It is a common misconception that herbal medicines are always plant based materials. While it is true that most of the medicines that herbalists mix together originate from plants, many items do not. Historically any substance that provided a medicinal benefit was used. The issue was not what the material was but what affect it had on the body. Herbal medicines are medicine and often those medicines are composed of non food items. This is similar to modern pharmaceutical medicines which use chemicals and extracts from various animals plants and minerals to provide a medicinal function.
The following are some common mineral based items that are used in traditional Chinese Herbal medicine. These medicinals or "herbs" are rarely used alone, but are often mixed into herbal formulas because they provide medicinal function that plant based herbs do not.
Shi Gao/ Gypsum; Used internally for cases of high fever, particularly fever marked by profuse sweating. Used topically for skin burns and ulcerated sores. Also used for toothache with swollen and painful gums.
Mu Li/ Oyster shell; Used to calm emotions such as anxiety and restlessness, as well as decrease sweating that is related to anxiety. Also used in cases of painful burning in the stomach from excess acid.
Shi Ju Ming
Shi Ju Ming/ Abalone shell; Often used for dizziness and headache marked by feelings of heat rising up in the body and red eyes. Added to formulas for visual issues such as blurred vision, and redness in the eyes.
Zhen Zhu/ pearl; Calms mania. It is often used topically for healing skin. Often found in cosmetic skin cremes and formulas for acne. The pearls that are used are pearls that are not perfect enough to be used in jewelry. Sometimes the inside surface of the oyster shell is used as a substitute.
Hua Shi/ Talcum/ soapstone; Used internally to promote urination, particularly in cases where there is burning to the urine. Used topically as a powder for skin rashes, such as diaper rash, and to prevent chaffing of skin in damp conditions.
Long Gu/ fossilized bone/ "dragon bone"; Used to calm emotional issues such as anxiety and to promote sleep. Used topically on non-healing ulcerated sores.
Ku Fan/Ming Fan/ Alum; Used topically for various types of skin infections. Often used in formulas created as vaginal washes and sitz baths.