Chinese Herbal Medicine with Dr. Aimée Derbes, LAc
The Chinese herbal materia medica has been in use and evolving for thousands of years. At my office in Manhattan (Flatiron / Union Square / Chelsea), I see patients who are dealing with chronic pain (back pain, neck and shoulder pain, knee pain, hip pain, and ankle pain), digestive issues (IBS, colitis), infertility, stress, insomnia, PMS, women's health, and autoimmune conditions (Lyme, Hashimoto's, thyroid conditions, and many more).
Every culture on the planet has a tradition of using locals herbs and foods as medicine. The Chinese herbal materia medica has developed over the past several thousand years; today, it contains tens of thousands of plant, animal, and mineral substances and their medicinal use according to the theories of Chinese medicine. Many of the most common and widely used Chinese herbs are things you might find in your kitchen or pantry :
- Spices : cinnamon, ginger, garlic, licorice root, Szechuan pepper, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, black sesame
- Mushrooms + fungi : reishi, cordyceps, shitake, turkey tail, maitake
- Grains + legumes: rice, wheat, mung beans, black beans, red beans, fermented soybeans
- Snacks : goji berries, Asiatic cherries, schizandra, mulberries, Chinese yam, citrus peel, watermelon juice
- Flowers : chrysanthemum, dandelion, peony, lotus, magnolia, Japanese honeysuckle, lily, rose
In contrast to Western-style herbology, Chinese herbs are used in groups, not individually. In an herbal formula, each herb has a specific role to play in concert with the others to create a more balanced and beneficial whole than the sum of its parts. Chinese herbal tradition is based strongly on classical formulas that have been in use for 1,000-2,000 years; in fact, a cornerstone text, the Shang Han Lun by Zhang Zhong Jing, was written sometime before his death in 220AD, and is still vigorously debated today. Some people may wonder why, given all the advances of science and technology, we are still referring back to ancient formulas; I, for one, see that the evidence that these medicinals work is in the extensive clinical usage and written case histories that are available for study. When applied to the proper clinical presentation, there is no medicinal safer than the one that has the support of 2,000 years of clinical data.
Herbal treatment can be used alone or in conjunction with acupuncture. An herbal formula can extend the benefits of an acupuncture treatment, meaning the patient can come in to the office less frequently for acupuncture, or an herbal formula can address an entirely different issue than that which was the focus of the acupuncture treatment. Either way, Chinese herbal medicine is a powerful complementary tool for shifting your health.
For supplements, I use a wide (but curated and particular) range of brands, some of which are available from health food stores, other which are only available through healthcare practitioners. Most of the Western herbs, adaptogens, vitamin and mineral supplements, and nutritional products that I suggest are available through my online dispensary (through Wellevate/Emerson Ecologics) which is open to the public. Feel free to create an account and peruse my product selection for a better sense of what I draw upon.
For herbs, most custom granule formulas come from Crane Herb Company. For patents formulas, I use Classical Pearls, Evergreen, and KPC. I may also use products available at Kamwo in Chinatown for local New Yorkers.
WHAT KIND OF HERBS + SUPPLEMENTS DO YOU USE?
WHAT KIND OF TRAINING DO YOU NEED IN ORDER TO RECOMMEND HERBAL MEDICINE?
In the state of New York, herbology is not regulated. This means that anyone can call themselves an herbalist and recommend herbs.
I studied Chinese herbs at the doctoral degree level in the classroom and in an applied clinical setting for 5 years, and I passed a national herbal exam administered by the NCCAOM. In most states that regulate herbology as part of Chinese medicine, this exam is the requirement for receiving an herbology license. I have additional training in holistic nutrition which informs my recommendations for nutritional supplements.
Students of Chinese herbal medicine start out learning between 300-400 herbal substances, and then 200-300 herbal formulas; the repertoire then continues to expand throughout a lifetime of ongoing study. We are familiar with the Pin Yin and pharmaceutical Latin names, the nature and qualities of the herbs, their actions, the herbs they are often combined with, and the herbs they are not combined with. We learn when to use a formula, when it is contraindicated, and when and how to modify it to fit an individual's specific presentation. We also learn pharmacological interactions with Western pharmaceutical medications.
What forms do the herbs come in?
Herbal formulas come in the following forms:
- Raw herbs
- Concentrated powdered herbs
- Tablets + pills
- Liquids + stick-on patches for external application
Depending on your condition and lifestyle, we will decide which form works best for you.
WHAT ABOUT MY MEDICATIONS?
Thanks for asking. If I would like to suggest an herbal formula, I check each ingredient for pharmacological interactions with the list you have provided of your medications and supplements. In addition, I am more than happy to check in with your doctor to discuss the benefits of incorporating herbal medicine into your health routine alongside your other treatments.