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Chinese Medicinal Plants, Herbal Drugs and Substitutes


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Christine Leon is a medical botanist and specialises in Chinese medicinal plants, based at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where she has worked since 1997. She helped establish the Chinese Medicinal Plants Authentication Centre at Kew, in partnership with the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development in Beijing, China. Professor Lin Yu-Lin is a leading specialist on the identification of Chinese medicinal plants and their materia medica, and is based at the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College.


It is well known (if often greatly exaggerated by the media) that the identity of medicinal plants in commerce is sometimes questionable, due to a combination of deliberate adulteration, accidental substitution, and traditional practices that permit multiple, occasionally unrelated species to be used interchangeably. Though many elaborate laboratory methods of authenticating botanicals have been developed, morphological identification remains not only the most accessible and affordable method, but the most rigorous in cases where sufficiently intact and complete material is sold. A variety of works are available to assist in the authentication of botanicals popular in the West, but the best books on Chinese herbs, the basis of an increasingly well-researched and globally exported health care modality, are in Chinese and largely inaccessible to Westerners. This book fills in that gap with a top-quality, beautifully illustrated and exhaustively researched reference work. Each of the included species receives at least a twopage spread, commonly four pages or occasionally more. Treatments include notes on taxonomy, botanical description, natural range and sourcing, Traditional Chinese Medicine properties and Western indications, description of the macromorphology of the crude drug, notes on processing methods, Chinese common names and their translation, notes on known safety issues, allowable and unofficial substitutes, and photos of living plants and crude drugs. The authors conducted field expeditions in 21 Chinese provinces to collect vouchered material and take photos of live plants. Most photos are of very good quality, and descriptions are clearly written. As examples, the treatment for Shan Yao (Dioscorea polystachya rhizome) includes four pictures of the live plant, one of an herbarium specimen, one of baskets of rhizome pieces, two of variously treated whole rhizomes, and three of sliced rhizomes subjected to different types of processing. Thetreatment for Yin Chen (Artemisia scoparia herb) includes three photos of the live plant and five at various magnifications of two different named types of dried material collected at different growth stages, five photos of the second allowable pharmacopoeial species (Artemisia capillaris), five photos of the unofficial substitute Origanum vulgare (confused due to the name Tu Yin Chen), and a text box with the Latin and Chinese names and key morphological distinctions of four unofficial Artemisia species reported in the TCM literature as substitutes. Comparable thoroughness is typical throughout. Though of course it is not possible for any single volume to include all TCM herbs, this work includes enough, as treated species or as substitutes, to cover most of those that will be frequently encountered. Multiple bilingual indices make the information easy to find. While this volume will become an essential reference for those ethnobotanists who wind up employed in the herbal industry, it will have value also for those doing research on Asian traditional medicine, e.g., by facilitating the identification of materials purchased for market studies or acquired from practitioners without associated vouchers. The authors are to be congratulated for a superb contribution to the literature, which I certainly expect to make use of for a lifetime. -- WENDY L. APPLEQUIST * ECONOMIC BOTANY *

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