Handbook of Formulas in Chinese Medicine

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Handbook of Formulas in Chinese Medicine is a concise, visual reference to over 180 of the most important herbal formulas in Chinese medicine. The book is designed to provide a snapshot of the formulas and help the reader take in key information at a glance.

Each formula is presented as a two-page spread. On the left is a drawing of a person showing an aspect that is typical of the type of patient for whom the formula might be prescribed. The drawing is labelled with key symptoms. Under the drawing is a list of ingredients followed by basic information: actions, main pattern, key and secondary symptoms, tongue, pulse and abdomen. This can be absorbed in just a few moments.

Additional detail is set forth in clinical notes, and other formulas with similar indications are discussed for purposes of comparison.

On the right page is a full display of the composition of the formula. Each of the ingredients is color coded to show its taste and temperature, and the overall nature of the formula—warming, cooling, neutral etc.—can be seen at a glance. The role that each ingredient plays in the formula (chief, deputy, assistant, envoy) as well as its actions are also shown.

An introduction discusses how different types of processing affect the functions of particular herbs, and there is a helpful introduction to the Japanese approach to abdominal diagnosis and its value in prescribing herbs. A formula index (by pinyin and English common name) and an index of patterns and key symptoms are included.

The Handbook of Formulas in Chinese Medicine, a new publication from Eastland Press authored by Volker Scheid and Andrew Ellis, is a neat and sharp reference tool for two types of practitioner: those with a busy clinic who are in need of a quick reference guide, and students or new practitioners wanting learning aids and checks on their recently acquired knowledge. Teaching Chinese medicine to beginners since 1995 has made me very familiar with the gargantuan task students have in learning a lot of new and very different information. This can be so overwhelming that even the most ardent of students often experience a phase of feeling defeated accompanied by strong feelings of inadequacy. Newly qualified practitioners can feel even more daunted when faced with the responsibility of treating complex real patients. Education in Chinese medicine has shifted during this 25-year period from an emphasis on memory and rote learning towards developing thinking skills and synthesising complex information. Now there is easy and immediate access to information about any herb or formula at our fingertips on our smart-phones. Even so, how to search, sort and assimilate that information in one easy click is still too big a ask for many. This book fills that gap.

There are several winning points about this publication from Eastland Press. Firstly, it has a good range of important formulas (183 in total) that we should already know about but may have forgotten some details such as the constituent herbs, their actions or the balance of doses. Secondly, it provides groups of formulas that may have similar but diff erent actions or emphasis, so can provide a good context for the treatment of the patient we have in mind. At just over 300 pages, weighing about one kilo and sized slightly larger than A5, this means it will fit comfortably in your work-bag.

Another significant strength of this book is that we can trust the authors. This small book is the light companion to Eastland's theory-heavy Formulas and Strategies. It is a strongly visual book, for those who find colours and pictures helpful for memory and quick indications. All the formulas are arranged alphabetically in pinyin (what joy!), although the herbs within the formula only have pinyin in brackets. There are three indices at the back: patterns and symptoms, English name formulas and pinyin name formulas (this pinyin listing appears at the front too, in addition to a top bar pinyin label on each page so you can flick through the book and see the pinyin formula names ordered alphabetically).

Each formula has a graphic – suggesting indications for gender, age, body type and constitution. This picture helps to identify the emphasis of the formula visually. As an example, Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang is a formula whose primary focus is on dizziness due to upward disturbance by wind-phlegm. The graphic depicts a woman and by her head the words: 'headache, dizziness', and next to her chest: 'stifl ing sensation in chest or upper abdomen'. There are two pages of clearly laid out information, including colour codes for the taste and temperature of each herb and comparison with five other formulas that treat different patterns where dizziness is a symptom. Each entry can therefore serve several purposes, including checking detail, context and revision, in an easy and accessible way. There are also a couple of tables at the front describing diff erent processing methods and herbs commonly processed. Substitutions are dealt with in a pragmatic fashion. For the small number of formulas that address skin complaints there is an appropriate accompanying photo, for instance for Tuo Li Xiao Du Yin there is an image of a suppurating sore.

What are the shortcomings? Whenever we reduce data into categories for reasons of neatness, shorthand or brevity, there is risk of reductionism. That is, we lose some information or subtle interpretation. In addition, the gender-based portraits may cause unnecessary consternation for some (although with this in mind I carefully checked a sample of the formulas that involved constrained qi, and the gender portraits were evenly distributed). This book is an excellent aide-memoire for practitioners and students, and while being light on theory and explanation it displays lots of information in easily accessible ways.

Sarah Price


More Information
Author Volker Scheid and Andrew Ellis
Publisher Eastland pRESS
Number of Pages 406
Book Format Softback
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