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What are Acupuncture Herbs?

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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Guillaume Baviere, Yanik Chauvin, Marilyn Barbone, Alfred Wekelo
  • Last Modified Date: 19 December 2019
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Herbs are a central component in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). As such, herbal preparations are typically recommended as a conjunctive therapy to acupuncture treatments. In fact, acupuncture practitioners are trained to prepare herbal formulas with the objective of correcting or improving Qi, or the flow of energy in the body at and between meridian points. This is done by identifying disruptive energy patterns through acupuncture techniques and then developing a customized formula of up to 15 acupuncture herbs to help correct that specific pattern.

In keeping with the traditions of Chinese herbalism, acupuncture herbs are classified according to their impact on the direction of Qi, their taste, their associated temperature (cold or heat), and which Zang Fu organs they act upon. Since most botanical therapies contain several acupuncture herbs, the properties of each plant must be taken into consideration in order to achieve the desired synergistic effect. While knowledge of herbal classifications and properties and their relevancy to energy patterns has been passed down for centuries in numerous texts, acupuncturists typically spend hundreds of hours in practical training to master proficiency in the preparation and administration of acupuncture herbs.

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An example of the role acupuncture herbs play as a co-therapy is the treatment of arthritis according to TCM principles. Since this condition is usually worsened by environmental factors, such as rain or cold air, the acupuncturist may look toward herbs that tend to thrive in similar conditions. The thought behind this is that the plant may impart the same immune resistance to these factors to the patient. Therefore, Hai Tong Pi, also known as sea vine bark, may be incorporated into an herbal formula to treat arthritis since it grows near the ocean and can withstand cold and wet conditions.

One of the first acupuncture herbs the patient is often introduced to is moxa, known to Western herbalists as common mugwort. This herb is sometimes administered as a tea, but it is also often burned and held near the various points on the body to induce an increase in surface temperature. This particular process, known as moxibustion, is used in combination with acupuncture to treat a variety of conditions, including sports injuries, carpal tunnel, and arthritis. Since moxa is also thought to improve circulation, it is sometimes used to address infertility and pelvic disorders. In addition, moxibustion is sometimes used as a stand-alone therapy to treat young children who may fear acupuncture needles.

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