The unbroken tradition of Chinese herbalism has retained its unique, flexible diagnostic and energetic knowledge base, which allows the practitioner to prescribe formulas that address the individual as a whole rather than merely attacking the disease.
In contrast, much of the knowledge regarding the diagnostics and energetics of Western herbalism has been lost over time. The result is many Western herbalists rely upon an allopathic symptom-driven model of treatment.
Take for example two people presenting with the same Western diagnosis of hepatitis. Many Western herbalists would treat these two individuals with the same formula or single–herb extract. One of them might do well, and the other poorly. Why? For the same reason so many people suffer adverse side effects form allopathic pharmaceuticals: because the treatment was tailored to the disease rather than the individual.
Whereas the Western herbalist would tend to cleanse and purge the liver in any patient presenting with hepatitis, the Chinese herbalist has at her disposal the diagnostic tools to distinguish between the “root” (the constitutional aspect) and the “branch” (the manifestation, or symptoms) of the illness. This means the hepatitis patient might be prescribed herbs that either strongly cleanse the liver, or instead, gently cleanse the liver while supporting other organs systems. The differentiation in treatment style is based on an understanding of the interplay between the patient’s constitution and the illness. This results in a more effective treatment with fewer side effects.