The Traditional Chinese Materia Medica Clinical Reference and Study Guide
Peter Holmes First Edition, Snow Lotus Press, Boulder, Colorado, USA, 2002 Paperback, 462 pages £36.00
(Reviewed by Martin Powell, EJOM Vol. 4 No. 5)
While existing materia medica such as those by Bensky or Chen have done an excellent job of presenting the information on each herb, they have not concerned themselves overly with how this information is used clinically. Experienced Chinese herbal practitioners mentally scan the properties of similar herbs in selecting that most appropriate for a given formula but this level of intimacy takes time to achieve and for the student or new practitioner there is a clear need for increased organisation and accessibility of the key information on each herb. Earlier attempts in this direction include A Clinical Guide to Chinese Herbs and Formulae by Chen Song Yu and Li Fei, Chinese Herbal Medicine Study Guide by Mark and Maria Saltzman and Chinese Herbal Medicines, Comparisons and Characteristics by Yifan Yang. All of these works endeavour to assist the practitioner in selecting the best herb for a given situation but do not attempt to be a reference to the herbs themselves.
In contrast, this book contains both the key clinical information on each herb, as well as presenting that information in comparison to similar herbs in order to assist the selection of the most appropriate. The book is thus a combination of materia medica and clinical herb cross-reference.
The essential information on each herb is clearly and accurately presented with the energetic qualities of the herb as well as the channels entered, the functions listed in easy to understand language, the indications with major combinations, precautions and dosage.
Each herb or group of 2-3 similar herbs is then followed by a well laid out table of comparisons with similar herbs under the headings of Qualities, Channels, Functions, Indications, Therapeutic Emphasis and Formulae Examples. At the end of each section there are then summary tables listing the herbs in the category by energetic quality and by function.
As a study guide its usefulness is reinforced with well thought out questions and answers at the end of each section which serve to highlight key features of the herbs.
The combination of concise herb monographs with clear comparisons of similar herbs at a reasonable price makes this a particularly attractive book for the student and as a quick clinical reference.
For obvious reasons, it lacks the depth of specialist materia medica, omitting illustrations and information on pharmacology and research. It also does not have the detailed comparative discussion of Yifan Yang’s book in particular. However, what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in its clarity, and Peter Holmes is to be congratulated for producing such a usable companion to the established materia medica.
Martin Powell Martin Powell practises acupuncture and herbal medicine in Luton and works as a consultant to the TCM industry. He also lectures at the University of Westminster and runs his own TCM distribution company.