This is an exciting book covering 403 of the most useful herbals used in Abimoxi. The book is divided into 20 therapeutic categories with straightforward descriptions of the usage, channel entry, properties, functions, special preparation techniques, and restrictions to use. This text is a must for anyone interested in the medical aspect of the medical arts practiced within kung fu systems.
History and Fundamental Concepts
In general, during the ancient period of the Yellow Empire, prior to the Chin dynasty, man was in close contact with the natural environment. During this period plants and wild game served as the source of food and was consumed for nutritional purposes. Through experience, the beneficial as well as toxic characteristics of these botanical and animal foods were identified. In addition botanicals that appeared to benefit those with illness were also noted.
The concepts that guided the use of these substances for medicinal purposes were far different from the concepts and principles that guide the use of herbals in later times. During this period a supernatural understanding was attributed to their role with respect to health and illness. People later recognized the role of the physical and natural order in health and illness. The evolution of this understanding progressed to include the concepts of yin and yang as well as the Five Element theory. Shen Nom, one of the agricultural immortals, tested thousands of botanicals as well as minerals and animal products for health benefits. While many grasses, fruits, vegetables, and leaves were consumed as food, grasses became recognized for their healing benefits as a result of this testing. During the Zho dynasty the practice of healing was recognized. Doctors during this period collected over 300 botanical and animal based medicinals. Once the understanding of fermentation emerged, wine was not only identified as a beverage, but also considered one of the main herbal products for health purposes. For centuries this knowledge continued to evolve, passing from one generation to the next. The understanding of herbal medicine progressed to include their toxicity, taste and temperature attributes, clinical effects in terms of symptomatology, channel entry, and the effects of combining herbals. Important writings emerged over the centuries building upon previous knowledge, documenting the progression and expansion of understanding herbal therapies to the present day.
During the Chin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C. to 220 A.D.), relationships developed between China and the Middle Eastern countries. During this time many herbals used outside of China were incorporated into the growing number of Chinese herbals. For example, Hong Hua, Da Shuan (garlic), Hu Ma Ren, and Vietnamese Yi Yi Ren were passed to China. In addition, Shr Shiang, Ling Yan Jiao, and Hu Po also passed to China, assisting in the development of herbal therapies. The first book written, Shen Nong Bin Tao (Agricultural Immortals Grass Bible) was a collection of knowledge, gathered over a long period of time, regarding herbals in use up to that time. While some attribute this book to Shen Nom, it was written much later, approximately 200 A.D., and discussed the principles of yin and yang, herbal properties including toxicities, methods of cooking, taste and temperature characteristics, other fundamentals and theories. About 365 different herbals were included. The herbals were assigned to three basic categories. These included high quality, middle, and lower herbals. The high quality herbals were regarded as life nourishing, the middle as strengthening the constitution, and the lower herbals were considered those that expel disease. This book also discussed the indications for use; quality, based upon the geographic are in which they were grown; as well as a clear discussion regarding the portion of the plant that possesses the greatest benefit. This type of information was based on experience. For example, the indications for Huang Lian to treat dysentery, Ah Jiao to stop bleeding, Ren Shen to nourish the chi, Ban Shia to stop vomiting, and Yin Chen Hao to release jaundice were all based upon experiential rather than scientific testing. While this information was collected over time prior to the Han Dynasty, it was eventually incorporated into the Agricultural Immortals Grass Bible during this period of time. The beginnings of the techniques and principles guiding the combining of herbals, while immature and undeveloped, began during the latter part of the Han dynasty.
During the Wei Jin South and North Kingdoms (220 A.D. to 521 A.D.) a second book emerged, building upon the Agricultural Immortals Grass Bible. This book, the Herbal Bible Continuation was finished about 500 A.D., and included several herbals that were not found in the previous book. China was expanding its territory during this period and included the herbals used in the newly acquired areas. The first book was considered to provide the basics, while the Herbal Bible Continuation described methods to increase efficacy and reduce toxicity for approximately 300 herbals. In addition this book divided the herbals into botanicals, rocks, insects, fruit, vegetables, rice, and minerals.
During the Sui Tang Dynasty (581 A.D. to 907 A.D.) herbals became more developed because of cultural exchange with other countries including those of Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East and what is now America. At that time more than 1000 different herbals were known in China. Due to the increase in the number of herbals in use in China at that time a third book was written, the Tang Herbal Bible. It was based upon the two previous books but included a large number of additional herbals. In total 844 herbals were included plus illustrations. This was the first book sponsored by the Chinese government. The Tang Herbal Bible was passed to Japan in 731 A.D. and became the herbal bible of that country. The herbals were divided into ten categories according to function. These included herbals that induce sweating, induce vomiting, open, nourish, and sink (cause diarrhea), as well as light, heavy, rough, drying, and dampening herbals. Animal organs and hormones were also used and included, for example, goat liver to treat night blindness and improve vision, and enzymes to assist digestion. During this period the concepts of combining herbals, characteristics of taste and temperature, methods of processing and preparation, and understanding of reactions, toxicity, and principles of clinical application became well developed. With respect to combining herbals both dose and number of herbals used in the combinations were being developed during this period.
During the short years of the Five Dynasty Period (907 A.D. to 960 A.D.) the books of the Tang Dynasty were studied and herbal therapy was improved upon as a result. During these years treatments for illnesses using regular foods were developed, as well as the practice of adding herbals to foods such as adding Dang Guei to meat dishes and Ma Huang and Ginger to soups. During the Song Dynasty (960 A.D. to 1279 A.D.) the printing press and paper were developed. Herbal books were then printed using this technology. The three books in existence prior to this point had been written upon bamboo strips. These older books were re-printed using paper and the printing press from 973 A.D. to 1061 A.D. The reprinted books were then referred to as the Pictures Herbal Bible. This book included over 1500 different herbals with illustrations. A Department of Herbals was included in the structure of the Chinese government during this period, functioning as a Department of Health would function. This department assisted in the development of herbal formulas, provided control over herbals, developed methods to improve the effectiveness of herbal therapies and reduce their toxicity, and included regulations/contraindications for use in the information about each herbal. During this time steam (percolation) was developed for extracting active ingredients from the herbals. The products of this procedure were condensed liquids containing the active portion of the single herbals or herbal formulas. During the Song dynasty concepts between Chinese medical theory and experiential knowledge regarding the observed activity of herbal began to be solidified. For example, therapeutic activity began to be explained on the basis of the relationship between herbals and pathology in the channels and organs. The association between taste and activity, while identified before this period, became elaborated upon during the Song dynasty. For example, while it was appreciated that bitter substances drain and dry, during the Song dynasty this activity extended to the concept of yin and yang. In this case bitter substances were understood to be yang within yin, and therefore able to produce sweat and travel upward. The draining and drying activity was therefore additionally understood on this basis. The activity of herbals began to be classified and included twelve categories such as those that dissipate, tonify, purge, lubricate, dry, etc. During the Jin Yuan Dynasty (1115 A.D. to 1368 A.D.) the link between the knowledge gained through observation of the effects of herbals and Chinese medical theory became integrated. This was a period in which the foundational information known about herbals from the books of the Song dynasty was expanded to include clinical use according to pathogenic influences, properties such as the four directions (to rise upward and go downward, travel inward and outward), color, smell, chi properties, and further categorizing herbals according to the Five-Element theory. Many attempts were made at integrating herbal knowledge with medical theory in an attempt to develop a unified theory. For example, the Five-Element theory, theories of the pathogenic influences, and the temperature characteristics of the herbals were integrated. Much of this information had been arrived at through speculation and individual interpretation, and therefore lacked consistency. During this period, through the military efforts of the Mongolians, herbal and food treatment knowledge from conquered countries was brought back to China. Food treatments became very popular at this time. New herbals primarily from the Middle East, India, Russia, and Europe were added into the list of traditional Chinese herbals.
A new book was written during the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D. to 1644 A.D.) to account for the herbals brought into China during the Jin Yuan Dynasty. In 1503 A.D. the Herbal Bible Condensed was completed. This book included 1815 of the most effective herbals of that period. Information regarding the optimal location for specific herbals to be harvested, the best soil in which each herbal should be grown, the methods to prepare (cook) the herbals, their properties such as color and smell were identified and documented in this book. During this period Lee Shi Jin (1518 A.D. to 1593 A.D.), a famous Taoist physician collected information about a vast number of herbals. He confirmed this information using the previously written herbal bibles to insure correctness and wrote a new book for his personal use, the Botanical Herbal Bible. The book included 2 million words for 1892 different herbals (1173 botanicals, 444 derived from animals, and 275 minerals). Details within this book included categorization according to the five elements (e.g. fire, water, earth, metal), rock, grass, rice, vegetables, fruit, bushes, insects, fish, poultry, birds, other animals, and human. The book was finished in the 16th century and translated into several languages. Others added two more categories of herbal activity were added during the Ming dynasty including herbals that ascend and descend. Later the list was condensed to include only eight categories, known as the eight tactics (tonifying, harmonizing, dispersing, cooling, containing, etc) based on the eight patterns (e.g. hot, cold, excess, deficiency, yin, yang, exterior, interior). The cultivation of herbals came into being during this time, and included approximately two hundred different herbals, such as Chuan Shiong and Wu Wei Zi.
During the Ching Dynasty (1644 A.D. to 1911 A.D.) herbal treatments became very popular. This popularity was largely due to the development of improved herbal formulas. Improvements included the addition of 716 new herbals plus correcting errors in the older formulas according to updated knowledge. Herbals began to be subjected to clinical trials during this time. Nine hundred twenty one different herbals has been included in such studies by 1765. The herbals were categorized by properties, functions, clinical trials, regulations, the eight methods used during the Ming dynasty, and main treatments for different illnesses. The main treatments were practical in nature, i.e. which the best herbals for each disease. Since 1911 the herbal therapy passed to Taiwan, clinical trials continued, and their activity in treating other illnesses were explored leading to their modern usage. Numerous modern texts have been published accounting for over 5,500 different substances. This text focuses on 403 of the most important herbals used within the martial arts system of Eight-Step Preying Mantis Kung Fu (Abimoxi).
Location of Herbals
The quality of herbals can be influenced by environmental factors, primarily the soil in which the herbal is grown. It is therefore important to know and choose herbals that are grown from locations in which the quality is recognized as optimal.
Care Following Harvest
Once the herbal is harvested, natural drying by exposure to the sun is optimal for quality purposes. It is also important to maintain the herbals free of insects.
Extraction of Herbals
In some cases, extraction of active components from the herbal is necessary. Baking, placing into wine, and brewing into a tea offer several means to extract the active components.
Care must be taken to store herbals properly. Generally storage in a cool and dry environment prevent degradation.
Characteristics of the Herbals
The characteristics of the herbals are important to achieve proper balance when combined with other herbals as well as consideration of the symptoms being treated. The characteristics include temperature and taste.
The character of the herbals includes temperature, cold, hot, warm, and cool. Cold herbals are used to treat hot diseases, while hot herbals are used to treat cold disease. A balance of yin and yang must be achieved.
Taste of Herbals
Herbal tastes include spicy, sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and neutral. The neutral taste is considered together with sweet, therefore there are a total of five taste categories. Spicy, and sweet or neutral are considered yang in nature, while sour, bitter, and salty are considered yin.
Among the yang taste characters, spicy is known to cause chi to spread outward; sweet nurtures the organs, and neutral releases water from the body. Among the yin the sour taste is associated with shrinking or pulling inward (eg. stops diarrhea); the bitter taste allows for release (For example, if body is too hot, it releases heat. Another example is I causes release by inducing diarrhea); the salty taste is associated with a softening effect (For example, it softens hard stools).
Functions of Herbal
Herbals act to move fluids or chi in various directions; have specific functions on various organs; and have unwanted effects, such as toxicity. These are referred to as herbal functions.
Herbals have a “moving” effect, either upwards (For example, causing chi or fluids to move upward), downward, from inside to outside, or from outside to inside.
Effects on the Organs
Herbals have specific effects or actions on certain organs. These will be discussed in general under each chapter and specifically for each herbal. The chapters are organized according to general function, while each herbal may have more specific functions under each general category.
Many of the herbal have unwanted or even toxic (poisonous) effects. Some of the toxic effects can be considered therapeutic, for example in the treatment of cancer. In such cases, extreme care must be used in choosing and dosing such herbals. Toxic herbals are usually contraindicated during pregnancy.
Results of Combining Herbals
Herbals can be combined to produce additive effects. For example, two different herbals which have the same actions can be combined and thus produce additive effects.
One herbal may be combined with another to provide assistance in the function of an aspect of the primary herbal.
One herbal may be combined with another herbal to slow down the action or effect of the other.
It is possible for one herbal to possess an opposing effect or action to that of another herbal. One herbal is said to be “against” the other herbal.
Produce Side Effects
It is also possible for one herbal to enhance or produce a side effect when combined with another herbal. These combinations are therefore avoided.
Regulations and Contraindications
Because of the various effects of herbals, when used alone or in combination with other herbals, various patient populations, conditions such as pregnancy, diseases, and organ problems have been identified in which herbals should not be used. In such cases either toxicity has been identified, miscarriages during pregnancy or side effects have been identified. Herbals should not be used in such circumstances. If such effects are only observed when used in specific herbal combinations, then the combination must be avoided.
Foods and Beverages
Under certain circumstances care must be taken administering or taking the herbal. Foods or beverages should be avoided when taking herbals depending upon the specific situation. For example, use of cold herbals to reduce heat in the body should not be accomplished concurrently with eating spicy foods. Eating such foods counteracts the effect of the herbal and therefore must be avoided during herbal administration. It is also advisable to avoid eating spicy, oily or fried foods when the body is hot. When the body is cold consumption of cold foods, icy beverages, smoke cigarettes, and drinking alcoholic beverages such as wine should be avoided. Alcoholic beverages increase the release of heat from the body.
Temperature of the Tea
The herbal tea is usually at a warm temperature for administration. However, when the body is hot, the herbal should be consumed at cold temperature. On the other hand, when the body is cold, the herbal should be taken while at a hot temperature. In general the herbal tea is normally consumed at a warm temperature.
Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM) recommends that the herbals should be consumed before meals if tonification of the blood or an increase chi is required. If the patient cannot sleep, the herbal should be consumed before going to bed. If the stomach is upset, the herbal tea should be consumed after a meal.
On the other hand Abimoxi recommends the herbal should be consumed 30 minutes before sleeping at night. This recommendation is based upon the easy for absorption of the active ingredients.
Quantity of Herbals
The measure of weight in Chinese herbal therapy usually involves the measures of chen liang. One liang is equal to 10 chen. The conversion from these measurements to the metric system is straightforward. One liang equals 30 grams, therefore 10 chen equals 3 grams. It is important to recognize that the dosage for children is less than those for adults. In general children, ages 1 to 5 years, should be doses at 25% of the adult dosage; while children, ages 6 to 12 years should be dosed at 50% of adult dosage.
Preparation of Herbals
Some of the herbals are difficult to prepare as a tea, for example. Such herbals need to be pre-cooked before added to other herbals in the mixture for final brewing. Some herbals lose potency if cooked for normal period of time; therefore they are added at the end of the cooking or brewing period so they are not overcooked. Herbals that tend to break apart into small pieces while brewing (seeds and pulverized minerals, for example) should be placed in a small bag, like a tea bag, to prevent dispersion of the small pieced into the tea. Some herbals must be cooked or brewed separately, not when combined with the other herbals in the formula. The active ingredients of such herbals can be absorbed by the other herbals in the formula and therefore be rendered ineffective. Some herbals are very susceptible to heat, either structurally or their active ingredients, therefore hot water is used in the tea rather than boiling water.
It is important to use clay, ceramic, or glass pots to brew herbals. Iron pots or pans should never be used as the iron can counteract the active herbal components.
Herbals are generally available as the original plant or as a herbal powder. When using the original plant, the herbal is prepared by cooking in water as a tea. This provides greatest potency and therefore effect, however tea solutions are difficult to transport and administer. The taste is generally repulsive at worst and unpalatable at best. Some also have a repulsive odor. The herbal powder is easily transported, but not as effective.