About classical Chinese Herbal Medicine: Kampo and Jing Fang

Chinese herbs – individualised health support that works in harmony with the body

Chinese herbs work in total harmony with the wisdom of the body. A Chinese formulae is like a musical piece -a melody that resonates within the body. The body’s own natural healing processes are supported by the music that is played. It isn’t one sharp note, hammered away, to address a symptom and supress it. It also isn’t the same treatment for every person with a disease or illness – because people are different. Chinese herbal treatment is individualised.

The beauty of Chinese herbs is that the patient responds positively to a harmonious formula that benefits -any side effects are minimised by the synergistic actions of the constituent ingredients of a formula, which do not stress the body but support it to heal. The herbs help the body to do what needs to be done. In acute illness this might mean eliminating toxins that have accumulated as the body has fought the illness and become overwhelmed. In a chronic condition this might mean nourishing herbs that are known to build strength, support fluid metabolism and protect. One of the first things I will consider is whether you are kyo or jitsu – deficient or excess. Often there is a mixture of excess and deficiency issues that make treatment more complex because the practitioner must decide what to prioritise and emphasise.

Illnesses may be different in the 21st Century – but our bodies have not really changed in the past 2000 years and we still respond the same way to stress, overwhelm and pathogens. Using formulae that are ‘tried and tested’ over eighteen hundred years with knowledge gained about their use, can bring reassurance and a sense of safety. What you are taking is nothing new. What is new are the techniques to produce high quality herbal formula in a convenient form – through decocting the herbs and then freeze drying processes, similar to making coffee granules.

Different traditions and approaches – Kampo and Jing Fang

Chinese herbs have been used for several millennia and there are many systems used today. I use two approaches: Kampo and Jing Fang, which are both classical traditions that stem from the Shan Han Lun. The Shan Han Lun is a classic text written about eighteen hundred years ago after an epidemic swept through China killing many people – including many family members of it’s author Zhang Zhong Jing. Isolationist policies in Japan that continued for 300 years in the Tokugawa Era meant that Chinese medicine in Japan is different from TCM, which is what is mainly practiced in China today – but there are similarities and a common understanding. One of the main differences is that Kampo formulae are generally not modified. Its a case of finding the formula to match with the patients’ condition.

 

One of Japan’s most famous practitioners is Dr Keisetsu Otsuka. His photograph is shown below. Initially a sceptic about Chinese herbs, after the second world war, Dr Otsuka and other Western trained physicians began to embrace Kampo, appreciating its therapeutic value. Their perseverance and dedication meant Kampo was prevented from oblivion. Its herbal formula are now officially recognised by the Japanese ministry of health and they are widely used in Japan today and very much part of modern Japanese culture.

I completed my Kampo medicine training in 1996 through an apprenticeship course with Gretchen de Soriano, who trained herself at the renowned Kitasato Instistute in Tokyo. This gave me a wonderful and invaluable opportunity to see many different patients in the student clinic and really understand how the herbs worked in practice.

More recently another tradition of Chinese herbal medicine has found its way to the West. This is known as Jing Fang, which literally translates as Jing- ‘Classical’ ‘Fang – Herbal Formula’. Thanks to the work of amazing teachers like Suzanne Robidoux who teaches internationally, and Frances Turner who teaches in the UK, the work of Dr Feng Shi lun and Dr Hu Xi shu is now made accessible to Westerners like me. I was drawn to Jing Fang, because like Kampo, it is a classical tradition based on the Shan Han Lun. Also like Kampo it is about using diagnostic clinical skills to identify the most appropriate classical formula for the patients condition. Where it differs from Kampo is that formula are often combined with each other and may be modified further. However, the fundamental principles are the same – and both traditions are about identifying imbalances according to the Six Divisions of the Shan Han Lun.

I trained in Jing Fang with Frances Turner over the past two years, and I have found it an incredibly helpful approach, which builds on my Kampo knowledge and complements it through coming from a slightly different perspective.

Supporting you with Chinese herbs

I believe Chinese herbs can help many people and they are best used alongside Western medicine in a ‘best of both worlds’ approach. The opportunities for learning through East and West coming together are immense and I hope one day that there is much more collaboration between conventional medicine physicians and physicians who use traditional classical approaches like TCM, Kampo and Jing Fang.

Before the Covid pandemic I offered herbal medicine in person only, but during the pandemic I began to use online platforms to connect with patients, to make a diagnosis and prescribe. This means I have been able to help patients who I would never be able to see in person because they live so far away. Meeting with me online, I will take a medical history, give in depth consideration your signs and symptoms and will ask if you can send me a picture of your tongue! Tongue diagnosis is an important part of Chinese herbal medicine diagnosis.  I am working with patients in the UK and throughout Europe with high quality herbal products sent out by accredited herbal pharmacies. The herbs I use in the UK are manufactured by SunTen, a world leader and a pioneering company in herbal medicine since 1946.

I look forward to meeting you and doing my best to help. Please do get in touch if you have any questions or would like to know if Chinese herbs might be able to help you.