Home > Herbal > The Five Flavours of Herbal Medicines

The herbal medicines are grouped under five flavors, i.e., acridness, sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness, which exert different effects. Generally speaking, acridness serves to expel and to activate; sweetness, to invigorate, to regulate and to moderate; sourness, to astringe and to preserve; bitterness, to lower, to release and to dry; saltiness, to soften and to purge.

Every herbal medicine possesses a specific character and flavor of varying degrees. It is the combination of both that constitutes the overall action of individual medicine. Hence, the clinical application of herbal medicines, including the antineoplastic therapy, should be based on this conventional theory. The property and flavor of each herbal medicine are mentioned in this book as a reference for their selection in clinical practice.

However, the component of individual herbal medicines is rather complicated and its effect is usually multiple and not single. So, besides the antineoplastic effect, the other effects are also presented. And although the active antineoplastic ingredients have been isolated from some of the herbal medicines, these ingredients may exert effects other than antineoplastic. This multiple effect phenomenon is also observed in some of the western mono-component antineoplastic drugs. For example, cyclo-phosphamide can act on the various phases of proliferative cells causing degeneration of DNA, RNA, enzymes and protein and serves as a killer of tumor cells, and it is also an immunosuppresant and applied for autoimmune diseases, Corticosteroids can inhibit the lymphatic tissue and serves as an antineoplastic agent for some tumors, but it also exerts antiphlogistic, immunosuppressive, antishock and other effects, and is widely used in various diseases. Therefore, the indications of each herbal medicine presented in this site include the diseases other than neoplasms, so as to help browsers to have a more complete understanding of their effects.

Some of the pharmacologic effects of herbal medicines are also presented here. The information listed under this segment are mostly obtained from the published literatures of the experimental animal research, in vivo or in vitro, based on the principle of antineoplastic pharmacology. It has been found that the antineoplastic mechanism of herbal medicines is attributed to their actions chiefly on the proliferative phase of the tumor cells. Some of them inhibit the DNA synthesis, such as Fructus et Radix Camptothecae Acuminatae, Indigo Naturalis, Fructus Bruceae, Rhizoma Zedoariae, Radix Stephaniae Tetrandrae, etc., and some inhibit the synthesis of protein, such as Semen, Cortex, Ramulus et Folium Cephalotaxi Hainanensis, Mylabris, Radix Tylophorae Floribundae, etc. Only a few selectively act on the mitotic phase of tumor cells, such as Herba Catharanthi Rosei, Semen Coicis, etc.

Furthermore, some of the data are obtained from both animal experiment and clinical observation on the non-specific antineoplastic mechanism (chiefly the immunologic function), indicating that the enhancement of bodily immunologic function may be an important antineoplastic mechanism of herbal medicines. It has been proved that many herbal medicines can promote the phagocytosis of macrophages (e.g. Herba Hedyotis Diffusae, Herba Sarcandrae, Ganoderma Lucidum seu Japonicum, Poria, Radix Sophorae Flavescentis, etc.). Some can enhance the cellular immunity (e.g. Radix Trichosanthis, Herba Taraxaci, Bulbus Allii, etc.), and some can enhance the humoral immunity (e.g. Radix Stephaniae Tetrandrae, Radix Actinidiae Chinensis, etc.). Some can promote the activty of natural killer cells (e.g. Radix Ginseng) while some can induce the production of interferon (e.g. Radix Astragali, Radix Ginseng, Radix Actinidiae Chinensis, etc.).

In summary, the herbal medicines achieves their antineoplastic effect through various ways. Moreover, some medicine can bring on several actions, for example, they may directly inhibit the growth of tumor as well as indirectly exert an antineoplastic effect by enhancing the bodily immunologic function. Generally they elicit no significant adverse effect on the human body, and this is a strong point of herbal medicine for antineoplastic treatments. Nevertheless, research in this field is only preliminary and we need further in-depth studies to obtain conclusive results.

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