Bob Flaws Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1994 96 pages, $9.99
(Reviewed by Robert Ladds, EJOM Vol. 1 No. 5)
Since knowing how to write a TCM formula is the basis of any herbal training, my first thought as a practising herbalist was 'why buy an extra book on the subject?'
In the first part of this short book Bob Flaws, in his distinctive style, points out much of the woolly thinking we can slip into when arriving at a prescription, and proceeds to chart a clear, methodical approach from start to finish. In fact, he is often critical of the standard of practice in the West. In particular, our launching into treatments of complicated diseases without the benefits of long clinical practice with an experienced doctor. We would do well to take this on board.
The middle section maps out his approach to finding a classical formula and modifying it to suit the case. Since this is fundamental to any course on herbal medicine the book has little to add to standard procedure. The more recent approach of defining the principles of treatment and devising an ad hoc formula to accommodate them is not mentioned. Either way, both ways of working should end up at the same point.
The last part consists of a huge list of 160 modifications to the formula Si Wu Tang by way of demonstrating how a wide range of conditions can be treated by adding herbs onto the basic skeleton of a single formula. While of great interest to a gynaecology specialist, a wider range of examples would be more useful to the student.
Apart from the irritating use of cumbersome Latin names, (not always) appended by the pinyin, and some American diagnostic terms which differ from those used in the UK, it is a pleasure to follow Bob Flaws' structured, lucid style. This is an exercise on thinking rather than a text book of facts. It is worth pointing out to any student intending to study in China or with Chinese doctors in the West, that familiarity with the Chinese names of herbs is essential.
In summary, for the herbal practitioner, this book has little to offer. For the student it is a useful guide to clearly thinking one's way through the particularly bewildering maze of formula writing. Not an essential, but a good auxiliary book.
Robert Ladds Robert Ladds is a herbalist and acupuncturist and a guest lecturer at the School of Chinese Herbal Medicine. He is also Director of the Swansea Clinic of Natural Medicine.