Syndicat Professionnel des Praticiens et Praticiennes en  
du Québec 


The practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a system of medicine at least 23 centuries old that aims to prevent or cure disease by maintaining or restoring the yin-yang balance. China has one of the oldest medical systems in the world. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies date back at least 2,200 years, although the earliest known written record of Chinese medicine is the Huangdi neijing (the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic), dating from the 3rd century BC. This opus provided the theoretical concepts of TCM that remain the basis of its practice today. In essence, TCM practitioners seek to re-establish a dynamic balance between two complementary forces, yin (passive) and yang (active), which permeate both the human body and the universe as a whole. According to TCM, a person is healthy when there is harmony between these two forces; illness, on the other hand, results from a disruption in the balance of yin and yang.

A visit to a traditional Chinese pharmacy is like visiting a small natural history museum. The hundreds of drawers, display cabinets and jars of a typical pharmacy contain an enormous variety of dried plants and animals. In 1578, Li Shizhen published his famous Bencao gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica), listing 1892 medicines and some 11,000 official prescriptions for specific diseases.


To restore harmony, the practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine can use one of many traditional remedies. The patient may be treated with acupuncture or acupressure, moxibustion (moxa treatment) or cupping (hot glass cups are placed on the patient to draw blood to the skin). The TCM practitioner may prescribe an infusion prepared with one (or a combination) of the thousands of medicinal plants or dried animal parts (e.g. snakes, scorpions, insects, deer antlers) in the Chinese pharmaceutical arsenal.

A TCM practitioner uses smell, hearing, voice vibrations, touch and pulse to discover the source of an imbalance, the organ to which it is linked and the meridians involved. In addition, the practitioner generally uses what are known as the five agents or five phases (wuxing). By observing natural law in action, ancient healers recognized five basic elements in the world – wood (mu), fire (huo), earth (tu), metal (jin) and water (shui) – and discovered that these elements have a myriad of correspondences, both visible and invisible. This framework helps qualified TCM practitioners to identify unbalanced relationships. For example, a key correspondence is linked to the time of day. If a person still has a headache at 4 p.m., this means that the bladder qi is out of balance, as the bladder (of the TCM kidney/bladder organ pair) is responsible for maintaining the body’s functions at that time. Using the Five Elements theory, the Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner can create a healing plan that may contain elements such as acupuncture or acupressure, herbs, lifestyle changes and healing foods. It may also include Chinese psychology, which shows how the energy of unbalanced emotions can affect the proper functioning of organs.


TCM uses herbs and herbal formulas to enhance organ function and promote health. Understanding the essence of different plant components enables the TCM practitioner to create a healing effect that goes beyond the chemical composition and physical properties of plants. The TCM practitioner selects the herbal formula whose essence, or characteristic energetic vibration, correctly stimulates or adjusts the body’s energetic vibration.

Chinese herbal formulas, some of which have been in use for over 2,200 years, are made up of ingredients chosen to work in combination with one another. In Western medicine, drugs are usually prescribed individually for a specific effect. In classical TCM herbal formulas, each herb has a different purpose or role in helping the body achieve harmony. For a plant to be included in the Chinese apothecary, each of its parts had to be identified for a different healing purpose. TCM considers the healing properties of foods in the same way. Different foods carry different energies that can go directly to specific organs to help them heal.