The History of Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese meteria medica has been used for over five thousands. It is consisted of herbs, minerals and animals. among which, herbs make up the largest portion. The efficacy and safety of each herb have been written down and replenished from generation to generation. Their preventative and therapeutic functions have been testified by countless people and the mechanisms have widely elucidated by scientists in the past century. The followings are a few well-known people and books that should be mentioned when introducing Chinese herbs. 

Shen Nong (Divine Farmer, 神农, ~ 2800 BC) is a mythical person known as the god of agriculture and medicine in China. He is allegedly tasted hundreds of herbs and imparted his knowledge of medicinal and poisonous plants to farmers.

Shen Nong Ben Cao Jīng (Shennong's Materia Medica,神农本草经) is considered as the first book on Chinese herbal medicine. It contains 365 species of plants, animals and minerals that were classifies into three categories. The materials in the first category ("superior") includes tonic herbs that are mostly responsible for maintaining health and restoring the body balance, with no or less unfavorable side-effects. These in the second category comprise herbs that have more or less side effect if they were administrated improperly, particularly when prolonged and overdosed. These in the third category  ("inferior") of substances are toxic, thus should be taken only in suggested doses, and for the treatment of specific diseases.  

Zhang Zhong-Jing (150-219) is one of the most famous ancient doctor known as medical saint lived at the end of the Han dynasty. His Shang Han Lun (Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and Miscellaneous Illnesses,伤寒论) collected many famous prescriptions that is still popular applied in clinic. The character of this book is to introduce formulas after giving a group of symptoms and "patterns" (zheng 證). It has been split into two books in Song dynasty: the Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and the Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Casket

Li Shizhen (1518 - 1593), called Medicinal saint, is famous for his works the Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica, 本草綱目) compiled during the Ming dynasty. Darwin, the father of “evolution”, called it “A Chinese encyclopedia”. This book is still referenced by clinical doctors and research scientists. It contains 1892 substances and more than 10000 formulas in 52 volumes. 

Zhong Hua Ben Cao (Chinese Materia Medica, 中华本草)is the newest and most completed book about Chinese herbs, edited by State Administration of Traditional Chinese Materia Medica "Editorial Board” and published in 1999.  It contains 8980 substances in 35 volumes. The followings are recorded for each substance.
•Traditional properties & functions. 
• Botany
• Identification
• Chemical composition
• Chemical analysis
• Biological activity
• Pharmacological activity
• Clinical study