Chinese herbs, 中药, contain plant, mineral and animal substances, but the majority are plant-based. Approximately 13,000 are known and documented; many of those herbs grow well in our latitudes and climates as well. A Chinese herb is classified according to very specific properties. This includes the taste, the temperature and the point of entry. On the basis of these properties, the medicinal products are assigned functions following the theories of traditional Chinese medicine.
The four hundred most commonly used Chinese herbs are mostly prescribed as a combination of complex formulas. The medicines are fine-tuned with each other in order to make the prescription customised to individual circumstances of the patient’s illness.
Traditionally in Chinese medicine herbal pharmacy, herbs were prepared as decoctions, i.e. as freshly brewed decoction every day, or, if it was a tonic, soaked in alcohol, or processed into pills with honey. The decoction and the following modern forms of administration are mainly used in Switzerland today: granulate, tablets, wate- or alcohol extracts.
Around 13,000 plant species for medical use have been documented in Asia. In addition to herbal products, TCM is aware of about 1000 animal and 100 mineral substances. In everyday consumption, 150-250 individual medicines are used.
The companies that sell pharmaceuticals in Switzerland test them for their purity and identity according to the strictest criteria. Some commonly used, but ethically irresponsible, agents are not sold. Likewise, those on a species protection list, are not sold in a cultivated form or come with the corresponding trade certificates (CITES = Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species).
Chinese drug therapy is often combined with acupuncture.