All About Traditional Chinese Herbs

Chinese medicine has a history of thousands of years, which is the crystallization of human wisdom.

In ancient times, industrious Chinese people discovered the wealth bestowed by nature–Chinese herbs. Since then, people have started using Chinese herbs. After thousands of years of continuous attempts and accumulation of experience, Chinese herbs have become an indispensable part of Chinese life.

Chinese herbs are the basis of traditional Chinese medicine and the key to the treatment and prevention of diseases.

Along with the Silk Road, Chinese herbs had also been widely spread.

What are Chinese herbs

Chinese herbs refer to medicines used in the prevention, treatment, diagnosis of diseases, rehabilitation therapy, and health care functions under the guidance of traditional Chinese medicine theory.

Its main sources are natural medicine and processed products of natural medicine.

It contains botanical medicine made from roots, stems, leaves, and fruits of plants, animal medicine made from viscera, skin, and bone of animals, and mineral medicine made from ores.

According to statistics, there are about 12,000 medicinal plants in China. There are 5,767 kinds of Chinese herbs that have been put into use. Among these Chinese herbs, there are 4,773 kinds of botanicals, and there are 994 kinds of animal medicines and mineral medicines.

Botanical medicine occupies a large part of traditional Chinese medicine, so traditional Chinese medicine is also known as Chinese herbs. There are more than 500 kinds of Chinese herbs that are often used in daily life.

Part of Chinese herbs is ethnic medicine which refers to the medicine used in Chinese minority areas, such as Tibetan medicine, Mongolian medicine, Uygur Medicine, Dai medicine, Miao medicine, Yi medicine, etc. These medicines have strong regional characteristics. Their source of medicine is the same as that of Chinese herbs.

People of Chinese ethnic minorities combine the theory and experience of traditional Chinese medicine and foreign medicine to gradually develop in practice and form ethnic medicine.

Ethnic medicines and Chinese herbs are an important part of traditional Chinese medicine.

There are many famous medicines in Chinese herbs.

Top 10 famous Chinese herbs:

  • Ren Shen (Radix Ginseng)
  • Ling Zhi (Lucid Ganoderma)
  • Dong Chong Xia Cao (caterpillar fungus)
  • Ambergris (Long Xian Xiang)
  • Xue Lian Hua (Snow Lotus)
  • He Shou Wu (Fo-Ti or Fleeceflower Root)
  • Lu Rong (Velvet antler)
  • She Xiang (Moschus)
  • Hai Ma (Sea Horse)
  • Yan Wo (Cubilose)

The above 10 kinds of Chinese herbs have strong nutritional and medicinal effects, but they have low output and are very expensive.

The following herbs are commonly used in daily life:

Traditional Chinese medicine is also known as natural pharmacology and the theory of herbal medicine. It is a unique science in China.

Chinese herbs need to be correctly used to improve people’s health.

Processing of Chinese herbs

Processing Chinese herbs is a way to ensure the efficacy of Chinese herbs and is convenient to the storage, packaging, and transportation of Chinese herbs.

A small number of Chinese herbs do not need to be processed, such as Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger), Shi Hu (Dendrobium Stem), and Lu Gen (Rhizoma Phragmitis). Most Chinese herbs need to be processed.

Sun Simiao wrote a medicinal book called <Qian Jin Yi Fang>, which shows the efficacy of Chinese herbs is related to the time when Chinese herbs are picked and the method by which Chinese herbs are processed.

There are many kinds of Chinese herbs. According to the medicinal part of Chinese herbs, the processing methods of Chinese herbs are slightly different.

The following is the processing method of Chinese herbs


Removing the sediments, impurities and non-medical parts of the fresh Chinese herbs by screening, air separation, and water washing.

For example, Bai Shao (White Peony Root) and Shan Yao (Rhizoma Dioscoreae) need to be removed from the peel.

Generally, Chinese herbs with aromatic scent should not be washed, such as Bo He (Mentha), Mu Xiang (Radix Aucklandiae), and Fang Feng (Radix Saposhnikoviae).


Generally, Chinese herbs with large roots and rhizomes, Chinese herbs with hard vines, and Chinese herbs with fruits need to be sliced, such as Da Huang (Radix et Rhizoma Rhei), Tu Fu Ling (Rhizoma Smilacis Glabrae), Wu Yao (Radix Linderae), Ji Xue Teng (Caulis Spatholobi), and Shan Zha (Hawthorn Fruit).

This process is conducive to the drying of Chinese herbs and to reduce the volume of Chinese herb, which is conducive to the packaging and transportation of Chinese herb.

Some Chinese herbs containing volatile ingredients and Chinese herbs that are easily oxidized should not be cut into thin slices, such as Dang Gui (Radix Angelicae Sinensis), Chuan Xiong (Rhizoma Chuanxiong), Chang Shan (Radix Dichroae), and Bing Lang (Semen Arecae).

Removing shell

Chinese herbs of the seed category need to be shelled.

Some Chinese herbs should be first dried and then removed the shell, such as Che Qian Zi (Semen Plantaginis) and Tu Si Zi (Semen Cuscutae).

Some Chinese herbs should be first removed the shell and then dried, such as Bai Guo (Semen Ginkgo), Xing Ren (Semen Armeniacae) and Tao Ren (Semen Persicae).

A small number of Chinese herbs needn’t be removed from the shell, such as Dou Kou (Fructus Amomi Rotundus) and Cao Guo (Tsaoko).

Steaming, boiling, and scalding

Chinese herbs containing mucilage, starch, and sugar are not easily dried. They need to be steamed, boiled or scalded.

According to the properties of Chinese herbs, the heating method and heating time of Chinese herbs are selected.

For example, Bai Shao (White Peony Root) and Ming Dang Shen (Medicinal Changium Root) need to be boiled thoroughly. Tian Ma (Rhizoma Gastrodiae), Hong Da Ji (Knoxia Root), and Tai Zi Shen (Radix Pseudostellariae) need scalding.

The heating treatment of Chinese herbs is conducive to the drying and peeling of Chinese herbs. In addition, this process can kill the worm eggs attached to the herbs, reduce the activity of enzymes in the herbs, and prevent the decomposition of effective ingredients of it.

Fumigating with sulfur

Some Chinese herbs need to be fumigated with sulfur, such as Bai Zhi (Radix Angelicae Dahuricae), Chuan Bei Mu (Bulbus Fritillariae Cirrhosae), and Niu Xi (Radix Achyranthis Bidentatae).

The sulfur combustion produces sulfur dioxide (SO2). The sulfur dioxide is an antiseptic pesticide. This process can sterilize and disinfect the herbs and prevent it from mildewing.

Short time heating

Some Chinese herbs need to be baked to half dry or boiled and steamed for a short time, such as Du Zhong (Eucommia Bark), Hou Po (Magnolia Bark), and Xuan Shen (Radix Scrophulariae).

This process can increase the fragrance of the herbs, reduce the irritation of it, and facilitate the drying of it.


The purpose of drying is to remove a large amount of water in herbs in time, to avoid it mildewing, moth, and decomposition of its effective ingredients.

This process is conducive to the storage of Chinese herbs and can ensure the efficacy of it. The drying methods are usually using sunshine or fire, or putting the herbs in the shade directly.

Drying in the sun is the use of sunshine and flowing air to dry the herbs. Most Chinese herbs are suitable for this method.

Chinese herbs containing volatile oils should not be dried in the sun, such as Bo He (Mentha) and Jin Yin Hua (Honeysuckle Flower). Chinese herbs that are prone to deterioration and discoloration under sunshine should not be dried in the sun, such as Bai Shao (White Peony Root), Huang Lian (Rhizoma Coptidis), Da Huang (Radix et Rhizoma Rhei), and Hong Hua (Flos Carthami).

After the Chinese herbs are dried, they need to be cooled to be packaged. In this way, the fermentation and mildew of it can be avoided.

Drying in a fire is a method of artificial heating. Generally, the temperature of the heating should be controlled at 50-60 °C.

At this temperature, the effective ingredients of the herbs will not be destroyed, and the enzyme activity of it will be reduced.

Some Chinese herbs containing vitamin C should be dried rapidly at 70-90 ℃.

This method should not be used for herbs that contains volatile oil and that need to retain the activity of the enzyme.

When drying the Chinese herbs containing starch, the drying temperature needs to be increased slowly, to prevent the starch grains of it from gelatinization.

Drying in the shade is a process that the water will evaporate naturally in the air.

Chinese herbs containing volatile ingredients should be used in this way, such as Jing Jie (Schizonepeta tenuifolia) and Zi Su Ye (Perilla Leaf).

Some Chinese herbs will have separation of fruit and peel during the drying process and need to be rolled, such as Dang Shen (Radix Codonopsis) and Mai Dong (Radix Ophiopogonis).

At present, there are machines for drying Chinese herbs and Chinese patent medicine, such as far-infrared heating dryers and microwave dryers.

Far-infrared heating technology and microwave drying technology are superior to traditional processing technology. They can shorten the processing time and ensure the efficacy of Chinese herbs.

Use of Chinese herbs

The use of Chinese herbs requires a combination of Five Elements Theory and Yin and Yang Theory.

Some Chinese herbs need to be made into herbal tea and decoction. Some Chinese herbs need to be ground into a powder to make pellets, ointments, and medicinal liquor.

Chinese herbs is usually used in single or compound. For example, Bai Zhi (Radix Angelicae Dahuricae) can be alone used to treat nasal congestion and runny nose. Ma Huang (Ephedra), Gui Zhi (cassia twig), Xing Ren (Semen Armeniacae), and Gan Cao (Licorice Root) can be made into Ma Huang Tang to treat cold, acute bronchitis and bronchial asthma.

In traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese herbs can be made into Chinese patent medicine, which is more targeted.

Chinese patent medicine is made from Chinese herbs under the guidance of the theory of Chinese medicine. These medicines indicate the effects, dosage, usage and the targeted diseases.

Chinese patent medicine is a finished medicine for Chinese medicine prescription and is an important part of traditional Chinese medicine.

Generally, Chinese patent medicine can be directly used by doctors and patients, and accord with the food and drug laws. The famous Chinese patent medicines include Yunnan Baiyao, Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan, Niu Huang Jie Du Pian, etc.