Unlike Western medicine, which has a tendency to act like mallet trying to kill an ang and which is typically taken continuously for set periods of time, Chinese herbal medicine is very specific. As such treatment changes as the body improves or changes, and herbal formulae are often custom mixed. There is little point in treating fire poison when you are 'only' suffering from damp heat, despite the former being a 'worse' condition.
Because of this my acupuncurist and I have created an understanding of the different cycles and stages my lungs go through. Our ideas are constantly evolving but the cycle looks something like this:
o Cold Phlegm \
| \ o Asthma effects
o Phlegm Heat o Damp Heat
0 Fire Poison
Fire poison is generally the first stages of an infection and beyond and is the only stage truly treatable by strong antibiotics (normally given intraveneously - IVs). However it is possible for herbs to stop an infection progressing that far. Phlegm dispersers tackle build-ups of cold phlegm. Herbs that cool the lung help with phlegm heat and damp heat. "Asthma effects" are the label I stick onto lung tightening caused by reactions to various substances (such as pollen, dust and aspergillus); steroids and bronchodilaters are effective at reducing these effects and generally I ignore them unless they threaten to cause more serious problems. Why? Infection can lead to a downwards cycle; asthma effects by themselved do not.
On the rare - but increasingly common - occasions I am diagnosed with "spleen deficiency" I know that I have reached the top of the lung cycle, since it means that my acupuncturist can focus on areas outside the lungs. It should be pointed out that the Chinese "spleen" covers most of the abdomen not just the organ of the same name.
Tonics are herbs which strengthen a part of the body. Most of the formulae I take contain an element of lung tonic, to balance other properties of the formula. The balance dictates long-/short-term effects. I also take spleen tonics to strengthen my digestion, pancreas and liver. Since this is my second major problem with CF, it remains important but this avenue of treatment is underdeveloped due to the focus on the lungs.
Forms of herbs
I take or have taken herbs in a number of forms:
Crushed herbs held together with some substance. Not particularly powerful but very easy to take (at least for most CF patients!). I mainly use tablets from two companies, the cheap and the expensive. The difference in cost is dramatic, but the expensive ones are rigourously tested for safety and accuracy to a degree that the cheaper are not. Most people look to their wallet first but do be aware of the standards that are applied.
Made up by my acupuncturist using herbs dissolved in water/alcohol. Not as strong as freshly brewed herbs, tinctures are perfectly strong enough for my purposes and retain a greater flexibility of dose. The tincures are custom-mixed according to my (changing) needs and can be mixed with one another at time of drinking (in boiled water to remove the alcohol) for increased flexibility.
Still not as powerful as freshly-boiled herbs, this method puts a customised formula in a form that is easy to take when feeling ill. The herbs are mixed, crushed and put into familiar-looking capsules by a third party.
Dried herbs are put into a brown bag - each bag contains two days worth. Boil the herbs, drain into jut, boil the herbs and drain again into jug. Then drink. The most powerful way of taking herbs, the process is very tiring and almost impossible if you are ill - the very time you need herbs at this strength. The dried herbs also take up a lot of space. Consequently I have largely moved to tinctures and powder.