One of the classes I have this term is Botanical Medicine (WT6456). The central focus is on Western herbalism, which means we are covering common botanicals, especially ones our patients may be using. The first thing I found interesting is the use of ‘simples’, or the use of one herb at a time. This is different from many Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) formulas, which are more like well-balanced equations. In fact, in Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) there are herb combinations that are referred to as Dui Yao; these medicinal pairs are combined due to their ability to effectively treat specific pathologies. Even further, TCM recognizes that some herbs synergistically complement each other, and when they combine, their effects are strengthened. This term is called Xiāng Xū or mutual accentuation. If you look back at centuries of recorded empirical evidence, you will find that there are over 100,000 formulae1. Through clinical practice, CHM understands that diseases are a result of imbalances within the body.
One of the herbs we covered in class last week was Althaea Officinalis, also known as Marshmallow. This demulcent herb can be found in the U.S. and Europe, in moist meadows and marshes. The parts used are roots (constituents are polysaccharides, pectin, tannins), leaves (mucilage, flavonoids, coumarin, and minerals), and flowers (antioxidant polyphenolic pigment). The medicinal actions are as a demulcent, emollient, expectorant and even a diuretic. This herb soothes and coats inflamed mucosa in the GI, respiratory and urinary systems. Contraindications may be for those who have congestive bronchial or catarrhal conditions, as marshmallow may interfere by delaying the oral drugs2. If I look at marshmallow from a TCM lens, it is called Yao Shu Kui, and it belongs to the category of herbs that cool the blood. Yao Shu Kui is cold in nature, salty and sweet in taste and is linked to the bladder, heart, large intestine, and lung meridians. Herbs in the ‘cool the blood category’ address internal heat, i.e., clear inflammation and infectious conditions3. The main action of this herb is promoting urination, stopping coughing, easing inflammation, and removing toxicity3. So far it has been very interesting comparing botanicals from a Western and TCM perspective. If you are interested in learning more, check out the references below. Well, I must get back to studying, good luck to all the students this week as we enter midterm exams!
- Sorensen, L., 2022. Demulcent Herbs. Botanical Medicine: GI herbs. National University of Health Sciences. January 24, 2022.