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|Back in the
1980s, the drugs (primarily herbs) used in Chinese medicine were already estimated to
reach 6,000 (Leung, 1984). The same source also said that countless numbers of remedies
have been prepared from a small fraction of these drugs, of which most have been
time-tested again and again with human subjects (i.e., not with mice or rats) to be safe.
In most cases, Chinese herbs are used to treat the whole body with a focus on one or more of the individual body organs (i.e., the heart, spleen, kidney, lung, blood, etc.), but based primarily on some holistic concepts. They are also used to treat cancer and allergy. Many Chinese herbs lack the sweet taste. Those used noticeably as medicinal drugs typically have an offending smell and taste quite bitter. This is indeed one of their ugly aspects, especially for a patient who is presumably already too sick to tolerate any discomfort.
Dr. Albert Leung (1984) provided a good example of how herbal formulas can be used to mitigate the toxic effects of some Chinese herbs that have high toxic potency. Aconite and nux vomica are extremely poisonous plants, in that they contain respectively the deadly alkaloids aconitine and strychnine. However, these drugs are still commonly used in China, though with extreme care. As Dr. Leung pointed out, “To make them less toxic, other herbs are almost always prescribed along with them; frequently, as an added safety measure, hours are spent preparing the decoctions.”