Kennington Osteopaths & Physiotherapy, 2-4 Cleaver St, Oval, London SE11 4DP

Are Chinese herbs the old functional food?

Bartosz Gorecki MD, L.Ac.

Are Chinese herbs the old functional food?

Bullet-proof coffee, maca bread and paleo browne are what you need on your shopping list when you think of functional food. Do not forget to add yoghurt stuffed with probiotics and cereal bar rich in fibre, and you would not need to worry what to eat. For the rest of your life.


Not exactly.

Of course, it is better to nourish your body with good food than stuff it with the junk food. It is better to give your body the feed which your organism might use as a fuel rather than waste product.

The claim is your body-engine will go much further and for longer.

But that’s not always the case.

Traditional chinese herbal medicine selection with herb ingredients and old scales.

Chinese herbs have been known for their effect on human body for more than 2000 years

Chinese medicine and functional food

You will find the concept of functional food in the ancient methods of healing. Chinese medicine which is based around the concept of herbs and the effect they have on the body, can easily fall into that category. And quite rightly so.

Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is the most popular form of Chinese medicine, is based around material aspects of herbs. It means:

If our body lacks something, we need to replenish it with the right substances – tonics. Tonics are substances your body needs. And the problem is solved.

That’s what the modern movement calls functional food. Only by adding nutrients to your body, we help it function better.

This concept, however, so prevailing in modern Chinese medicine, is only a part of the understanding how the Chinese herbs work. And, by analogy, shows the limits of functional food.

Is that so?

Classical Chinese Medicine approach towards herbs

In Classical Chinese Medicine, practitioners paid more attention to what the herbs actually do to our body. Hence, the focus was more on actionable rather that material aspect of herbs.

To give you a picture:

You might use the best gasoline for your car, but if the engine is worn off, you won’t go very far.

We can draw similar analogy with the functional food. You might eat the best bio dynamic food delivered at your doormat with care, but if you’re stressed, flooded with emotions or have severe condition, it won’t help much.

The clue is to give that boost your body needs and enable body’s own functions.

Tailored to your needs

Still it is much better to eat that kind of food than treating yourself with hamburger, milkshake and chips. Day by day.

The beauty of Chinese medicine is it allows you to get the best treatment, suited to your needs.

Its goal is to give you the treatment based not only on the biochemistry of the herb (material aspect), but most importantly on what the herb actually does to your body and how it enables its own functions.

And that might be something entirely different than just only adding things.