Difference Between Chinese and Western Herbal Medicine

The fundamental difference between Chinese and Western herbal systems

is that Chinese herbs are selected and grouped into “formulas”. Chinese herbs are rarely prescribed as single herbs or even groups of herbs with the same actions. It is not uncommon for English or Western herbal systems to prescribe a single herb, or if multiple herbs are used, prescribe a group of herbs with similar functions to treat one aspect of a disease or set of diseases. In Europe and the United States, the use of standardized herbal extracts is becoming increasingly popular. In this way, herbal therapy resembles the pharmaceutical approach to the use of drugs. In standardized extracts, there are extractions for one of the many alkaloids that can be represented if the entire herb has been used for medicinal purposes. For example, the Goldenseal herb is a very popular and powerful remedy with approximately 200 known alkaloids.

A standardized extract can choose one of these alkaloids, which creates a specific and non-holistic system for using Goldenseal. In contrast, Chinese herbs are prescribed as formulas that can include up to 20 or more individual herbs. This combination of herbs produces an amazing result that has the desired effect on the body, mind and spirit. The goal of Chinese herbal therapy is to balance and restore the overall health of the body. Therefore, an herbal formula for a cold will contain herbs that not only treat cold symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, but it will also contain herbs that strengthen the immune system and harmonize Qi. With each day of herbal treatment, the body becomes stronger and more balanced, so that in the future you will be less vulnerable to disease.


Chinese herbal medicine treats the entire spectrum of human diseases. It treats acute diseases such as intestinal diseases, influenza and colds, as well as chronic diseases such as allergies, gynecological diseases, autoimmune diseases, chronic viral diseases and degenerative diseases caused by aging. In particular, Chinese Herbal Medicine is especially good for stimulating the body’s ability to heal and rejuvenate.

Precautionary measures

The main precaution for Western practitioners who treat with Chinese herbal medicines is to understand its complexity. Problems are not usually the result of a combination of Chinese Herbal Therapy and Western medicine per se. In modern China, the so-called “new drug” combines the use of Western laboratory equipment and biochemistry with traditional Chinese theory of disease. Difficulties can arise, however, when Western practitioners ignore the differences between Chinese Herbal Therapy and European traditional medicine, Indian medicine, homeopathies and other alternative therapies that use herbs, and try to treat themselves with mixtures of herbs from different recipes. In many books that describe treatment with Traditional Chinese Medicine, readers are advised, when deciding on a therapy, to consult a competent practitioner and use his or her herbal recipes consistently, without arbitrary substitutions.