An Introduction to Chinese Herbs

Chinese herbalism is an ancient art with modern day wellness-boosting benefits, but where do we jump in? 

This post is part of an ongoing collaboration with The Chalkboard Mag

Like Ayurveda, Chinese herbalism is an ancient philosophy with many layers.  We’re had great success with Chinese herbs for a variety of wellness and beauty needs and can often be found frequenting Dragon Herbs for tonics, pills and consultation. If you’ve yet to discover traditional Chinese medicine for yourself, a consultation with an acupuncturist is an excellent place to begin. Most acupuncturists are also Chinese herbalists trained in traditional Chinese medicine as a whole, and their ability to pinpoint the root causes of health concerns is fascinating.

For an introduction to the herbs themselves, we love this simple guide from Jess Ng, founder of Asian-inspired apothecary Reorient who sees the herbs as a gentle ongoing way to keep the body in balance through life’s ups and downs…

The study of Chinese herbalism is one of science and history and, most of all, natural materials. With literally thousands of herbs documented over the years, it can be challenging to navigate without consulting an herbalist or studying a textbook. Growing up in Hong Kong, I learned the basics at a young age. To get you started, here’s a breakdown for beginners…


There’s a whole category of accessible herbs that are inexpensive, widely available and gentle enough to be used as food so your body can absorb their tonic powers in a low-risk way. Rather than addressing acute symptoms, their effects are ongoing and harmonizing. Also hydrating and nourishing, they’re great for the skin.

Favorites: Goji berry, schizandra, dried jujubes, dried figs, solomon seal, lily bulb.

How to Use: Nourishing soups are great for maintaining healthy skin and high energy. The herbs are also excellent added to a pot of bone broth or a vegetable stirfry. Goji berries or schizandra are easy to add to smoothies too. TCM Editor’s Pick: Schizandra lemonade 

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Legend tells of flowers buried deep in the snow of the high Himalayan mountains which, upon consumption, immediately warm all organs. These special Chinese herbs lend their thermal energy to help protect you from environmental stresses and extreme weather that can wreak havoc on the skin.

Favorites: Flowers like chrysanthemum, prunella and honeysuckle in hot weather; ginger, cinnamon bark and cloves in cold weather.

How to Use: Whenever you feel a cold coming on, ginger is a magical herb and has many uses. I always have pre-sliced ginger in the freezer, which I can brew into tea and add to a bath or use as facial steam. Soak a towel in the ginger-infused water and place it on your body and skin to better absorb its benefits. In the summer, brew an ice tea using cooling herbs to soothe sweaty, inflamed skin.

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These precious herbs nourish the body and skin over time, strengthening all organs and channels. The Cantonese word for “nourish” makes the same sound as the word for “treasured.” And they really are just that (once upon a time they were kept in boxes and presented as gifts). Even today, they’re often expensive and used sparingly in the Asian kitchen. These herbs require time to brew, extract and brew again. The process demands patience and is an art.

Favorites: reishi mushroom, cordyceps mushroom, white ginseng.

How to Use: While best decocted into a brew, try exploring the powder or oil supplements. These herbs can be difficult to work with in the kitchen and also very bitter. Medicinal mushrooms are, in particular, worth trying in supplement form (see the mushroom latte) because there are great technologies that help capture the full spectrum of the mushroom and all its nutrients.

The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. 
All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health related program. 

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6 years ago

Ginger tea with local honey has been a favorite of mine for a long time. I did not realize I could use it in my bath. Thank you.

6 years ago

Thank you for this. I am currently a student working towards my Master of Science in Oriental Medicine (acupuncture and Chinese Herbalism) in Boulder, CO, and so in love with this medicine. It really works wonders; helping the body heal itself.

6 years ago

Chinese herbs are known to be effective in curing and treating some health problems. Apart from them being safe and effective, they too aren’t expensive. It would be good to switch to this alternative when synthetic medicine is no longer reliable. Indeed, this post is very helpful. Thanks for sharing.

6 years ago

Herbs can be very effective for controlling the inflammation on the bodies. The medicines are totally natural and can bring an overall development of health which experts apply on the basis of individual needs of patients.