Mon 7 May 2012
If you’re like me, you might be a little sceptical of alternative medicine. I tend to put my faith in laboratory tests and coats, not herbs and life forces. But I must admit that Chinese herbal medicine intrigues me. I think it’s the emphasis within the practice on prevention rather than cure, and the idea that health goes well beyond the mere absence of disease. The practice also has a long and fascinating history, not just in China, but throughout the world.
Chinese herbal medicine is based on the idea that we all have a life force called Qi (pronounced ‘chee’), made up of two opposing energies called Yin and Yang. According to practitioners of Chinese herbalism, Qi travels around the body via invisible meridian channels but can become depleted or blocked, causing a variety of illnesses. Herbalists seek to cure these illnesses by restoring balance to the Yin and Yang and overall harmony to the Qi. Then you feel Zen… wait, scratch that, I’m mixing methodologies.
While there seems to be some debate about the exact date and origins of this ancient tradition, there is no disputing its remarkable longevity. The earliest mentions of Chinese herbal remedies appeared thousands of years ago, and the tradition has exerted a great influence over the development of medicinal theory and practice in the East. In recent centuries, Chinese herbalism has extended its influence to Western countries like Australia.
In our recently published 31st edition, we spoke with the exuberant chef and television personality, Kylie Kwong. She evoked her great-grandfather and namesake, Kwong Sue Duk, as a great source of inspiration. A reputable herbalist and medicine man, Kwong Sue Duk moved to Australia in 1875 to make his fortune and establish his enormous family (four wives, 22 children, and a tally of well over 800 descendants… cue eye boggling).
Kwong Sue Duk was among the very earliest practitioners of Chinese herbal medicine in Australia – a field which has grown considerably in popularity since its introduction in the mid-nineteenth century. Once considered quite a niche market, herbalism has gained momentum in recent decades with increased migration from China, support from various multiculturalism policies, and wider acceptance of numerous forms of alternative medicine, such as osteopathy and homeopathy.
Since the 1990s, the Australian government has accredited Traditional Chinese Medicine degrees at a number of universities throughout the country. Kylie Kwong herself studied a degree in natural therapies, briefly following in her great-grandfather’s footsteps, before falling out of step and succumbing to the allure of cooking.
The popularity boom of Chinese herbalism slowed after the Pan Pharmaceuticals crisis in 2003, but there is no doubt that this alternative approach to wellbeing still holds a great appeal to many Australians. With the fast-paced lifestyles we lead, with one foot in consumer-driven materialism and the other in some half-real computer simulation, its no wonder natural remedies are so sought after.
While I’m not sure Qi exists, or whether I have a Yin that requires balancing with a Yang, the inner calm and wellbeing that Chinese herbalism promises is something that I’m sure we could all use a lot more of in our lives.