An Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica by Jing-Nuan Wu

old message Book Review Darrell Miller 08/31/06

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Date: August 31, 2006 04:01 PM
Subject: Book Review

Book Review

An Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica by Jing-Nuan Wu (Ming-I Herbals, Alchem, Dr. Wu’s Herbs). Oxford University Press, New York. 2005. viii + 706 pp. 7 x 10 in. ISBN: 0-19-51407-6.

A number of months ago I received in the mail one of the most delightful books on Chinese herbal medicine that I have ever seen in many years. This was especially auspicious because I had known the author, for whom I had a very high and warm regard, but never knew he had started writing this book prior to his untimely death a few years ago. The author, Dr. Wu Jing-Nuan, embodied many of the personal and professional attributes fitting for one steeped in Chinese classics and Taoism. Dr. Wu was highly respected in the traditional Chinese medical community. Patients I sent to him over the years always held him in high regard. He previously published English translations of two of the most important classics in Chinese literature: the Yi Jing (Book of Changes) nad the Ling Shu, which is the second part of the Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine), the fundamental basis of traditional Chinese medical philosophy. His illustrated Materia Medica, completed by his daughter, continues what can only be regarded as Dr. Wu’s legacy of bringing a deeper understanding of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Chinese culture to the western world.

In his introductory sections, Dr. Wu provides a succinct and valuable overview of TCM philosophy, which can help those uninitiated in this system to from a basic understanding of its traditional context. Dr. Wu’s synopsis of the historical development of Chinese medicine adds a richness of Chinese herbal medicine literature that is rarely available to Western readers. The book provides a dynastic chronicle of some of the most important philosophical schools of thought that were integral to the development of evolution of traditional Chinese medicine as it is practiced today. This is followed by a presentation of the various elements that form the basis of TCM pharmacology: temperature, five flavors and directions of action ascribed to herbs to describe their physiologic function, the way botanicals are integrated into the channel (meridian) theory of acupuncture, some basic diagnostic principles to TCM, and an overview of the manner in which botanicals are formulated and prescribed. While by no means a complete presentation on TCM philosophy, this text provides systematic context for the material medica presented.

The text includes approximately 318 botanical entries, arranged alphabetically according to botanical nomenclature in a single-page monograph format; included are the typical fields of information of TCM herbals, including nomenclature, the plant parts used, Chinese energetic classification, functions, uses, inclusion in primary formulas, dosage, and contraindications.

It is perhaps the most beautiful presentation of Chinese material medica to date in the English language. Each entry is accompanied by exquisite color illustrations of the plant and medicinally used plant part. While such illustrations are readily available in Chinese-language texts, they are generally not included in English versions, and this makes for a uniquely beautiful presentation of Chinese herbalism.

A unique contribution to the otherwise standard therapeutic information is the inclusion of a useful, albeit brief, overview of harvesting instructions, which is usually absent from other works.

The text ends with a useful glossary of TCM terminology that can assist the reader in understanding the contents; it is indexed according to both pharmaceutical nomenclature (with pin yin) and also English common names.

The sheer beauty of this text makes it a must-have for all those interested in TCM. This book represents a hallmark in TCM contributions, offered by a very special individual who embodied many of the principles that make the subject of Chinese medicine so rich.

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