Pocket Guide to Herbal Medicine

Traditionally, Western medical knowledge from Graeco-Roman times onward has been transmitted by means of authoritative printed texts. Today, both patient and physician may be more likely to use the Internet as a first reference source. The sheer amount of medical information available on the World Wide Web and the speed of its renewal and retrieval may outpace the Caxtonian mechanics of printed textbook production, but has done little to erode the authority of the printed word. Conversely, in fact, major medical reference texts are these days being “ported” into the memory of hand-held electronic devices or on-line databases. This development, welcomed by gadgetry enthusiasts, eliminates the hefty size and weight of the printed tome, but decreases the legibility and convenience of the printed page as well as undermining the narrative qualities of the traditional medical textbook.

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Ayurveda

The two oldest extant and expounded systems of traditional medicine are East Indian Traditional Medicine, known as A – yurveda and dating back five to ten thousand years, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) whose history arguably is known to extend as much as 5000 years into antiquity. While Western medicine owes its origins to the Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Arabic cultures, it has been hopelessly fragmented several times over the last 2000 years due to the disintegration of the Roman Empire, then the early suppression by the church of any physical healing methods, and more recently, the development of pharmaceutical drugs.

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An illustrated Chinese materia medica

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses many therapeutic modalities, the major one being Chinese herbal medicine. Its development has been a historical process flowing and flowering with Chinese culture for more than four thousand years. Its practice follows theories of holistic and integrative principles. Therapy is based on understanding relations between part and whole, distinguishing symptom and appearance from true cause, and treatingeach individual case as unique.

The foundation for this medical practice is the Chinese materia medica. More than 6,000 substances have been used and their effects documented and researched in the past four millenia. Clinical practice and empirical results from millions of medical cases have created a data bank on individual substances as well as prescriptions of complex compounds. This literature is unparalleled and unsurpassed in the world’s medical knowledge.

In fact, stories about the use of herbs to improve human health are older than TCM itself. Legends about herbal medicine start with Shen Nong (The Divine Farmer), who introduced agriculture and animal husbandry into China. According to the ancient book Master of Huai Nan (Huai Nan Zi), by Liu An of the Han dynasty, Shen Nong Shi (3000 B.C) a hundred herbs and came across seventy poisonous herbs each day.”

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