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Chinese herbal medicine has been a tradition for thousands of years. The first known compilation of medicinal plants and other substances is the Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica (神农本草经 or Shennong Bencao Jing), named after the legendary ancient Chinese king Shennong (神农) and dating from around two thousand years ago.

Five Versatile Patent Chinese Medicines

In the old days, plants and other substances such as minerals and animal bones would be gathered and collected by doctors and their assistants, who would then combine these substances according to the individual needs of patients. According to Chinese medical theory, each patient should receive a unique treatment specifically made for their individual constitution and imbalances. The patient then takes these herbs home and cooks them together as a kind of soup or tea.

As time went on, doctors noticed that certain kinds of problems were more common than others, and certain herbal formulas had a wide range of applications in treating these common problems. These standard formulas now form the basis of a student’s education in Chinese herbal medicine, and are studied all over the world.

In present-day China, there are still many practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine who prescribe herbal formulas according to this standard model. But there are also many pharmaceutical companies which make prepared medicines (成药 or chengyao) that can be bought over the counter in pharmacies, just like aspirin or cough syrup in Western pharmacies. Newcomers to China are often confused and overwhelmed by the plethora of unfamiliar medicines that stare out at them from the shelves of Chinese pharmacies. So, in an effort to familiarize readers with some of the benefits of Chinese herbal medicine, here’s a list of the most useful patent Chinese medicines.

Harmony Preserving Formula (保和丸 or Bao He Wan)

This should be in everyone’s medicine cabinet, especially when travelling. It has two main uses: First, it treats indigestion caused by eating bad or unfamiliar food, quickly eliminating stomach discomfort, bloating and diarrhoea. Second, it treats hangover better than anything else I know of. Even better, it can prevent hangover if taken while drinking, along with water. Standard dose is 8 of the little round tea pills, three times a day, but you can safely take up to twice this amount. For a bad hangover, I recommend an initial dose of 12 pills, followed by another 8 pills in one or two hours.

Jujube Seed Decoction Formula (酸棗仁湯丸 or Suan Zao Ren Tang Wan)

Trouble sleeping? This safe, non-addictive herbal formula should be your first choice. It’s made from five different herbal ingredients, the main one being Sour Jujube Seed (酸棗仁 or Suan Zao Ren). It gently and effectively helps you fall into a sound sleep, without any morning-after fogginess. A friend of mine was once was the unlucky neighbour of some college kids who loved to have loud parties almost every night. After nearly a week of waking up all through the night because of the noise coming from their place, I recommended that he try this formula. One dose made such an improvement in his ability to fall and stay asleep that he’s had a bottle on hand ever since.

Free & Easy Wanderer’s Formula (逍遙丸 or Xiao Yao Wan)

This famous formula takes its name from a saying in the Daoist classic Zhuangzi (庄子) which says that an enlightened sage roams through the world aimless and carefree. Such an attitude sounds like an antidote to our modern stress-filled lifestyles, which is also what this herbal formula is. In Chinese medical theory, the Liver (肝 or gan) is responsible for the free-flowing of energy and blood throughout the body. Too much stress and emotional upset can interrupt this free-flowing, leading to depression and digestive irregularities, as well as menstrual problems in women. This formula is famous for its ability to lift depression and correct digestive problems due to emotional turmoil. In China, this formula is especially well-known for its ability to treat PMS, and thus is often found with other medicinals for women in pharmacies.

Jade Windscreen Formula (玉屏风散丸 or Yu Ping Feng San Wan)

In Chinese medical theory, bacteria and viruses are often classified as diseases related to wind (风 or feng) because of their fast onset; hence the name of this formula, which protects a person from infectious diseases the way a windscreen protects from wind. The main ingredient in this formula is Astralagus root (黃耆 or huang qi), which modern studies confirm has a powerful effect in strengthening the immune system. So next time cold and flu season comes around, add this formula to your daily routine.

Yun Nan Bai Yao (云南白药)

This isn’t exactly an ancient formula but it deserves a mention. In fact it was developed by a Chinese physician, Qu Huangzhang,  in 1902. It is well known as a hemostatic medicine that helps reduce and stop bleeding as well as promoting healing of damaged tissues. A well known story about this formula was when 30,000 bottles of the formula was donated to the Chinese Army fighting the Battle of Taierzhuang in 1938. The use of this formula saved many lives in the battle, which was one of the first major battles won by the Chinese during the Sino-Japanese War. Americans also began encountering this formula in the bodies of Vietcong guerrillas during the height of the Vietnam War. This formula is available in powdered form as well as a liniment. As a liniment, it is effective for a lot of conditions ranging from muscle aches to mosquito bites. The formula remains a secret by Chinese law but it is known to contain Tianqi (田七) and Shan Yao (山药).


Five Versatile Patent Chinese Medicines
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