Herbal Treatment During Times of Plague
Updated: Apr 2
It can be easy, at this moment, to feel that no one has ever been through an experience like this. Isolated in our homes unless we are essential personnel, we huddle with our family or housemates, or not if we live alone, and watch the news to see when this will end. In some ways this is new, since no prior cohort of humans has ever used the internet to navigate self-imposed quarantine. No previous people have been able to live-stream classes or meetings or attend concerts digitally, nor have they had access to mail systems that could send them much of what they need on-demand.
Yet our history of filled with plagues, and the legacy of those past experiences is still available to us. The herbal tradition that I am a part of dates back to roughly 200 CE during the Han dynasty. This period saw intense fighting between rival warlords, which lead to the proliferation of countless infecrtious diseases, including smallpox and measles. The treatment of these diseases through acupuncture and herbal medicine was systematized by Zhang Zhongjing (pronounced Jaang Johng Jing) and recorded in the Shanghan Zabing Lun, or “The Treatise on the Treatment of Cold and Miscellanies Diseases”. Though this text was lost for many centuries it was reconstituted by scholars, notably Wang Shuhe, during the Jin dynasty. The herbal formulas and strategies in this text remain extremely powerful today and are still the backbone of much modern herbal prescribing.
To give the reader a taste of the style and relevance of this work, here is a page from the part of the text known as as the Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions From the Golden Cabinet) as translated by Nigel Wiseman and Sabine Wilms:
“For chest impediment disease with panting, coughing and spitting, pain in the chest and back, shortness of breath and a sunken and slow pulse, tricosanthis fruit, Chinese garlic and wine decoction is the correct remedy”
How to translate this into modern language? Basically this formula is the correct treatment for a disease with shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing which is so intense that the person has both chest and back pain. The person with this condition will also have a slow and deep pulse, which to a Chinese herbalist means that a cold pathogen has overwhelmed their defenses and burrowed deep into that body such that it has depleted the person’s vital force.
The differentiation between formulas can be intricate and depend on specific symptoms, pulse presentations, and tongue coating, but as you can see this is a serious and life-threatening situation. Sometimes herbal medicine is spoken of in the west as being weak or ineffective, but this is not the case when a skilled herbalist prescribes the correct remedy. In fact, reports from Wuhan (Hubei Province, China) indicate that 85% of patients in fever clinics specifically set up to treat COVID-19 receive herbal medicine alongside supportive western-style treatment, and this may account for some of the lower mortality rates in mainland China when compared to Europe.
Not only are patients receiving herbal medicine, but the staff at the hospitals are being treated preventatively, to make them less vulnerable to the pathogen. Dr. Tang Ying reports, in a dispatch to Lotus Institute of Integrative Medicine, that not one of the thousands of employees who worked at a fever clinic in Wuhan contracted the virus, and he attributes much of this to herbal medicine being provided to each worker, for free.
As a result of reading this and other similar cases, I have decided to offer free video herbal consults to all front-line medicine personnel, starting today. Frontline workers include hospital staff such as nurses, doctors, and caregivers, as well as janitorial staff and other support staff. This also includes workers are community clinics, where the effects of the disease will undoubtedly also be felt. For all other patients, my video herbal consults will be offered on a sliding scale basis, $20-$50, and no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
It is my belief that, were our medicine system more integrated, we would see much better patient outcomes. Indeed, large studies done in China, where western medicine hospitals also offer Chinese Medicine, show that combining the two approaches almost always produces better outcomes for patients. I do not have the power to make this a reality, but I can provide care to anyone who wants it.
To schedule a distance herbal consult, simply click “Appointments” at the top of this page and select “Video or phone consult”.
Be well, and don’t hesitate to reach out.