Herb Medicine

Comparison of China and western countries by Anna Lu


This report comparison of Chinese Traditional Medicine’s history with western countries’ herbal medicine’s history, to find their developmental differences. This report also explains why western countries have not valued herbal medicine like Asian countries: Because the clinical experiment and interaction of herbal medicine are problems.

Key words: herb, medicine, Chinese Traditional Medicine, China, America

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Chinese Traditional Medicine with herb is popular in China and other Asian countries. It has a long history and has developed a comprehensive system. For western countries with long histories, their herbal medicine’s development is not like Asian countries such as China so well. Why do western countries not value herbal medicine education compared to Asian countries?


History and background development

Chinese Traditional Medicine can be traced back to as early as 3000 years ago as shown in the Shang Oracles. Chinese Traditional Medicine used the herbal medicine, animals and medicine fungi, acupuncture and surgery combined together to treat patients. The first record of herbal medicine can be found in “ShiJing” (“Poem Collection”), the oldest existing literature collection of Chinese poetry composed 500 BC ago (Chinadaily, “Chinese Traditional Medicine’s”). This book “Shijing” is still popular in China now. Elementary schools and junior schools still teach students with several parts of this book today.

In the book “Shijing”, there were records of about 60 kinds of medicinal grass and trees. It records herbs’ growth environment, collection and seasonal requirements in detail. It also recorded many diseases and symptoms, and how to cure them with herbs and other items.

After “Shijing”, many herb medicine books existed, but some lost to the world. HuangDi NeiJing (Emperor’s Internal Medicine) composed between 202 BC – 220 AD, was regarded as the first classic system pharmaceutical book (Chinadaily, “Chinese Traditional Medicine’s”)

The Chinese Traditional herbal medicine developed from the ancient to today. It has grown into a comprehensive system. Those herb medicine includes native plants, exotic plants and medicine fungi. “These traditional Chinese herbs have gone through long periods of clinical verification and are even utilized in contemporary hospitals in China“(Zhu, “Medicinal Fungal Research”). The classic book “Shennong Bencaojing(“Almighty Doctor’s Herb Medicine”) composed around between 221 BC – 220 BC, was regarded as the benchmark for the primary establishment of herb medicine system. The greatest master book “Bencao Gangmu”, included 1982 herbs, was regarded as encyclopedia of herb medicine (“Chinese Traditional Medicine’s”).

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Western countries had developed herb medicine very late. For them the first “herbal” book was Greek and written in the third century BC by Diocles of Carystus. In 11th century, “Collection of Samples, Medicinal Plants and Resulting Medicines” classified the plants and heir medical properties. Later botany gradually became an academic science. Under the chemistry’s advanced help, herbal medicine became more common science for most people (“Herb medicine”).

Compared with Asian countries, western herb medicine’s development is very young. It is because that the reading difficulties – ancient text encoding problem exits, it stopped the development. After the ancient language got been decoded, more books of “lexions of plants and animals” entered the world. “Like the Physiologus, numerous ancient texts were subject to revisions during the medieval period. Dioscorides' De materia medica, initially organized by medicinal type beginning with ointments and oils, was rearranged alphabetically by plant names (“Nature History”).”

Among 16th and 17th centuries, botany has grown mostly in Europe. Later it has spread to America as a nature science. Both botany and gardening emphasized “the utility of plants for man, the popular herbal, describing the medical uses of plants, mingled current superstition with fact” (“Botany”). Because of this, it slowed the medicinal herb research development.

Contemporary comparison

In China, there are more than dozen formal Chinese Traditional Medicine universities or academies. As one of the most important national treasures, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has gained more and more attention today. More college students have chosen to study TCM as their major. Some universities, featuring integrated disciplines and whole system education, are famous as the best places to study TCM. The bachelor graduates later become Chinese Traditional Medicine physicians or doctors.

In western countries, botany and herbal medicine always mix together. The herbal medicinal practitioners are not valued as in their countries. They get different license comparing their equivalent medical practitioner with formal education. But Chinese Traditional medicine physicians, received full formal strict education and training, just as same as other medical physician. Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors work in traditional medical hospitals or clinics. They prescribe the herbal medicine for patients same as western physician. They are totally different with botanist. Botany is a nature science, which can be found in most general universities. Traditional Chinese Medical doctors are medical practitioner only can be graduated from the traditional medical universities. This way is just like western doctors studied in formal medical schools before becoming independent medical practitioners.


Why does America not value herbal medicine education as important as other scientific education?

It is maybe because “Scientific interest in herbal medicine in the United States has lagged behind that in the countries of Asia and West Europe; in Germany, for example, one third of graduating physicians have studied herbal medicine, and a comprehensive therapeutic guide to herbal medicines has long been published there” (Terry, “Made for Paradise”) But the importance of herbal medicine is increasing now. More American start to use herbal medicine for their problems or to improve their health. “As shown in the following graph “10 Most Common Natural Products Among Adults – 2002” (“The Use of”). The most popular natural products in adults are Echinacea, Ginseng, Ginkgo Biloba, Garlic Supplement. For example, “Echinacea is to aid the immune system and alleviate colds”; “Ginseng is to aid the immune system and alleviate colds”; “Ginkgo Biloba is to improve short-term memory”. Also “Some people have used botanicals in an attempt to stave off serious illnesses such as AIDS” ("Herbal Medicine").

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But herbal medicine development is still very slow. Most of them are only labeled as supplements. In United States, if the herb wants to be claimed as medicine it needs FDA approval and clinical trials. That is problem for many herbs because of their function interaction and ingredients mixture together. Even though it cannot prevent herbal medicines from becoming popular today, as shown in the graph of “10 Most CAM Therapies Among Adults – 2007”. Natural products are most popular in CAM, or Complementary Alternative Medicine (“The Use of”). Now It is common to find some herbs in stores, such as ginger, peppermint, Fennel, Anise, Parsley. Even they are common for cooking, but more people start to notice their medicinal usage.


Today Under the history’s help, the herb medicine can grow better. It needs scientific technology and combines with clinical trials, such as Chemistry analysis helping to study the ingredients, systematic science integrating the whole responses and functions. The herb medicine is the gift from the nature. Most researchers and scientific persons need to work together to improve the herb medicine systems. To making the whole system become better will be tomorrow’s work. As the natural precious gift, as long as human beings live with plants, the herb medicine will be continuing going on.


“Chinese Traditional Medicine’s History.” Chinadaily. Ministry of Culture of Peoples’ Republic of China. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

Zhu, Ping and Wen, Hua-An, “Meicinal Fungal Research in China”. Key Laboratory of Systematic Mycology and Lichenology, Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.

"Herbal Medicine." 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization. Eds. Salim T. S. Al-Hassani and Salim T. S. Al-Hassani. Washington: National Geographic Society, 2012. Credo Reference. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

P., L. "Natural History." The Classical Tradition. Eds. Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, and Salvatore Settis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010. Credo Reference. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

"Botany." The Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. Credo Reference. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

"Herbal Medicine." The Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. Credo Reference. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

“The Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States.” National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, February 18, 2015.

"Ginger." Mosby's Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professions. Mosby. Philadelphia: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2012. Credo Reference. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

“Made for Paradise: God's Original Plan for Healthy Eating, Physical Activity, and Rest.” Dr. Patricia Hart Terry. New Hope Publishers, 2007. Google books. 11 Apr. 2016.

Kind of Herbs Part 1 - Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture

Anna Lu

Like the nature; like classic music and dancing; like all beautiful things in the life.