stomachic and cardiac stimulant (Hyatt 134)
– Encourages salivary flow when chewed, induces sneezing when inhaled, and may cause redness when applied to the skin
– Internally a stimulant and can cause release of gas from the stomach or bowels, producing a warming sensation in the upper abdomen
– Employed in colic, in relaxed conditions of the throat, in atonic dyspepsia, and as an adjunct to purgatives to correct their griping properties (Keys 77-78)
Mugwort/Wormwood [Artemisia princeps, A. vulgaris, A. capillaris]
The basic ingredient of this herb is the leaves. Its properties are as follows:
– Treats asthma. (Hyatt 113)
– Known to have a bitter taste and aromatic odor
– Leaves contain .02% essential oil (comprising mainly cineol and thujone), tannin, resinous matter, adenine, and the bitter principle artemsin
– Employed in preparation of moxas for cauterization (Keys 219-220)
Mint [Mentha arvensis]
Chinese Pronunciation – P’u ho, Po ho
The basic ingredient of this herb is the stalks and leaves. Its properties are as follows:
– Diuretic (Hyatt 132)
– Also known as field mint, corn mint, wild pennyroyal
– Taste is pungent, odor aromatic (Keys 223-224)
Ephedra gerardiana [E. sinica, E. distachya]
Chinese Pronunciation – Ma Huang
The basic ingredient of this herb is the crude stalks of the grass. Its properties are as follows:
– Bronchial muscle relaxant
– Treats coughs and severe bronchitis and inflammation of nasal membranes
– Relieves fever, blocked ears, retention of urine, sinus headaches, and exudations of eye inflammations
– Very similar to adrenaline in chemical structure (Hyatt 128)
– Stimulates the cerebral cortex and results in nervous excitability (Keys 34)
Dandelion [Taraxacum officinale]
Chinese Pronunciation – P’u kung ying; Hing p’o po, Chung p’o po
The basic ingredient of this herb is the whole dried plant. Its properties are as follows:
– Known to treat skin ulcers
– A paste of the crushed leaves is applied externally to treat boils (Hyatt 132)
– Drug occurs as a mixture of entire and broken fragments
– Rhizome and root are used medicinally
– Juice of the fresh plant can be applied as treatment for snake bites (Keys 236)
Chinese galls [Galla Chinensis]
Chinese Pronunciation – Wubeizi
The Chinese gall is primarily used for treating Tinea (ringworm). It is the most common insect related to Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is produced by gall-making aphids (pemphigidae) on Chinese sumac (anacradiaceae Rhus).
In Tai Ping Guang Ji (Copious Record in Taiping Region Period, 980 AD), Li Fang observed that “in the Xia Mountains and the region of Sichuan there is a species of insects… they dwell upon the leaves of Chinese sumac, in spring they oviposit and roll the leaves around to form their nests which are as big as peaches or plums. The nests are called Chinese gallnuts and can be used as a good cure for all serious sores” (Chou Io 1990). [http://www.cyberbee.net/~huang/pub/insect.html]
Native to east Asia, it is grown on lowland, hills and mountains in China, Japan, Indochina, Java, Malaysia, Sumatra
From the Materia Medica on Chinese galls: “Astringing the lungs to remove fire, removing gastrointestinal fluid retention, arresting coughing, treating conjunctival congestion with marginal blepharitis, relieving pyogenic infections, astringing ulcers and incised wounds and restoring a prolapsed anus and uterus. Sour and salty in taste, this herb can astringe the lungs, arrest bleeding, resolve phlegm, quench thirst and astringe sweating. Cold in nature, it can resolve pyogenic infections due to toxic heat. Astringing in property, it can relieve watery diarrhea or dysentery.”
Chinese galls are used to treat diabetes, night sweat, vomiting, loss of blood, prolonged dysentery and inflammation of the throat as well. (Li 615)
Caterpillar fungus [Cordyceps sinensis]
Chinese Pronunciation – Dong Chong Xia Cao (Translates to winter caterpillar summer grass)
The most expensive insect used today in TCM is dong chong xia cao. The caterpillar fungus consists of larvae of Hepialus armoricanus (Lepidoptera: Hepialidae) infected with an obligate entomopathogenic fungus Cordyceps sinensis (Clavicipitales, Ascomycotina). The wholesale price is about $700/kilo in China (Steinkraus and Whitefield 1994). The pharmacological properties of the caterpillar fungus are similar to those of ginseng. [http://www.cyberbee.net/~huang/pub/insect.html]
Cordyceps is used therapeutically for asthma, bronchitis, chemoprotection, exercise performance, hepatitis B, hepatic cirrhosis, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), as an immunosuppressive agent, and in chronic renal failure.
Cordyceps sinensis, the Cordyceps species most widely used as a dietary supplement, naturally grows on the back of the larvae of a caterpillar from the moth Hepialus armoricanus Oberthur found mainly in China, Nepal, and Tibet. The mycelium invades the caterpillar and eventually replaces the host tissue. The stroma (fungal fruit body) grows out of the top of the caterpillar. The remaining structures of the caterpillar along with the fungus are dried and sold as the dietary supplement cordyceps. [http://www.naturalstandard.com/index-abstract.asp?create-abstract=/monographs/herbssupplements/patient-cordyceps.asp]
Silkworm frass [bombyx mori faeces]
Chinese Pronunciation – Can sha
Expels wind-damp – bi syndromes, itchy rashes due to wind-damp.
Harmonizes the stomach and transforms symptoms of turbid dampness such as vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, abdominal pain, borborygmus. [Jin, Yan Ping: New England School of Acupuncture, CHM Pharmacopoeia I and II, Formulas I and II Lecture Notes ; [http://www.yinyanghouse.com/theory/herbalmedicine/can_sha_tcm_herbal_database]
Chinese Pronunciation – Wugong.
For curing snakebite, convulsions and malaria. [http://www.sacu.org/medicine.html]
Functions and Usage: In some cases, a plant or insect’s medicinal use will be related to certain traits of that creature. Thus, in the case of centipedes with their numerous legs, feet, and articulated body segments, they are used for leg, foot, and joint problems.
– Extinguishes wind, stops spasms and convulsions – lock jaw, seizures, acute/chronic childhood convulsions.
– Dissipates toxins and nodules – sores, carbuncles, neck lumps, snake bite.
– Unblocks the collaterals – painful headaches.
– For curing snakebite, convulsions and malaria. [http://www.sacu.org/medicine.html]
[http://www.yinyanghouse.com/theory/herbalmedicine/wu_gong_tcm_herbal_database; Jin, Yan Ping: New England School of Acupuncture, CHM Pharmacopoeia I and II, Formulas I and II Lecture Notes ]
Egg cases of Praying Mantis (libido) and Blister Beetles (skin irritations)
Similar to centipedes, the reasoning used for the beneficial aspects of the egg cases of the praying mantis and blister beetle have to do with the arthropods affect on the human condition. For instance, blister beetles, which cause human skin to blister, are used to treat skin diseases. Korean folk logic also relates reproductive parts or products to increase sexual potency. Thus, praying mantis egg cases are used to stimulate male sexual stamina. (Pemberton 207-216)
Cockroach [Upolyphaga sinesis]
Chinese Pronunciation – Tu bie chong; Zhe Chong
The functions of this insect in TCM are:
– To break up blood stagnation
– Eliminate blood accumulation
– Strengthen the sinews and bones
– Eliminate blood stasis
“Breaks up and expels blood stasis, joins the sinews and bones, and alleviates pain. It is indicated for abdominal masses and accumulations menstrual block due to blood stagnation, postpartum pain in the abdomen due to blood stasis, knocks and falls, and fractures.” [Chinese Material Medica: combinations and applications, Xu Li: http://books.google.com/books?id=36dhuX…
Commonly used as health food and a medicine, though it is not known what the active ingredients are. There had been an anecdotal report that a village of long-living people (average ~90) attributed their longevity to the habit of frying up ants and eating them. Ant is a major component of a herbal medicine for hepatitis B (Mayi Yigan Ning). This medicine is reported to give a 60% efficiency to convert hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) to serum negative. This compares favorably with the ~30% conversion efficiency using interferon, as reported by medical journals in the US. There are also wines and tonic made with ants. [http://www.cyberbee.net/~huang/pub/insect.html]
Leech [annelida hirudinea]
Chinese Pronunciation – shui chih
The crude drug is the whole fresh or dried body of the leech. The properties of this drug include: anticoagulant; relieves hemostasis; dissolves blood clots; treats paralysis due to blood clots on the brain; employed to prevent paralysis following concussion or stroke. (Hyatt 135 Chinese Herbal Medicine).
TCM Disorders Glossary
Bi Syndrome refers to an obstruction of the circulation of Qi and blood in the channels usually caused by the invasion of pathogenic factors (cold/wind/damp) in the muscles, tendons, bones and joints, causing soreness, pain, numbness or a heavy sensation. Western conditions such as arthritis are related to this pattern.
5 Types of Lin Disorders:
General term for urinary disorders involving frequency, dribbling, urgency and/or painful issues. Western conditions such as kidney stones are related to this pattern.
Plum Pit Qi:
A subjective sensation of blockage and/or constriction of the throat. Common in disorders with a clear emotional aspect coupled with Qi stagnation. This is often seen in anxiety disorders.
Restless Zang Disorder:
TCM term for emotional disorders resulting from long-term overthinking and overworrying which over time injures the SP, HT and LV and may give rise to unpredicatable and/or inappropriate emotional responses.
Running Piglet Disorder:
TCM term which some consider similar to a Western panic attack. The issue is seen in stagnant LV conditions where the Qi will rise up and interfere with the heart/chest causing palpitations, anxiety, fear and/or dizziness.
TCM term which generally designates hernia disorders, but mentioned in cases of hernia, issues w/external genitalia (swelling, pain), and abdominal pain that presents with stagnation issues (constipation, incomplete and/or difficulty urinating).
Steaming Bone Disorder:
TCM term describing a condition of deep internal heat arising from severe yin deficiency. The patient will describe a heat that seems to come from the bones.
Wasting and Thirsting Disorder:
TCM term nearly equivalent to diabetes. Characterized by frequent urination, excessive thirst and/or hunger, and possibly emaciation.[http://www.yinyanghouse.com/theory/chinese/unique_tcm_conditions#bisyndromes]
Herbs That Dispel Wind Damp
The herbs presented in this chapter are predominantly used for wind dampness affecting the muscles, sinews, joints and bones creating painful obstructions within the channels. When the superficial “evils” enter the meridians causing pain, it is called “Bi” syndrome. There are four different types of Bi syndrome which need to be treated differently. Wind Bi (Xing Bi) is usually a moving pain which can move from joint to joint or area to area. Cold Bi (Tong Bi) will have severe cold pain which will be in a fixed location that is aggravated by any type of cold and possibly alleviated by heat. Damp Bi (Zhou Bi) will have a damp nature showing its symptoms of fixed pain with swelling and numbness of the skin and muscles. Hot Bi (Re Bi) will have burning pain in a fixed area which will be aggravated by cold and possibly accompanied by fever, thirst and a rapid pulse.
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