Chinese medicine has a long history, with its concepts and treatments being established more than 2000 years ago. Chinese herbal decoctions (raw herbs) were the predominant internal treatment method throughout this history and continue to be the most effective and reliable Chinese Medicine treatment method in modern times.
So What Are Raw Herbs?
The term ‘herbs’ in Chinese medicine refers to any number of materials and can consist of leaves, barks, roots, vines, minerals, shells and other naturally occurring compounds. There are more than 3000 documented Chinese herbs of which around 400 are commonly used.
While the majority of herbs used in Chinese medicine are native to China, they can also come from other regions in the world. Herbs such as such as Gaoli Ren Shen (Korean Ginseng), Bu Gu Zhi (Psoralea from India), Sha Ren (Cardamom from SE Asia) and American Ginseng feature in many commonly used formulas and form an integral part of the modern herbal dispensary.
Animal products are also used in Chinese medicine but only make up around 2% of the commonly used Chinese Herbs. Herbs such as oyster shell, donkey/ cow gelatin, deer antler and cicada shells are sustainably sourced and available in modern dispensaries.
As is widely reported, Chinese medicine does have a problem with the use of endangered animals and plants. Countries such as Australia or the United Kingdom have strict restrictions regarding the importation of vulnerable species, however trade on the Asian black market still continues.
What Is A Raw Herb Formula?
A raw herb formula is a combination of usually between 4 and 12 herbs. There are more than 3000 documented formulas of which 200 are used regularly and most formulas can be used for a variety of conditions. Many of these 200 formulas come have their foundation in two Chinese Medicine texts The Yellow Emperor’s Classic (approx. 400 BC) and The Treatise on Cold Disease (210 AD).
Raw herb formulas are designed to be modified. Practitioners will regularly add or remove herbs, adjust dosages, or combine formulas to create a prescription that is best suited to the patient.
What Is A Raw Herb Decoction?
A raw herb decoction is a herbal tea made from boiling a formula together. It is the process through which the medicinal effect from the herbs is extracted and administered. The cooking process generally involves soaking the herbs first, then simmering for a set period of time. The liquid is then strained off and this process repeated once or twice more. The liquid that is left after straining off the herbs is mixed together and the tea that is left is the 'decoction'.
Raw herb decoctions are drunk, usually twice per day, and are world famous for tasting terrible!
While the taste is certainly a draw back, decoctions are often worth the taste (see our information/research section).
How Do Raw Herbs Compare?
Raw herbs have both benefits and drawbacks when compared to other internal Chinese medicine treatments. Raw herbs are generally considered to be stronger and more customisable than alternative treatment methods however they can taste pretty terrible, and are time consuming to prepare for the patient.
Alternative treatment methods tend to take longer to achieve the same results and can have issues regarding herb/ production quality, however they are accessible and easy to use, with most being in pill form, or mixed with water.
Therefore it is usually said that raw herbs are the best option for more severe conditions or patients who have the time to prepare. Granules, pills or powders are best for time poor patients.
Should I Use Raw Herbs For My Condition?
This is a difficult question and often one best left up to your practitioner. However in general and if you are looking for the full effect of Chinese medicine, willing to put up with the taste and go through the decoction process then you are more likely to have the results you are looking for with raw herbs.