See herbalism for the non-Chinese tradition of herbology.
Chinese materia medica (simplified Chinese: 中药学; traditional Chinese: 中藥學; pinyin: Zhōngyào xué), is the common name of Chinese materia medica subject. It is the subject which researched knowledge include basic theory of Chinese materia medica and include crude medicine and prepared drug in pieces (simplified Chinese: 饮片; traditional Chinese: 飲片; pinyin: yǐnpiàn) and traditional Chinese patent medicines and simple preparations' source, collection and preparation, performance, efficacy, and clinical application.
Herbology is the Chinese art of combining medicinal herbs.
Herbology is traditionally one of the more important modalities utilized in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Each herbal medicine prescription is a cocktail of many herbs tailored to the individual patient. One batch of herbs is typically decocted twice over the course of one hour. The practitioner usually designs a remedy using one or two main ingredients that target the illness. Then the practitioner adds many other ingredients to adjust the formula to the patient's yin/yang conditions. Sometimes, ingredients are needed to cancel out toxicity or side-effects of the main ingredients. Some herbs require the use of other ingredients as catalyst or else the brew is ineffective. The latter steps require great experience and knowledge, and make the difference between a good Chinese herbal doctor and an amateur. Unlike western medications, the balance and interaction of all the ingredients are considered more important than the effect of individual ingredients. A key to success in TCM is the treatment of each patient as an individual. See also: Individualism
Chinese herbology often incorporates ingredients from all parts of plants, the leaf, stem, flower, root, and also ingredients from animals and minerals. The use of parts of endangered species (such as seahorses, rhinoceros horns, and tiger bones) has created controversy and resulted in a black market of poachers who hunt restricted animals. Many herbal manufacturers have discontinued the use of any parts from endangered animals.
Chinese herbs have been used for centuries. The first herbalist in Chinese tradition is Shennong, a mythical personage, who is said to have tasted hundreds of herbs and imparted his knowledge of medicinal and poisonous plants to the agricultural people. The first Chinese manual on pharmacology, the Shennong Bencao Jing (Shennong Emperor's Classic of Materia Medica), lists some 365 medicines of which 252 of them are herbs, and dates back somewhere in the 1st century C.E. Han dynasty. Earlier literature included lists of prescriptions for specific ailments, exemplified by a manuscript "Recipes for 52 Ailments", found in the MaWangDui tomb, sealed in 168 B.C.E.
Succeeding generations augmented on this work, as in the Yaoxing Lun (藥性論; also spelled Yao Xing Lun; literally "Treatise on the Nature of Medicinal Herbs"), a 7th century Tang Dynasty Chinese treatise on herbal medicine.
Arguably the most important of these was the Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao Gangmu) compiled during the Ming dynasty by Li Shizhen, which is still used today for consultation and reference.
The history of this literature is presented in Paul U. Unschuld's "Medicine in China: a History of Pharmaceutics"; Univ. of Calif. Press, 1986.
Categorizing Chinese herbs
Chinese physicians used several different methods to classify traditional Chinese herbs:
The Four Natures (四氣 or 四性)
The Five Tastes (五味)
The Meridians (歸經)
The earlier (Han through Tang eras) Ben Cao (Materia Medicae) began with a three-level categorization:
Low level -- drastic acting, toxic substances;
Middle level -- medicinal physiological effects;
High level -- health and spirit enhancement
During the neo-Confucian Song-Jin-Yuan era (10th to 12th Centuries), the theoretical framework from acupuncture theory (which was rooted in Confucian Han theory) was formally applied to herbal categorization (which was earlier more the domain of Daoist natural science). In particular, alignment with the Five Phases (Tastes) and the 12 channels (Meridians theory) came to be used after this period.
The Four Natures
This pertains to the degree of yin and yang, ranging from cold (extreme yin), cool, neutral to warm and hot (extreme yang). The patient's internal balance of yin and yang is taken into account when the herbs are selected. For example, medicinal herbs of "hot", yang nature are used when the person is suffering from internal cold that requires to be purged, or when the patient has a general cold constituency. Sometimes an ingredient is added to offset the extreme effect of one herb.
The Five Tastes
The five tastes are pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty, each of which their functions and characteristics. For example, pungent herbs are used to generate sweat and to direct and vitalize qi and the blood. Sweet-tasting herbs often tonify or harmonize bodily systems. Some sweet-tasting herbs also exhibit a bland taste, which helps drain dampness through diuresis. Sour taste most often is astringent or consolidates, while bitter taste dispels heat, purges the bowels and get rid of dampness by drying them out. Salty tastes soften hard masses as well as purge and open the bowels.
The Meridians refer to which organs the herb acts upon. For example, menthol is pungent, cool and is linked with the lungs and the liver. Since the lungs is the organ which protects the body from invasion from cold and influenza, menthol can help purge coldness in the lungs and invading heat toxins caused by
Chinese patent medicine (traditional Chinese: 中成藥, Simplified Chinese: 中成药, pinyin: zhōng chéng yào) is a kind of traditional Chinese medicine. They are standardized herbal formulas. Several herbs and other ingredients are dried and ground. They are then mixed into a powder and formed into pills. The binder is traditionally honey. They are characteristically little round black pills.
Chinese patent medicines are easy and convenient. They are not easy to customize on a patient-by-patient basis, however. They are best used when a patient's condition is not severe and the medicine can be taken as a long-term treatment.
These medicines are not "patented" in the traditional sense of the word. No one has exclusive rights to the formula. Instead, "patent" refers to the standardization of the formula. All Chinese patent medicines of the same name will have the same proportions of ingredients.
50 fundamental herbs
In Chinese herbology, there are 50 "fundamental herbs." These include:
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