What is a patent medicine?


For most people, patent medicines are their first introduction to Chinese herbs, either through an acupuncturist or a recommendation/self purchase from health food store. They are ground up herbs in a pill and usually are somewhat inexpensive, primarily because they contain comparatively very little herb. A brief history and modern understanding is worth exploring. Much of patent medicine popularity can be attributed to its somewhat non-professional usages in the last hundred years. Their roots date back to salesmen traveling from town to town selling their latest and greatest most popular pill. Because these salesmen wanted their product to be popular (fast acting) they started mixing Western pharmaceuticals into their herbal pills. This tradition of mixing pharmaceuticals with patent medicines still exists today; therefore one must be cautious of what brands one buys. More importantly, the serious Chinese herbalists, today and in the past, almost exclusively use herbal teas for treating the majority of diseases. The four reasons why pills are not desired are summarized below:

  1. Inability to custom design a formula for the individual
  2. Substantially decreased amount of herbs per dosage
  3. Potential of unwanted ingredients added
  4. Herbs are many times not processed, and your body must assimilate the raw herbs; compare this to decocting a tea which breaks down the herbs before ingestion.

(for more see information see next question, below)

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