Chinese Medicine • What is it?

Traditional Chinese Medicine includes the use of herbal medicines, acupuncture and other mind and body practices. Acupuncture is treated separately in these entries, as are Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

Chinese medicine - Image of herbs in pottery bowls

The art of using Chinese herbs to achieve balance in the body and the mind has evolved over thousands of years but today is not so popular or trusted in China as it once was. There are hospitals in China that use both western medicine and TCM, with doctors trained in both, so it may be that the local village practitioner is replaced by a different kind of doctor but TCM survives.  It seems like an ideal situation if doctors have the skills to treat a patient in any modality that best suits the person and her condition.

Like other non-drug approaches to health, there is little scientific evidence to support the use of herbs in Chinese medicine. It is a complicated system that operates entirely differently than western medicine. One of the reasons you find it in a list of Alternative Therapies for many conditions, rather than having Chinese herbs listed in the Herbs and Spices category is because it isn’t simple and it’s probably not wise to try it as a home treatment.

TCM is still big business in Asia even though western medicine has grown in popularity. It is still growing in the United States, with treatments becoming an adjunct to more “modern” treatments.

Many of the medicines that have been developed in the western model were based on compounds found in natural substances, because plants have powerful healing properties. My Homeopathic doctor used to warn me against using Chinese herbs while using homeopathic treatment because they might interact in unexpected, and not advantageous, ways.   The same caution applies to using Chinese herbs with mainstream medicines unless you are consulting one practitioner trained in both modalities who is aware of any possible interactions. If you are trying only Chinese medicine, and nothing else, you still want to be sure that your practitioner is well trained and has access to safe, quality herbs.


  • There are concerns about the quality of herbs available.
  • Use only products carrying the traditional herbal registration symbol.
  • Some of the substances used may involve the mistreatment or death of animals.

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