TCM 101: What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

As you know, we believe that there’s a secret to harnessing your energy and fighting fatigue day and night. And, that secret is rooted in the ancient herbal wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine, combined with high-tech formulations and modern convenience formulated in the spirit of Silicon Valley innovation. 

We often hear from customers who love our products but have questions about TCM. We’re always happy to talk about the ancient wisdom that inspires us and guides our formulation and philosophy. Keep reading for answers to the all-important question “What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?” and more. 

Note: These answers are aimed at beginners; TCM is a practice that is ancient and nuanced. TCM doctors receive years of training and are certified, licensed and highly educated. If you are interested in deepening your connection to TCM or using one of these practices to support your health and well-being, reach out to a qualified TCM practitioner near you. 

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

The revered and trusted practice we know as Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM for short) developed in China about 2,500 years ago, but the roots date back even farther. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, your body is considered to be a scaled-down version of the universe, influenced by five elements (fire, earth, wood, metal and water) and environmental factors (wind, cold, damp, dry and heat). 

The goal is to maintain or restore balance (otherwise known as harmony, equilibrium or homeostasis). This happens by balancing yin and yang, two opposing forces. Yin focuses on stillness and rest, while yang focuses on action and movement. 

When examining the body and mind, TCM also considers qualities like colors, flavors, the seasons and certain emotions. 

TCM divides the body into organs and systems that both correspond to physiological organs and systems as well as energetic ones. It also pays close attention to “vitality” or life force energy, known as Qi or chi, which flows through the body via channels that are referred to as “meridians.” Different activities, foods, experiences and life circumstances can boost or deplete qi. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine looks at the body holistically. While that word sometimes gets misused, it really means “whole.” TCM views the body as a whole entity – it is its own whole universe!  So, TCM doesn’t parse up the body and look at one organ at a time. It sees everything as connected, including the body, mind and spirit.

What is NuTraditions’ connection to TCM?

NuTraditions combines our founder’s grandmother’s Traditional Chinese Medicine practices with high-tech formulations and modern convenience to help you navigate today’s hectic world.

This brand is created in homage to Dr. Bing Yin Lee. She was a vision of elegance, wisdom, and strength. Most importantly, she received her medical degree in 1935 from the Chinese Medical Institute of Shanghai. That’s truly remarkable since women typically didn’t get to practice medicine or work outside the home at all back then. She was a trendsetter, an inspiration to and healer of many. In 1984, she became one of the first licensed acupuncturists in the state of California. Learn more about Dr. Lee.

What other practices are part of TCM?

Herbalism is a big part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, but it also includes: 

  • Acupuncture: a practice that uses thin, solid needles to stimulate different areas of the body (it doesn’t hurt and can feel relaxing!)
  • Acupressure: this practice, often used with acupuncture, applies pressure to different areas of the body using a practitioner’s body or special devices (like the jade tools that you see on Instagram for gua sha facial massage) 
  • Dietary support: food is used to support and balance different aspects of the body; foods are chosen based on their properties as much as their flavors and nutrients  
  • Cupping: this practice uses suction to increase circulation and move energy; it leaves round red spots, usually on the back

Many other mind and body practices are a part of TCM.

Which herbs are used in TCM?

Over the centuries, hundreds of herbs have been used in TCM, and 50 of them are considered fundamental. Some of the herbs commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine are also used in the West – you might even have some in your kitchen pantry or bathroom cabinet (like mint, cardamom or ginger).

Some common ones are: 

  • Ren Shen (Asian Ginseng)
  • Huang Qi (Astragalus)
  • Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra) 
  • Gan Cao (Licorice Root)
  • Ling Zhi (Reishi Mushroom)
  • Chen Pi (Tangerine Peel)
  • Jiang Huang (Turmeric)

Other ones you might recognize? The six used in our Hello Dreams™ sleep strips with Melatonin and Calm Down™ herbal blend

  • Suan Zao Ren (Jujube Seed)
  • Fu Ling (Poria Fungus/Mushroom)
  • Gan Cao (Licorice Root)
  • Chuan Xiong (Szechuan Lovage Rhizome)
  • Zhi Mu (Anemarrhena)
  • Luo Han Guo (Monkfruit)

How can I ensure the TCM products I’m using are safe?

Whether you’re buying a TCM product or another type of herbal supplement, you want to ensure you’re getting the best quality and potency. Look for products that share details about where the herbs are sourced and how they’re grown. 

For example, our organic, fair-trade, single-origin Arabica coffee is meticulously grown on small-scale farms in Colombia and Guatemala – and we share our sourcing story on our Good Morning Sunshine™ coffee + adaptogens product page. 

Our USDA Certified Organic red ginseng is grown on land we control and monitor. We use a managed forest plan and “virgin” soil, where ginseng has never been grown before. We create a virtuous cycle that nourishes the soil and helps reforest the hillsides in China’s beautiful Changbai Mountains, where future crops of our ginseng can continue to flourish.

We always perform a multitude of tests to ensure the herbs in our products are as intended, including testing for more than 200 unwanted pesticides and various methods of identity verification.

How can I learn more about integrating TCM into my wellness routine?

The easiest way to start is by bookending your day with Good Morning Sunshine™ coffee + adaptogens and Hello Dreams™ sleep strips. With one pod, wake up to a better morning, fight fatigue with more than just caffeine (thanks to organic red ginseng extract), and experience sustained energy.* 

Then, before bed, get ready to head off to dreamland with these downright dreamy sleep strips. Keep them on your nightstand and make them part of your P.M. routine! Both products are made with the principles of TCM in mind – and they’re designed to work for your busy modern life. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.