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Chinese Herbology History

Chinese herbology has ancient roots. Archeological evidence from ancient tombs show Chinese people used herbs 5000 years ago and the earliest surviving written record dates from the first century of the Common Era (CE).

Chinese herbology has the oldest continuous written history of any medical system on Earth. The “Shen Nong Ben Cao” (the Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica) was the first known Chinese herbal encyclopedia, dating from about 2700 BC, listed 365 medicinal plants and their. The original text did not survive but the information was compiled around 220 CE. Later physicians further organized and complied it into the text that is still the canon of classical herbology. In the Ming Dynasty, Li Shi Zhen (1518-1593 CE) traveled extensively and compiled mountains of herbal knowledge into the Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica) detailing over 1,800 medicinal substances.

The “Shang Han Za Bing Lun” (Treatise on Cold Diseases) was written by Zhang Zongjing (150-219 CE) at the end of the Han Dynasty during a cholera epidemic around in northern China. It is the first text in human history to systematically chart the progression of healing with prescribed herbal formulas, syndrome differentiation and the use of pulse diagnosis. Because it was written during a time of prolonged warfare during a period known as the Three Kingdoms, it was nearly lost soon after it was published.Wang Shuhe lived during the Jin dynasty (265-316 CE) and dedicated many years to the recovery of the Shang Han Za Bing Lun. He recompiled and organized the original text in a logical order to further the understanding of the science within the text. About twenty percent of Chinese herbal prescriptions used today are based from these classics; which utilize pulse diagnosis and pattern differentiation to determine the correct herbal formulation and associated acupuncture treatment. Additionally, Wang Shuhe compiled the “Mai Jing” (the Pulse Classic) and was an expert in dietary therapy.

Formulas are prescribed in a variety of ways: tea, pills, liquid extract, powdered granules, and external plasters. The traditional form is a tea brewed by decoction: boiling and reducing herbs in water to extract the medicinal components.

About 1800 herbs in the Chinese pharmacopoeia have been carefully studied and categorized, with about 500 used commonly. Classified by temperature, taste, function, dynamic direction, and organ/meridian relationship, herbs are chosen according to a hierarchy to determine the primary, secondary, tertiary functions of the herbal brew. In creating herbal formulas, the practitioner tailors each treatment to a person’s individual conditions. Thus treatment evolves as the patient’s health does.

Traditional Chinese herbal formulation is a science, skill, and art.

Modern History of Traditional Chinese Herbs

The first modern Chinese traditional medicine hospital opened in the 1950s. Since then, Chinese scholars have used modern scientific research methods to study and document their ancient healing arts.

Chinese herbal medicine continues to develop. Modern physicians rely on Chinese herbs to treat an array of clinical conditions ranging from headaches, allergies, colds and flu, digestive disorders, gynecological and dermatological conditions, trauma, as well as chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s, hepatitis, cancer, HIV, and AIDS. Whereas conventional medicine uses drug therapy to treat pain and disease, Chinese medicine employs classical and modern herbal formulas to address both internal and external health conditions.