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The Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica: Crude and Prepared.
by KunYing Yen and Nigel Wiseman (Trans.). 1992. SMC Publishing, Inc. Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China. Color photos. 383 pp. $79.95. ISBN 957-638-076-6. Available from ABC Book Store, #B158.

As herbs become more popular in the United States and other pans of the West, consumers and health practitioners are becoming increasingly interested in Chinese herbs. The Chinese have developed an exceedingly sophisticated use of over 5,000 natural products based on thousands of years of traditional Chinese medicine. However, most books dealing with Chinese herbs provide little ability for the reader to have the benefits of the visual appearance of the herbs when used in their medical or drug form. That is, most volumes provide few graphics except perhaps a few, often old, line drawings, some of which may be incomplete and botanically inaccurate.

Some of the chief benefits of this book, aside from the authoritative information, are the color photographs on each page corresponding to each monograph for the herb being described. Unlike other works in which the actual plant is pictured, this book shows the plant part in its crude and/or processed form the same way that a Chinese pharmacist, practitioner, or herbal manufacturer would view the product prior to preparing in a tea or manufacturing in an herbal product or drug form.

The book is divided into 13 sections, based on the type of material corresponding to a particular plant part. For example, the first section deals with bark, the second with stems and wood, the third with roots, the fourth with rhizomes, then leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, herbs, resins and balsams. The book also has brief monographs on animal parts, minerals, and fungi. Each plant part is listed by its pharmacoepial name, with Chinese characters, pinyin names, English names, and Japanese names (this latter addition being quite useful for those interested in the increasingly popular Kampo medicine, the traditional medicine of Japan which relies primarily on Chinese materia medica). The brief monograph also includes a description of the botanical characteristics of the herbal material (i.e., short chunks 1 centimeter long, 0.5 millimeters thick, etc.); herb is sourced; where there is information on the qualitative aspects of the herb; the production areas for commercial sources ; properties and actions according to traditional Chinese medicine; indications for appropriate medicinal use, including dosages and contraindications; and additional remarks on each plant (e.g., chemical characteristics, etc.).

The book also contains a number of appendixes which provide excellent and authoritative information for practitioners and non-practitioners alike. The first appendix deals with "Drug Function Comparisons" and lists 51 different actions and then shows in a chart format which herbs produce hwich action. The actions are explained according to traditional Chinese medicine, e.g. "blood-nourishing agent," "interior-warning agents," "liver-calming and wind-extinguishing agents," and so on. This chart lists not only the plant name, but also the plant functions, indications, contraindications, and daily dosage for quick reference.

Appendix II deals with methods of drug processing, including cutting, eating, additives like ginger, honey, vinegar, wine, etc.; stir-frying, roasting, and so on.

Appendix III deals with 356 classic herb combinations used in traditional Chinese medicine listing the actual herbal ingredient and the amount in grams to produce the formula. Dosages for each formula and the indications are included.

Appendix IV is a welcome and well-written glossary of Chinese medical terms with particular value to those not extensively trained in this area.

Finally, there are several indexes of Chinese names written in Chinese characters as well as an index of English, Latin, Pinyin, and Japanese names, all cross-referenced to a specific plant by number, referred to the monographs in the text.

This book is not only valuable for the experienced practitioner of Oriental medicine, including the growing number of acupuncturists in the U.S., but to people in the herb industry as well. As such, it promises to become one of the more respected and widely referred to reference books in this fascinating subject area.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Mark Blumenthal