This is the second book in the Combining Western Herbs and Chinese Medicine series, and the companion volume for the previously released Principles, Practice & Materia Medica. It forms part of a wider project that includes the author’s website, courses in Europe and the US and five further books to be published in the near future. While the previous volume lays down basic theory and practical techniques, and gives details of 50 herbs and 150 herbal combinations, the present volume expands on this, offering the Chinese medicine perspective on another 120 herbs used in the West, plus key data drawn from three different traditions: Chinese medicine, Western herbal medicine and modern pharmacological and clinical research.
Each one of the 120 herb monographs includes the temperature, taste and channel/organ affinity, botanical and pharmaceutical data, Chinese and Western actions and indications, as well as herb pairings organised by type of disease. In the well-researched sections on 'Traditional use in the West' the author includes fascinating data from the likes of Dioscorides, Galen, Culpeper and Gerard, amongst others. It is interesting to note that the language and concepts these authors were using are extremely similar to those used in Chinese Medicine. An impressive list of 1200 references provides modern pharmacological data and clinical research on types of constituents, actions of herbs and the essential link between herb actions and their specific active principles. Scattered throughout the herbal monographs are useful comparisons with other similar herbs. Other chapters include brief summaries of the principles of herb combination, dosage, safety and information on herbs for specific Chinese syndromes. Finally, a glossary and several cross-reference lists help readers to navigate throughout the book.
The classification of Chinese herbs we know today (according to taste, qi, direction, channel entered etc.) was developed by countless generations of doctors, who critiqued and disputed this knowledge over many centuries. This general unanimity of opinion regarding herb properties and functions was not the product of an individual genius, but rather the sum of many personal experiences and perspectives. In the West we are only in the initial stages of using the Chinese medical model for the Western materia medica. It will need both time and many more authors devoting their time, energy and experience to the subject for it to reach maturity. Over the last 20 years an emerging community of scholars and physicians have made serious attempts to analyse and classify the vast European and North American pharmacopoeias from a Chinese medical perspective (see Peter Holmes’ The Energetics of Western Herbs [Volumes I and II], Thomas Avery Garran’s Western Herbs and Chinese Medicine and Michael Tierra’s Planet Herbology). With degrees and diplomas in botanical sciences, Western phytotherapy, biochemistry, plant physiology and Chinese herbal medicine, Jeremy Ross seems perfectly - and possibly uniquely - qualified to deal with this subject across its multiple dimensions. As with the preceding volume the author's endeavours seem to be leading the way and setting a worldwide benchmark on how to interpret, analyse and classify the Western materia medica according to Chinese medicine.
In a world rapidly shrinking due to globalisation, different social, spiritual and medical traditions encounter each other ever more frequently. As part of this process, books such as this are becoming not only unavoidable, but necessary. The attempt to maintain traditions as pure, isolated entities uninfluenced by the wider world and by other traditions is not only unrealistic, but also devoid of historical truth. Throughout the history of Chinese Medicine numerous doctors attempted to make sense of other medical systems and of new medicinals in the same way that every living organism constantly struggles to adapt to an ever-changing reality. Our choice is therefore not between Chinese herbal medicine and Western herbal medicine (or for that matter Western scientific medicine), but rather between effective and ineffective medicine. In this spirit of realism, and against the background of the shifting political trends that threaten our access to the tools of our profession, we should not close our eyes to the possibility of losing important parts of our materia medica. If this is the case, we may need to look to the herbs that we literally walk past every day to fulfil the role of those we have lost. In such a scenario a text such as this may provide possible solutions.
As with any ‘cross-tradition’ project this is a book that has the potential to shock the purist, traditionalist members of our community - but this would be to miss the whole point. The history of medicine is at its heart about adaptation to evolving circumstances and helping people – which is what Jeremy Ross has been doing for more than 30 years, whilst teaching and inspiring others to do also.