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Xie’s Chinese Veterinary Herbology

Xie’s Chinese Veterinary Herbology by Huisheng Xie and Vanessa Preast (eds.); illustrated by Barbara Jean Beckford. Singapore: Wiley-Blackwell; 2010. Hardcover; 632 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8138-0369-2. $136.99.

As one of the most prolific teachers in the world of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), Dr. Huisheng Xie has produced the first English language textbook of herbal medicine devoted solely to TCVM. This book is written as a text and reference for veterinarians who are studying or are already trained in the practice of TCVM. It is a valuable complement to his text on veterinary acupuncture, Xie’s Veterinary Acupuncture (Blackwell, 2007). Contributing authors are mostly veterinarians but also include several MDs and OMDs; their origins range from the United States to Australia, China, and Korea.

The preface to the book states that it is intended to serve as a quick reference for practicing veterinarians and as a textbook for continuing education courses in TCVM. It does a very good job of meeting these goals, and as such is used by Dr. Xie’s Chi Institute as a primary textbook for courses in TCVM. While there are many herbal reference texts for the TCM practitioner who treats human patients, the irrefutable “bibles” on the topic are the 2 Bensky texts: Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica (Eastland Press, 2004) and Chinese Herbal Medicine: Formulas and Strategies (Eastland Press, 2009). For the serious TCM student, veterinarian or not, these 2 texts remain the highest English-language authorities. However, for the veterinary herbalist, Dr. Xie’s text deserves a place right next to them on the bookshelf and for many TCVM practitioners it will serve well as a single source.

A concise introductory chapter provides a general explanation of the principles of Chinese medicine and their applications in veterinary practice. General advice is provided on dosing and administration for small animals and equines. Lacking in this section is more species-specific information, such as dosing tips for cats and ruminants.

The bulk of the book is nicely organized into 3 sections. The first is a materia medica, which gives detailed information on individual herbs, grouped by their functionality. For example: herbs to dispel damp, herbs to clear heat, and herbs to tonify deficiency. At the beginning of each section there is an introduction to the pattern being addressed and the observable clinical signs with each of these patterns. Tables are interspersed among the individual herb monographs, which summarize the patterns and the herbs most appropriate for use. The layout is similar to the Bensky text, providing for each herb the original reference text, part used, name, energy/taste, channel-organ, actions, form and preparation, dosage, cautions and contraindications, and side effects. Bensky also provides major chemical constituents, alternate species, local variants, and adulterants. While this additional information would make this text more complete, it would be more than what the average veterinary practitioner needs to have at his/her disposal. Information on known drug interactions would be useful.

Individual herbs are listed under headings organized by the genus name, followed by the Pinyin name. The name of each herb is given in the pharmacopeial, botanical, common, and Wade-Giles form. In addition, an English translation of the Chinese name is provided. In the case of several herbs that are quite common in Western herbal medicine, the common name provided is not the one most commonly used. For instance: Prunella vulgaris (Lamiaceae) is listed simply as prunella and not as self-heal. Artemisia annua (Asteraceae) is listed as artemisia and not as sweet-annie, and Vitex agnus-castus (Lamiaceae) is listed as vitex seed and not as chaste berry. In addition, the index does not include the common names which have been given. If one were to search using the common names for dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae), violet (Viola sororia, Violaceae), or Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica, Caprifoliaceae) using the index, they  will not be found. Although the herbs are referenced in the text by these common names, they are indexed only under their genus and Pinyin names.

The materia medica chapters are graced with beautiful drawings by Barbara Beckford. These drawings are quite accurate and depict various parts of each plant including leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots. This is a great improvement over many Chinese herb texts which illustrate only the dried part used and not the entire plant. While photographs might be even more helpful, these drawings outshine those in Bensky’s Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Unfortunately, illustrations are provided for only one-third of the herbs in the book. Hopefully, future editions will contain even more of them.

The second section of the text is devoted to Chinese veterinary herbal formulas. While Western herbal practitioners often utilize single herbs, or create their own customized blend of herbs, Chinese herbal medicine most often utilizes specific formulas that have been passed down through the centuries. Each formula is designed to treat a specific pattern of disharmony. While TCVM herbal practitioners may make minor adjustments to the proportions of herbs used, for the most part the formulas are still made in the traditional ratios, and they are presented here in such a way.

Herbal formulas are organized by chapters that describe their function, such as formulas to expel wind, formulas to eliminate dampness, and formulas to tonify deficiency. Each chapter begins with a brief explanation of the pattern addressed, and then lists the formulas in a well-organized fashion according to individual actions. For each formula, there is a detailed translation of the Chinese name and often an interesting story explaining the origins or history of the formula. Each formula description includes a table that lists ingredients, their relative quantities, and their primary actions within the formula. Analyses of each formula are quite detailed and provide a thorough explanation of the role of each individual herb. Information describing relevant clinical and pharmacological studies is provided for many of the formulas as well.

The information that is perhaps most useful in daily practice is the inclusion of “Dr. Xie’s comments” for each formula, which refer to the specific veterinary uses of each formula. For example, in the case of the commonly used gentiana (containing gentian; Gentiana lutea, Gentianaceae; Long Dan Xie Gan Tang), Dr. Xie writes that it is “often used for the treatment of hepatitis, moist dermatitis, or otitis due to Liver Excess Heat in veterinary practice.”

The third section of the text is described in the preface as “detailed information on how to apply Chinese herbal medicine in veterinary practice and how to select an herbal formula based on the TCVM pattern diagnosis.” While it partially meets this description, details are lacking and many common conditions are not presented. It is the shortest section in the text and is the one that could most use development in future editions.

For example, a busy practitioner may wish to find a formula to treat diarrhea in the small animal. While several patterns can lead to diarrhea, a total of just 7 formulas are listed for diarrhea in the companion animal, yet there are many more formulas that could be listed here.

The author of this section also suggests specific products for each condition listed that can be purchased from a few of the many fine American producers of Chinese herbal formulas. Included most frequently are the products of the Jin Tang herb company, owned and operated by Dr. Xie. The selective reference to specific companies and products may be a turnoff to some veterinary herbalists, as this leaves an impression of favoritism and self-promotion that is usually not found in a textbook.

A bit of a self-serving purpose is also revealed in Appendix A, which chronicles the history of TCVM. Here, the Chi Institute (founded in 1998 and operated by Dr. Xie) is described as the leading school for TCVM continuing education programs, while the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS), founded in 1974, is given only brief mention. IVAS, in fact, has trained over 5,000 veterinarians worldwide, and has been offering continuing education in veterinary acupuncture and herbal medicine since 1975. Courses have been held annually in the United States, and also have been taught in Canada, Australia, South America, and Europe. Modern-day TCVM in Japan and Europe is not even mentioned.

Overall, this text fulfills its purpose and will serve many veterinarians as a valuable resource. It is a respectable achievement on the part of Dr. Xie and the other authors and is certain to be found useful by students as well as practitioners. While there is room for more information in future editions, this text provides a solid foundation as the first of its kind to be published in the United States and will become a much-referenced text for years to come.

—Elizabeth Hassinger, DVMCouncil of Elders, AHVMAWolf Rock Animal Health CenterExeter, RI