When I talk about Chinese herbal formulas, people often say “I don’t need herbs because I eat well’, but they are missing the point of medicinal herbs. Firstly, in Chinese medicine herbs are far superior to food, they are more like concentrated foods and they have specific actions way beyond anything food can deliver. Secondly, ‘nourishing destiny’ is the highest application of Chinese medicine and Chinese herbal formulas play an essential part in this – they support us, they carry us, they pave the way forward to destiny.
For me, Chinese herbs were crucial in realising my purpose. In my late twenties I was suicidally depressed, plagued by fears and anxieties and had no direction in life; the toll of taking too many drugs. I did have a vision of wanting to help others though, and writing books but if I ever mentioned it, was always told I was too screwed up to help myself, let alone anyone else.
Believing in myself was the only way forward. I was doing a daily chi practice but it wasn’t enough to break through the anxieties and intense self-doubt. This all changed when, at college, I met my Chinese herbalist. They did a pulse diagnosis, didn’t say much, and then gave me a package of raw herbs with instructions on how to cook them. I could feel them working from the first aromatic sip.
I began to feel positive, not by trying to make myself think positively but rather as a sensation from within. I realised the herbs were healing my organs and, as TCM is psychology and medicine in one, the herbs were transforming my psycho pathology. Clarity entered my mind, anxieties disappeared, I could speak in public and express my thoughts fluently without losing the thread of what I was saying halfway through a sentence. I felt new again, I felt my real self returning, I was able to actively work on my future and to write my books.
This was 30 years ago and since then I’ve been researching and experimenting with all kinds of herbal formulas and supplements. I’ve been taking a blend of these 4 key herbs for almost 30 years now (five or six days a week) and they still work like they did on day one!
In the West these herbs are called adaptogens, they help us deal with a variety of problems, they bring calm in times of stress, give energy when tiredness threatens to take over, and bring clarity of mind in times of confusion. They are able to modulate the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands, helping to restore innate immune function whilst helping the body to adapt to various different stressors. They are used to treat type 2 diabetes, upper respiratory problems, arthritis, asthma and blood pressure.
Adaptogens are able to change their function depending on the specific needs of the body. In TCM these herbs are called heavenly resources (Shen), they are ‘messengers from heaven’. As well as the above four herbs, I also use the Six Major Herb Formula, which targets spleen deficiency due to overthinking, excessive mental work and eating too many cold and raw foods that cause phlegm conditions (you’ll notice this as constantly needing to clear your throat). You don’t build a tolerance to these herbs, they always retain their power and effect. We need all the help we can get to create happy successful lives and herbal formulas are essential for this.