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Updated: May 31

Sissi Wachtel-Galor, Iris FF Benzie

Lester Packer, Ph. D., 1, 2011

Traditional medicine is “the knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, used in the maintenance of health and in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness”(World Health Organization, http://www. who. int/topics/traditional_medicine/en/). There are many different systems of traditional medicine, and the philosophy and practices of each are influenced by the prevailing conditions, environment, and geographic area within which it first evolved (WHO 2005), however, a common philosophy is a holistic approach to life, equilibrium of the mind, body, and the environment, and an emphasis on health rather than on disease. Generally, the focus is on the overall condition of the individual, rather than on the particular ailment or disease from which the patient is suffering, and the use of herbs is a core part of all systems of traditional medicine (Engebretson 2002; Conboy et al. 2007; Rishton 2008; Schmidt et al. 2008). Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an important example of how ancient and accumulated knowledge is applied in a holistic approach in present day health care. TCM has a history of more than 3000 years (Xutian, Zhang, and Louise 2009). The book The Devine Farmer’s Classic of Herbalism was compiled about 2000 years ago in China and is the oldest known herbal text in the world, though the accumulated and methodically collected information on herbs has been developed into various herbal pharmacopoeias and many monographs on individual herbs exist. Diagnosis and treatment are based on a holistic view of the patient and the patient’s symptoms, expressed in terms of the balance of yin and yang. Yin represents the earth, cold, and femininity, whereas yang represents the sky, heat, and masculinity. The actions of yin and yang influence the interactions of the five elements composing the universe: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth.

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