What is the difference between tonic and medicinal herbalism?

Tonic herbs are safe to consume regularly over long periods of time.  The Chinese refer to these type of herbs as superior herbs since they are prized and promote longevity, beauty, and vitality.  It is preferred to prevent disease rather than try to fix it in the Chinese cosmology.  There are roughly 120 herbs in this category.

Medicinal herbs are used for shorter periods of time and should only be administered under a physicians care.  They are used for specific reasons and not general health promotion.  While some tonic herbs are used in medicinal formulas as well, they are used differently medicinally.  

How many herbs are in the Chinese pharmacopeia?

There are 530 common herbs in the Chinese Materia Medica, with many more that are more rarely used or no longer available.  In our pharmacy we carry 230 of the individual herbs and 64 of the pre-mixed formulas.  

What is the difference between Western and Eastern herbalism?

Western herbalism primarily treats single or separate symptoms such as headache, insomnia, constipation, etc. Western herbalism would lead you to take echinacea for colds, ginkgo for memory, or St. John’s Wort for mild depression.  One herb or a small group of herbs is used for each symptom, somewhat like Western drugs. 

Chinese herbalism bases itself on diagnosing you as a whole picture: formulas are unique based partly on your symptoms, but also on emotional temperament, cause, duration of disease, and your overall body constitution. So, three people with a headache may be diagnosed three different ways and take three very different formulas. About 25% of Western herbs are found in the Chinese pharmacoepia, they are just used differently.