The History of Chinese Herbs

by Jen Ward |

The History of Chinese Herbs

The healthcare industry is witnessing unprecedented growth in the application of herbal medicine, as wellness explorers seek alternatives to, and integration with, western options. Due to the growing prevalence of rapidly changing lifestyles and rising health complications, more people are becoming curious about the application of herbal medicine and this ancient modality.  

While Acupuncture awareness has grown in the last decade, it is actually herbal medicine that has been around for nearly all of time. If you open your spice cabinet, you will find many herbs that are used in Chinese Medicine such as Ginger, Cinnamon, Turmeric or even Black Pepper. Ginger is found in hundreds of Chinese Medicine formulas.

Modern scientists have been working to uncover the specific biomechanisms behind the potential of spices like these, yet traditional Chinese medicine already has a system in place to guide the appropriate application of each of these herbal medicines. Even mushrooms have been an integral part of the extensive pharmacopeia of Chinese medicine and have had their place in the materia medica for centuries.

chinese herbs
Herbal prescriptions use a holistic approach and the health of the whole body is considered. An experienced herbalist can tailor the “herbal prescriptions” for the patient's unique symptoms.  

The History of Chinese Herbal Medicine

The application of using plants as medicine dates back to times before recorded history, and was a practice common among all cultures and people of the world.  The earliest recording of Chinese herbal medicine is attributed to the mythical Chinese emperor, Shen Nong, who was reputedly a skilled herbalist and the author of the popular Chinese Shen Nong Ben Cao (“Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica”). Researchers believe the text is a compilation of oral traditions, written in the first century.

In China today, herbal medicine is used alongside conventional pharmaceutical treatments. The versatility of herbal formulas allow for the treatment of any condition or symptom of the body.

The earliest recording of Chinese herbal medicine was nearly 3,000 years ago. The solutions common in the West are on average 150 years old.

Chinese Herbal Medicine in Practice Today

While examples of Chinese herbal medicine might be in your spice cabinet today, the application of this practice from a conventional medical perspective are very real, serious, and widespread. Perhaps the most famous recent example is that of Dr. Tu Youyou and her work on advancing Chinese herbal formulas for the treatment of malaria during the 1960s, a distinction that gained her the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine.  

chinese herbal pharmacy

Moreover, the practice of Chinese herbal medicine has found its way to premier western medical facilities such as the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic, and medical programs such as at Stanford Health and Rice University.  Just as Acupuncture can be used as a sedative for surgery, Chinese herbs can be used to treat both everyday issues with sleep and stress, as well as more serious ones such as the side effects of chemotherapy.

Jen Ward, LAc combines Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Functional Medicine and Integrative Health Coaching and Pilates to help you achieve optimal health. By applying ancient wisdom to a modern lifestyle, Jen helps you balance your body by uncovering the root of your imbalance and explore your constitutional health, your nature within. Jen offers individualized support and incorporates the appropriate health tools to help you achieve your health goals. She is also the Business Development Director at DAO Labs. Reach out to her at to learn more.

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