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Chinese Herbal Formulas and Applications

Chinese Herbal Formulas and Applications by John K. Chen and Tina T. Chen. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, Inc; 2009. Hardcover, 1622 pages. ISBN–13: 978-0-9740635-7-7. $129.95.

Quality textbook/reference books on traditional Chinese medical herbs have been rare in the West. Chinese Herbal Formulas and Applications sets a standard far above any past books in the English language on this subject. It includes many concepts not found within other books and provides the serious student of Chinese Herbology with material to further increase his or her knowledge. Lead author John Chen is both a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Doctor of Pharmacology, and he is supported by a long list of co-authors who are highly trained in Oriental Medicine, exceptional translators, and numerous contributors. The book contains over 1,600 pages of text, covering 664 formulas (not including modifications). It is divided into 3 main parts: Part I: Introductory information; Part 2: 22 chapters of herbal formulas; and Part 3: 11 appendices, bibliographical information, a glossary, and an index.

This book concerns the historical and clinical effects of Chinese herbal formulas and is a brilliant follow-up to the authors’ first book, Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, which is a reference of the actions of individual herbs. These 2 books work well together as a set. The text of Chinese Herbal Formulas and Applications is well referenced and cross-referenced to traditional and modern medical literature commonly understood to be standards in the professions of both Western and Eastern medicine. Formula names are identified in both traditional and simplified forms along with their Chinese pinyin names. The original source texts for each formula are identified to allow further research.

Traditional formulas are discussed in a traditional sense with a modern awareness and sensitivity to current cultural issues such as the use of endangered species, heavy metals, illegal substances, drug interactions in the context of modern pharmacology, and awareness of current restrictions to obtaining some herbs. The authors and contributing editors blend together historical wisdom with modern circumstance and awareness, which allows for a more informed and nuanced application of any given formula. There is enough information about any of the discussed formulas to make this a manual for immediate clinical application. The text offers an exceptional explanation of each formula’s proper use by both traditional Chinese and Western medical diagnosis and treatment strategies. Each formula has proper precautions and contraindications listed, if there are any, along with research relevant to that formula from all parts of the world.

Of particular value to the modern practitioner is the exceptional information provided regarding potential interactions with Western drugs or other traditional formulas. John Chen’s background as a researcher and educator in the area of pharmacology, both herbal and pharmaceutical, provides a special understanding from both Western and Eastern perspectives. All of this information is well documented and referenced to provide resources for the clinician, researcher, student, or educator to find a deeper body of knowledge if they wish to pursue it.

The text begins with explanations of the history and methodology of traditional Chinese herbal formulas. This provides the Western student an entry-level background and a view into the vastness of the historical legacy that is Chinese herbal medicine. The first section of the book also discusses dosage, preparation, and administrations for the traditional use of the decoctions.

The body of the text focuses on the formulas themselves, separated into easy-to-use categories based on traditional medical differential diagnosis and treatment terms. Under each disease treatment category are the formulas that could be used to treat that category. For each formula, the book provides the various names of the formula, its composition, dosage used, traditional therapeutic actions of the formula, and the Western clinical applications. The book further includes information on modifications to the formulas that could be used for any variation of symptoms. Any cautions or contraindications are clearly labeled. What makes this text so special is the addition of data on the pharmacological effects, the clinical studies, the research, and the herb-drug interactions and toxicology. Finally, each formula ends with the authors’ comments, providing additional clinical and historical insight.

The appendices are of special interest. Included is one appendix cross-referencing herbal formulas to Chinese medicine diagnosis and another cross-referencing herbal formulas to Western medicine diagnosis. The appendices, as well as the extensive bibliographies, also allow the scholar or researcher to go further in referencing names of single herbs, formula names, historical texts, and even famous traditional Chinese doctors.

This book brings Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) into the world of scholars and enhances the effectiveness of practitioners of Chinese medicine. It is an excellent book; I would recommend this text to any practitioner seeking to provide the best care and outcome for his or her patients. I would further recommend this book for any student, teacher, or researcher of TCM, as well as any Western medical practitioner, researcher, teacher, or student who seeks a true sense of the depth of knowledge that comes from the thousands of years of clinical use of traditional Chinese medical herbal formulation. This text provides a treasure to society through furthering the knowledge-base of TCM.

—Stuart Watts, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Placitas, NM