A large population in South East Asia has used TCM for thousands of years, and it is still practised in parallel with western medicine in the healthcare system in China owing to its unique theoretical basis and proven therapeutic efficacy. The theory and practise of TCM is complex and space does not permit a detailed consideration here; however, a brief account is given below in order to help the reader appreciate the use of Artemisia species in TCM.
The underlying principle of TCM lies in the comprehensive and dynamic application of the theories of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements. Everything in the universe is considered to have the opposite but inter-related aspects, Yin and Yang. When the Yin and Yang are balanced in a human body, the person is in a healthy condition, not only less susceptible to diseases, but also likely to have a better quality of life; conversely, illness is the result of an imbalance of Yin and Yang in the body. The aim of treatment in TCM is always to restore the balance of the Yin and Yang. The theory of Five Elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth), relates the properties of the five elements to universally interdependent and mutually restraining relationships of matters. This theory is used in TCM to explain the correlation and pathological influences among five viscera, (heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney), and to guide the diagnosis and the treatment.
Traditional Chinese medicine consists of acupuncture, massage, Qi-Gong (Chinese deep-breathing excercises), medicated diet and herbal treatment with herbal treatment holding a dominant position. The theory of the herb property is one of the most important parts of the TCM. According to this theory, herbs have four properties - hot, warm, cool and cold, and five tastes - sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty. Basically, herbs with a hot or warm property have the nature of Yang and herbs with a cool or cold property have the nature of Yin. This forms the very basis of the theory of TCM materia medica. In line with the Yin-Yang concept in TCM diagnosis, the use of a Yin herb or a Yang herb to re-balance the Yin and Yang in the different organs in the body and to treat the illnesses accordingly can be appreciated. Herbs in TCM are also uniquely considered to have selective therapeutic effects on certain parts of the body and this is called channel tropism. This resembles the concept of drug targeting in modern pharmaceutical research although the origin of the "magic bullet" concept is unlikely to have been derived from channel tropism! Both the herbal property and the channel tropism represent the different pharmacological functions of each herb.
Herbs with the property of cold or cool are able to clear heat, to purge the pathogenic fire and to detoxify, and can be used to treat heat syndromes. For example, Artemisia herb (A. annua) and Coptis root (Coptis cbinensis) are cool in nature and are used to treat internal heat caused by bacterial infections or by noninfectious disease. However, these two herbs are not necessarily inter-changeable in their usage because they are different in other respects. Herbs with the property of warm and hot are able to warm internally, to expel cold and to tonify Yang, and are thus used to treat cold syndromes. For example, ginger (Zingiber officinale), and cinnamon bark, (Cinnamomum cassia) are hot in nature and are commonly used to warm the interior and expel cold. Herbs with a sour taste possess astringent actions and can be used to treat sweating and diarrhoea, such as Schisandra fruit (Scbisandra cbinensis), for excessive sweating and Cherokee rosehip (Rosa laevigata), for chronic diarrhoea. Herbs with sweet taste usually possess a tonifying (or strenghening) function, such as wolfberry fruit, (Lycium barbarum) used for tonifying the liver and kidney and the Chinese date, (Zizipbus jujuba) used for tonifying the blood.
TCM is characterised by its unique understanding of the human body's physiology and pathology, and by its intricate methods of diagnosis and treatment of diseases. TCM regards the human body as an organic whole, whose component parts are physiologically interconnected, so a local lesion may affect the entire body and indeed it may well be a result of the imbalance of some other parts of the body. Disorders of internal organs may be reflected on the surface of the body. When a Chinese practitioner sees a patient, he/she will usually gather all the relevant information through four methods of diagnosis (inspection, listening and smelling, inquiring and pulse-feeling), then differentiate symptoms and signs into "Zheng" of a certain nature (syndrome). He/she will make a diagnosis based on "Eight Principal Syndromes", i.e. Yin and Yang, interior and exterior, cold and heat, deficiency and excessiveness, but it is important to appreciate that each syndrome will be further differentiated according to the particular symptoms present.
It is normal practice in TCM for some different diseases to be treated with similar herbs while diseases which appear to be similar (from a western point of view), may be treated with different herbs depending on the differentiation of syndromes. For example, a patient suffering from a cold who has symptoms of severe chilliness, slight fever and a tongue with thin, white fur, which indicates the exterior wind-cold syndrome, should be treated with herbs which are pungent in taste and warm in property. If a patient with a cold has symptoms of high fever, mild chilliness and a tongue with thin yellow fur, which indicates the exterior wind-heat syndrome, he should be treated with those herbs which are mild, diaphoretic, pungent in taste and cool in property.
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