Chinese herbs are an excellent source of modern drugs and treatment cosmetics, provided one knows where and how to look. To those who are not familiar with it, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is mysterious and full of “mumbo jumbo,” as its theory and practice are steeped in esoteric terminology. Terms such as qu feng (wind dispelling), qing re (heat removing or dispersing), xie (evil), and yi qi (replenishing vital energy) are certainly difficult to comprehend, though others such as jie du (removing toxins), sheng ji (growing muscles/flesh), ming mu (brightening vision), and an shen (calming the spirit) are more obvious. The terminology may seem archaic and sometimes downright superstitious, but the TCM system has evolved over many centuries in a logical way. One just has to view it from another perspective. Then it will make sense. Although I never had formal training in TCM, my research over the past 20 years has enabled me to figure out a few things, especially in the correlation between traditional properties and modern scientific findings, as well as in predicting an herb’s pharmacological activities by analyzing its traditional properties. Thus, an herb with qu feng properties most likely has antiinflammatory activity, such as Job’s tear, wu jia pi (bark of several Eleutherococcus spp.), ginger, du huo (Angelica pubescens root), and many other less commonly known ones. And herbs with qing re jie du (heat dispersing and detoxifying) properties generally have antimicrobial and febrifuge effects. Examples include honeysuckle (flower and vine), forsythia fruit, purslane herb, chuan xin lian (Andrographis paniculata herb), yu xing cao (Houttuynia cordata herb), etc.
Many herbs are beneficial to the skin and are used both internally and externally for this purpose. They normally have one or more of the following traditional properties: benefits/improves complexion, removes heat, removes toxins, removes swelling, invigorates/nourishes blood, lightens skin, moistens the skin/removes dryness, prevents scar formation, promotes flesh growth, etc. The following are some common ones: lycium fruit, ligustrum, astragalus, licorice, Chinese hawthorn, sanqi (Panax notoginseng), reishi (ganoderma), common jujube, red and white peony root, luffa, safflower flower, Sichuan lovage (Ligusticum chuanxiong rhizome), gaoben (Ligusticum sinense root/rhizome), etc.
Astragalus, licorice, and sanqi are well known for their healing properties. Either alone, or in combination, they can be used in various forms (extracts, powder, etc.) for treating wounds, chapped skin, bruises, dry skin, skin peeling, and other minor skin irritations. You could also add to the formulation one or two of the antiinflammatory and antimicrobial herbs, such as xinyi (magnolia flower bud), purslane herb, honeysuckle flower, or forsythia fruit.
In TCM, Sichuan lovage, gaoben, ligustrum, and Chinese hawthorn are used topically to treat brown patches on the skin. The former two have been demonstrated to have tyrosinase inhibitory activity, scientific evidence indicating that these herbs can block excessive pigmentation of the skin.
Be sure to read parts 2 and 3 later this week. We will cover two different skin remedies using Chinese herbs.
These and more herbal remedies are available from the volumes of Dr. Leung’s newsletter, of the same name as this blog (Leung’s Chinese Herb News). This newsletter was published and sent to subscribers (most were industry-insiders) from 1996 to 2004. The collected works now serve as an excellent reference work, created with Dr. Leung’s frank, honest opinions and down-to-earth communication style.
For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit www.earthpower.com. To order the newsletter mentioned above, visit the bookstore, click “Buy Now” on the newsletter, and select Issue # 10 from the drop down list.