Chinese Materia Medica: Combinations and Applications
Xu Li & Wang Wei Donica Publishing, 2002 Hardback, 863 pages, £59.98
(Reviewed by Stephen Lee, EJOM Vol. 4 No. 2)
As a book reviewer you get to keep the book, as editor of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine News you get to see the books. It just so happened that I have been looking for a new materia medica for some time and I could not let this one slip through my editorial hands. At last, I thought, something not too long-winded and easy to lift off the shelf.
The first striking thing about this book is that it is beautifully designed. The typography is clear and pleasing which for me makes it a book I want to use. The first thing that I was glad to find was separate indexes for the herbs using their pharmaceutical names and their pinyin names, each with page numbers, saving the laborious cross referencing of names to find page numbers. Although it is a large book it is not as large as Bensky, which makes it less unwieldy to use. The layout of the properties, actions etc. is very clear, making the information very accessible. The legal status of the herbs have been very usefully included. The English common name of each herb has been cleverly positioned beneath the pinyin in such a way that you cannot miss it, which means you inadvertently become familiar with the common names. The toxicity and research information is informative and succinct. This is a useful book for practising herbalists rather than for the great libraries of academia.
There is, of course, something very reassuring about a materia medica whose authors are esteemed Chinese doctors, which is endorsed by Giovanni Maciocia. As Giovanni observes in his foreword, this book avoids the over-elaborate prose of many Chinese books in English, which makes it refreshing and accessible.
The book is divided into chapters categorising herbs according to their main function, as you would expect, but their function is further clarified in some chapters by more subdivisions. The Stopping Bleeding chapter is divided into Cooling the Blood, Transforming Stasis, Promoting Contraction and Warming Channels.
Throughout the book are many tables that compare herbs according to function and indications, which is very useful. The final part of the book contains 11 appendices which include extensive cross referencing, classification according to commonly seen patterns and symptoms and much more to keep you amused during those long winter nights.
I thoroughly recommend and welcome this new materia medica.
Stephen Lee Stephen Lee is an acupuncturist and herbalist in Northampton, where he has been practising for 20 years. He is also a council member of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) and editor of RCHM News.