One of the biggest misconceptions and misuses of herbal medicines is trying to match up an herb to treat a symptom. Many people have heard that gingko treats poor memory or that ginseng gives energy. And so this one-to-one correlation creeps into the westerners mind about trying to find the right herbs for each of their symptoms. In fact, this is one of the downfalls of western pharmaceuticals. We take one medicine for our heartburn and that causes another symptom so we take another med for that, but that causes additional symptoms so we take even more medications.

But one has to look beyond the symptomatic relief if one wants any understanding of the mechanisms behind how the herbs work. No herb will work for everyone with a given symptom. The reason is that people’s symptoms while they may appear similar (poor memory, low energy) can be caused by a multitude of imbalances. For example, poor memory can be caused by poor cerebral circulation or by phlegm misting the orifices or by blood deficiency or by qi deficiency, etc., etc. And low energy can be caused qi and/or blood deficiency, qi depression/stagnation, etc., etc.

So, if one has poor memory from blood deficiency and they take gingko which enhances blood circulation in the head, they will receive no benefit. That doesn’t mean that gingko doesn’t effectively treat poor memory. It just means that it was used improperly in the wrong individual because it does not treat symptoms. It has a particular dynamic or function that it performs once ingested. Without understanding that dynamic or function, there can be no success using this herb other than sheer hit or miss.

Same goes for ginseng and every other herb that is touted in the media for treating particular symptoms. Ginger for nausea. But what if the nausea is caused by Stomach heat? Ginger is very hot and will probably cause vomiting.

So, understanding the mechanism behind an herb’s actions and a proper diagnoses of the exact causes of an imbalance are what is required to use herbal medicines successfully.