Praxis Dr. med. Angela Stahl
Gesundheit ist die Harmonie von
Körper, Geist und Seele
Wir betrachten den Menschen in seiner Gesamtheit
und nicht nur ein Symptom

Traditional Chinese drugs

Traditional Chinese drug therapy is one of the cornerstones of the Chinese therapeutic spectrum, the others being Qi Gong, Tuina, acupuncture and Chinese dietetics.

Traditional Chinese drug therapy is still largely unknown in Europe, although it makes up around 80% of all therapeutic measures administered in China.

Essentially, these drugs are vegetable products. In the last analysis, every one of a plant’s constituent parts can be used for a Chinese remedy.

Below we provide short names for the concepts that frequently appear on Chinese remedies. They represent the individual components of a plant:

  • Herba (herbage)
  • Radix (root)
  • Rhizoma (rhizome)
  • Ramus (branch)
  • Ramulus (twig)
  • Semen (seed)
  • Cortex (bark)
  • Flos (flower)
  • Fruktus (fruit)

A second large group of Chinese therapeutic drugs consists of mineral substances. These include oyster shells, minerals, gypsum, etc.

The third group of Chinese drugs consists of animal drugs, which fortunately are often unused in Europe because of the protection of endangered animal species.


The history of Chinese drug therapy:

The first Chinese drug textbooks featuring descriptions of individual remedial drugs appeared around the second century BC. The oldest scientific source, which already contained a highly differentiated description of the drugs, is the work “Wu Shi Er Bingefang” written in the second century BC.

In the first century BC, the Chinese doctor Shen Nong wrote the classic work on Shen Nong pharmacology. This work is regarded as the foundation of all of the materiae medicae that were compiled thereafter.

A highly significant collection of remedies, bringing together the knowledge gathered over many preceding centuries, is the Shang Han Lun (translated, this means “Disorders indicated through cold”). This work was written in the second century AD by Zhang Zhong-Jing and contains 100 remedies. The author Zhang Zhong-Jing is regarded as the first author of remedy books and uses the so-called six-layered model.

During the Tang dynasty from 618 – 907 AD and the Song period from 960 – 1279 AD, healthcare policy in China was encouraged by the state, with the result that a wealth of large drug and remedy books appeared.

In the eighth century AD, Wang Dao wrote the work “Waitai Biyao” (translated, this means “Essential things from the outer terrace”), which provided a then current general overview of the remedies of the time. In 992 there emerged an even more extensive work by Wang Huai Yin with the name “Taiping Sheng Hui Fang”, or “Remedies of imperial kindness from the Taiping period”.

This work summarised 16,834 household remedies and other remedies that were handed down in verbal form.

Athis point I will not provide any further detailed descriptions of the historical development of Chinese drug teaching; instead I will merely refer to the year 1117, in which the imperial medical academy published the “Complete Catalogue of Support”. This provided a summary of all of the knowledge that was available at that time. The work contained around 20,000 remedies.

The Chinese remedy

In a Chinese remedy, different individual herbs (and around 5,000 of these are known in China) are mixed with each other in precisely harmonised ratios.

The remedy is structured hierarchically, so that one drug is always regarded as the emperor, i.e. the dominant or important drug, and is supported in its effects by the respective ministers.

A remedy also includes auxiliary and indicator drugs.

The composition of a Chinese remedy is an individual matter that is tailored to the individual energetic condition, i.e. the individual traditional Chinese diagnosis of the individual in question.

The art of the Chinese remedy lies in the modification of the traditional recipes and Chinese diagnosis of the individual patient in a way that generates the best possible effects on his/her precise symptoms, taking account of his/her resources, bodily defences and general condition.

Drawing up a remedy requires a great deal of specialised knowledge, not only in respect of the individual drugs but also in the field of traditional Chinese remedial teachings.

A vegetable remedy often works in ways that go beyond the mere sum of the effects of the remedy’s individual components.

In a balanced Chinese remedy, the mutual effects of the positive aspects of the individual drugs are so intensified that an optimum benefit for the patient is produced. If the herbs are combined correctly, inhibiting effects on other herbs can also be used to restrict unwanted side effects in some area or other.

In a really good Chinese remedy, the individual herbs are combined with each other in such a way that desired effects strengthen each other reciprocally with great success, while unwanted side effects are reciprocally suppressed.

The beginner in the field of traditional Chinese medical science should start by concentrating solely on the application of unchanged original remedies. A doctor who practises Chinese medicine cannot create individual remedies until he/she has completed years of comprehensive study of traditional Chinese drugs. The International Society for Traditional Chinese Medicine, in Germany, offers a unique course of study in this field.

It is crucially important for the patient to maintain contact with his/her therapist while taking the Chinese drugs.

The Chinese drug remedy was drawn up for the condition of the patient in the Hicet nuno (i.e. in the here and now).

If the patient’s clinical picture changes while he/she is taking the drug(s), or if new symptoms emerge, the remedy must be recomposed and the herbal mixture must be supplemented or harmonised afresh.

In the event of a common cold, which can for example correspond to a wind-heat or wind-cold disorder, the remedy should be abandoned. Failure to do so can lead to unpleasant aggravations of the condition.

Methods of administering Chinese drugs

1. Decoction, or Tang:

Decoction is regarded as the main method of administering Chinese drugs.

The herbs are used in their original form and decocted according to a particular procedure.

It goes without saying that drugs that need to be boiled for a long time are added to the liquid first, while drugs that need to be boiled for the shortest periods, such as the flowers, are added last.

One particular advantage of the granules or powder – San – is that they are simple for patients to administer, especially patients who are often required to change locality.

They are eminently practicable: hot water is poured over a small spoonful of granules, which are then drunk as “tea”.

Other forms of application are the “Wan” pill and the medicinal drink or drops.

In order to work cost-effectively and guarantee manageability and integrability in my everyday work, I began to prescribe the granules. I also prefer them myself.

Eight therapeutic procedures

In ancient China, the entire spectrum of drugs was ordered according to the medical therapeutic procedures.

This is a useful continuation of the well-known “eight guiding criteria” (Bang), which play a major part in Chinese diagnostics.

Processes such as cooling or warming, energetic supplementation or the derivation of energy, surface effects or the generation of sweat and suchlike are significant.

Below we summarise the eight therapeutic procedures.

  1. Sudatio (recommendation of sweating)
  2. Vomitio expectoratio – “therapeutic coughing-up”
  3. Purgatio (bowel movement)
  4. Compositio (harmonisation)
  5. Tepefactio (careful warming)
  6. Refregeratio (cooling)
  7. Supletio (energetic supplement)
  8. Dispulsio (derivation of energy)

Characterisation of Chinese drugs:

Chinese drugs are characterised according to four basic properties:

  1. Temperature behaviour
  2. Principal taste
  3. Feedback circuit
  4. Effects

1. Temperature behaviour:

The temperature behaviour of a Chinese drug describes its warming or cooling properties and refers to its dynamism. The individual temperature properties can be depicted on an axis divided into sections ranging from very cold to hot, through cold, cool, neutral and warm.

2. Taste:

The second property of every Chinese drug is its own particular taste.

This refers not only to the purely sensual experience of our oral sensations; the hot, sweet, sour, bitter and salty tastes also permit clear references to the five phases of change.

The lung change phase corresponds to metal, which corresponds to a hot taste.

The spleen change phase corresponds to the element earth, which corresponds to a sweet taste.

The liver change phase corresponds to the element wood, which corresponds to a sour taste.

The heart change phase corresponds to the element fire, which corresponds to a bitter taste.

The kidney change phase corresponds to the element water, which corresponds to a salty taste.

The enormous significance of these tastes and temperature properties of the Chinese drugs will be explained in the chapter “Colds”.

In our everyday lives too, we perceive hot food as something that drives sweat outwards, develops active energy and opens us up to the outside.

The opening up of the surface corresponds to the effect of hot food in the functional area of the lung.

Sweet dishes, on the other hand, have a balancing and harmonising effect; not for nothing are crying little children often placated with sweets.

A sour taste pulls things together. This pulling together has a clear relationship to the functional area of the liver, which we know well from our everyday lives: anyone who has drunk through the night at some time or other is glad to consume something sour in the morning, since the sourness leads to collection and strengthening in the functional area of the liver.

Bitter food has a drying effect, while salty food a softening effect.

In contrast to the hot taste, whose effects are mostly outward, the salty taste usually takes effect internally. Accordingly, all of the tastes can also be depicted on an axis, with the effects portrayed ranging from inward to outward.

Below we present individual Chinese drugs in words and pictures… 

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