Ancient Herbs Have Modern Uses

November 4, 2019 Joe Brady

Herbs have been used by humans since prehistoric times and form the origin of much of modern medicine. The pharmaceutical companies have found that these ancient herbs have modern uses, the development of drugs from plants is big business, with drug companies engaged in large-scale research into the effects of herbs. However, we can also use herbs to improve health and many can be found in our own kitchen

As much as western doctors are fond of ridiculing the use of herbs by patients, in fact, at least two-thirds of the physician’s desk reference, the book doctors use to learn about drugs, are derived from herbs. The opium poppy (ying su ke) is used to make heroin, morphine, and codeine and their analogs make Vicadin, Oxycodone. Coca leaves are used to make cocaine, novocaine, and many other local anesthetics. Most of the decongestant drugs we buy at Walgreen’s are derived from the Chinese herb Ma Huang or Chinese Ephedra used to make Sudafed and many other decongestants. Willow bark is used to make aspirin and of course, Penicillium mold on bread was used in ancient times to combat infections, now we purify it into penicillin. Herbs in their natural form are still important in traditional Chinese medicine to this day. In traditional Chinese medicine food is considered fundamental therapy for many acute and chronic conditions. Diet and herbs can help balance unhealthy lifestyle patterns that manifest in a variety of symptoms and complaints.

In looking specifically at how the Chinese use herbs they make little distinction between diet and herbs In China, there are 101 Chinese herbs officially designated as food items.

Chinese herbs can help balance the effects of modern lifestyles on your body and to strengthen your body’s resistance to disease. Chinese herbs may be used to:

  • Decrease cold/flu symptoms
  • Decrease pain
  • Increase your energy
  • Improve your breathing
  • Improve digestion
  • Improve your sleep
  • Help regulate menstrual cycles and menopausal symptoms

Chinese herbal therapy does not have a cure for cancer however it can also be valuable in dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Chinese Herbs You Can Find in Most Kitchens

  • Yu Jin Turmeric the spice cumin (Curcuma longa)—For anti-inflammatory activity and to improve local circulation at affected joints
  • Gan Cao Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) 5 mL—For anti-inflammatory activity and to improve palatability and absorption of herbal medicine traditional licorice root is used for soothing belly aches, relieve loose stools, as well as coughing, and cramps.
  • Oats (Avena sativa) 15 mL—To aid sleep and for general well-being
  • Da Zao (Chinese Date) also known as jujube fruit, is similar to Middle Eastern date varieties such as Medjool, it improves digestion and builds Qi (energy). But perhaps its greatest therapeutic benefit is calming the Spirit. Indeed, research supports this traditional use, with a study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, suggesting that when combined with the herb Gan Mai, Chinese dates have the potential to lower anxiety.
  • Chen Pi (Dried Tangerine Peel) is used as a seasoning in traditional Chinese cooking it’s drying properties help transform excess phlegm (dampness) in the body. In cold weather months, you can help soothe your lungs by drinking Chen Pi tea.

Herbs in your Kitchen, Good for the Common Cold

Mint – Bo He, Wind/Heat

Scallions – Cong Bai, Wind/Cold 

Cinnamon – Gui Zhi, Wind/Cold

Chrysanthemum – Ju Hua, Wind/Heat

For More information see

West J Med. 2001 Aug; 175(2): 125–128.

Herbal medicine Andrew Vickers,1 Catherine Zollman, Clinical lecturer in general practice,2 and Roberta Lee3

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Herbs at a Glance

Herbs at a Glance is a series of brief fact sheets that provide basic information about specific herbs or botanicals—common names, what the science says, potential side effects and cautions, and resources for more information.