Pharmacological effects of Traditional Medicine Classifications
In order for the Modern Herbalist to be able to match the modern Pharmacological basis of Herbal Medicine with the Traditional use, it is worthy to have a look at the pharmacological effects which are often found in the various Traditional Herb groupings.
The following is a brief representation of the Pharmacological effects associated with each of the Herb groups. These effects are only representative and of course not all Pharmacological effects are found in every herb of that group. The following groupings are based on the grouping as used in TCM, but are easily applicable to the Traditional Western Materia Medica.
Herbs that Clear the Exterior and Promote Sweat
These herbs tend to be aromatic, pungent herbs that work on the mucus membranes and increase the activity of the skin.
-Antipyretic (Feverfew, Peppermint)
-Anti-Viral (Balm, Elder flower, Linden flower, Peppermint)
Herbs that Clear Heat
These tend to be Bitter, Cold herbs that have marked anti-bacterial and detoxicant effects. There bitterness may be due to alkaloids or other bitter compounds.
-Anti-bacterial (Balm, Blessed Thistle, Camomile, Plantain)
-some are also Anti-Viral
-Antagonise TSH, inhibit Thyroid (Balm, Self Heal)
Herbs that Clear Heat and Damp
-Anti-bacterial (Gentian, Barberry, Fumitory, Centaury)
-Cholagogue, Choleretic (Gentian, Wormwood, Celandine)
-Anti-inflammatory (Barberry, Gentian, Centaury, Fumitory)
-expel Uric acid
-Anti-lithic (Cold seeds)
Herbs that Clear Heat and Poison
These are cool medicines that help detoxify the body.
-Anti-bacterial (Burdock, China root, Cleavers, Dandelion, Plantain, Rhubarb, Sarsaparilla)
-Anti-Viral (Blessed Thistle, Burdock, Dandelion, Rhubarb, Self Heal)
-Antioxidant (Burdock, Chickweed, Black Nighshade, Balm, Borage, Self Heal)
-Anti-inflammatory (Burdock, Black Nighshade, Dandelion)
-Immunostimulant (Bittersweet, Cleavers, Dandelion, Plantain)
-Immunoregulatory (Burdock, Plantain, Self Heal)
-Anti-tumor (Blessed Thistle, Burdock, Violet, Sorrel, Red Clover, Plantain, Rhubarb)
-Anti-cancer (Violet, Red Clover, Black Nightshade, Burdock, Sheep Sorrel, Rhubarb, Fumitory, Dodder, Self Heal)
-Hepatoprotective (Nightshade, Celandine, Fumitory, Gentian)
Herbs that Clear Damp and Promote Urine
These tend to be Diuretic, helping increase the passage of fluid through the body. Some do this due to diuretic activity, some due to mineral salts, and some due to increase heart activity and circulation.
-expel Uric acid
Herbs that Clear Wind and Damp: Anti-Arthritics, Anti-Rheumatics
These are medicines that act on the joints. Due to the variety of beneficial effects that medicines can have on diseased joints, their activity is varied. But in general they have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, while some have beneficial effects on the joints themselves.
Warm Herbs that Clear Cold
These herbs are primarily warming spices. They stimulate activity of the Heart and Digestion to warm the body, or otherwise stimulate metabolism. They are therefore good for a variety of conditions related to cold, damp, phlegm, or poor functioning of the Heart or Digestion.
-Inhibit Platelet Aggregation (ie. Capsicum, Garlic, Onion)
These medicines tend to be very gentle and most work due to their fixed oil content, acting as lubricants.
-Fixed oils with lubricating and laxative effect
These medicines work mostly due to their anthraquinone activity.
-Anthrquinones that stimulate bowel function
These are most irritant medicines that promote passage of water via the bowels.
-Usually contain irritant compounds to promote passage of water through the bowels
Medicines that Clam the Heart, Mind and Spirit
These are medicines that benefit the Heart and calm the Mind and Nerves. They are soothing and gentle, and tend to work either by nourish, soothing or from a fixed oil content.
-may contain good levels of Fixed Oils (such as Basil seed and Zizyphus seed Suan Zao Ren)
Medicines that Sedate the Mind, Heart and Spirit
These are ‘heavy’ medicines of a mineral nature. The more gentle are calcium-based compounds such as Pearl, Coral and the Shells. There are also Heavy metals, notably Gold and Iron, but also Mercury-containing Cinnabar. Then there are the gemstones, many of which are based on Aluminium silicates. There are also special, unique medicines such as Amber which don’t fall into any of the above categories.
-often contain Calcium
-some contain heavy metals (Aluminium, Cinnabar, Iron, Gold)
Aromatics that Revive the Senses
These contain aromatic compounds, often in the form of volatile oils; some have other aromatic bases such as Musk.
Herbs that Settle Wind
These are medicines that have a settling, sedative or regulatory effect on the Nervous system.
-Anti-arrhythmic (Mistletoe, Costus, Calamus, Valerian)
Herbs that Move Qi
These tend to be aromatic herbs with good levels of essential oils. They thereby act on the mucus membranes to settle spasms of the smooth muscle. They tend to have a soothing effect on the nervous system, and some are very effective for spasms and convulsions. Some relax the mind and nerves and are therefore effective for anxiety.
-Anti-anxiety (St Johns wort, Balm, Valerian)
-Anti-depressant (St. Johns wort, Balm)
-Anti-arrhythmic (Costus, Calamus, Valerian)
-Anti-ulcer (Caraway, Costus, Peppermint)
-Estrogenic (Aniseed, Coriander, Cumin, Fennel, Cyperus)
-Anti-tumor (Costus, Balm, Asafetida, Valerian, Orange peel)
-Anti-cancer (Costus, Orange peel)
Usually contains good levels of Essential oils, and are therefore aromatic
Herbs that Move Blood
-Inhibit Platelet Aggregation (Arnica, Cumin, Garlic, Linseed, Motherwort, Nutmeg, Turmeric)
-Anti-inflammatory (St. Johns wort, Turmeric, Myrrh, Madder, Calendula)
-Anti-lipid (Hawthorn, Garlic, Bdellium, Myrrh, Turmeric)
-Inhibit Tyrosine kinase
-Inhibit Thrombin, Anti-thrombotic (ie. Safflower, Peony)
-Vasodilator, Vasorelaxant (Motherwort, Rue, Hawthorn)
-Increase Heart contraction
-Increase Blood Oxygen (Saffron)
-Estrogenic (Lovage, Turmeric, Vervain)
-Increase Uterine contractions (Myrrh, Mugwort, Lovage, Peony, Saffron, Safflower, Turmeric)
-Antioxidant (Turmeric, Zedoary, Oregano, St. Johns wort)
-Anti-cancer (Frankincense, Myrrh, Safflower, Bitter Almond, Peach kernel, St. Johns wort, Turmeric, Zedoary)
-Some contain Cardio-active glycosides
Herbs that Stop Bleeding
-Shorten Coagulation time
-Decrease Capillary permeability
-Anti-vitamin K activity (ie. Meliot, Lavender)
-Astringent due to tannins or other compounds such as Aluminium-containing minerals (Earths) and salts (Alum).
-enhance digestion and assimilation
-Immuno-stimulatory (Licorice, Elecampane, Tragacanth, Mastic, Withania)
-often contain good levels of polysaccharides
-Nutrient tonic: may contain good levels of Iron, B12 or other important Blood nutrients
-Estrogenic (Peony, Dang Gui)
Most of these have a beneficial effect on sex hormones, particularly testosterone and androgens.
-Increase Testosterone (Cinnamon, Tribulus seed)
-Prevent conversion of Testosterone to DHT (Licorice)
-Increase Sperm count
-Anti-diabetic (Cinnamon, Fenugreek, Juniper berry, Tribulus seed)
-Nutrient tonic: may contain good levels of Sulphur, Zinc, Selenium or trace minerals (such as Shilajit)
-Estrogenic (Asparagus root, Masrhamallow)
-Anti-tussive (Marshmallow, Comfrey)
-Increase Sperm count
-Immuno-stimulant (Asparagus root, Comfrey)
-Anti-diabetic (Mistletoe, Marshmallow, Peony, Sesame seed)
-Anti-Cancer (Asparagus root, Comfrey root, Mistletoe)
-Nutrient Tonic: may contain good levels of fixed oils, polysaccharides, muco-polysaccharides, or trace minerals including Zinc
-Digestive (stimulate or enhance Digestion)
Medicines that Clear Phlegm
-Expectorant (Radish seed)
-some enhance digestion to prevent formation of excess Phlegm via poor digestion
-some are anti-tumor for Scrofula and various Phlegm-Tumors
Medicines that Stop Cough and Wheezing
-some are expectorant
They are dry medicines which are binding. They tend to contain either Tannins (Gall, Nutmeg, Myrobalans) or Aluminium compounds (Alum, Earths etc.)
Medicines for Worms
-Kill worms and parasites (anthelmintic)
-some paralyze or disable the worms
-some are toxic, killing worms, parasite, bacteria, virus and/or fungii, being also anti-cancer
"External Medicines" is a specific class of medicines in the Chinese Materia Medica. They tend to be toxic herbs, and many have or are used internally.
-many are antibacterial, as wounds, ulcers, burns require suppressing infection to heal
-some kill other pathogens such as fungii or external parasites
-some are resolvent to help reduce lumps and tumors etc.