History of Chinese Herbal Medicine

In China, there is a widely circulated story–Shennong Chang Bai Cao. Shennong is also known as Divine Farmer or Divine Peasant and is the ancestor of the Chinese nation.

In prehistoric times, human life was short. Almost all people were suffering from diseases or poisons all their lives.

To save others, Shennong sought medicines to cure diseases and detoxify. He chewed almost many plants and was poisoned during the chewing of plants.

Later, he identified the properties of many herbs and discovered how to use herbs to treat diseases and detoxify.

This story is believed to be the origin of Chinese medicine and Chinese herbal medicine. According to <Records of the Grand Historian>, this story took place in the era of no words and was spread by oral communication.

In ancient times

In the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC–1046 BC), although people had used Oracle to record diseases such as eye diseases, toothache, and bloating, there is no evidence that people at the time used herbs to treat diseases.

The official records of Chinese herbal medicine can be dated back to more than 1000 BC. In the Western Zhou Dynasty (1066 BC–771 BC), there were already professional Chinese medicine doctors. At that time, people gathered known Chinese herbal medicines for use by Chinese medicine doctors.

<Classic of Poetry> records Chinese poetry from the 11th century to the 6th century BC. It records Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), Ze Xie (Rhizoma Alismatis), Common wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), Yi Mu Cao (Leonurus), Chuan Bei Mu (Fritillaria cirrhosa), Cang Er Zi (Fructus Xanthii), Che Qian Cao (Plantago Asiatica) and other medicines for curing diseases.

<Classic of Mountains and Seas> records more than 100 animal medicines and plant medicines. Some of the Chinese herbal medicines recorded in these two books are still in use today.

In 1973, archaeologists discovered the ancient tomb of 168 BC in Mawangdui, Changsha City, China.

In the ancient tomb, 9 kinds of Chinese herbal medicines had been identified. They are Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia), Hua Jiao (Pericarpium Zanthoxyli), Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger), Pei Lan (Eupatorium fortunei), Sweet Grass (Hierochloe odorata), Gao Liang Jiang (Rhizoma Alpiniae Officinarum), Gao Ben (Rhizoma Ligustici), Mu Li (Concha Ostreae), and Zhu Sha (Cinnabaris).

In addition, there are 6 kinds of excavated medicinal books and prescription books. These books recorded a total of 394 Chinese herbal medicines. The <Wushi’er Bingfang> is also in these books. It records 247 Chinese herbal medicines and is a book about clinical medicine and health.

<Shennong Ben Cao Jing> is the earliest existing monograph on pharmacology in China and was first compiled around 100 BC. It records 365 Chinese herbal medicines that can be divided them into three groups. It briefly describes the properties of Chinese herbal medicine and how to use it.

At the time, <Shennong Ben Cao Jing> was a summary of pharmaceutical knowledge and experience. Up to now, most of the curative effects of Chinese herbal medicines recorded in it have been verified, such as Ma Huang (Ephedra) that can treat asthma, E Jiao (Colla Corii Asini) that can stop bleeding, and Cao Wu (Radix aconiti agrestis) that can relieve pain.

In the Northern and Southern Dynasties

In the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 AD–589 AD), many herbal medicines flowed into China with trade, and the variety of Chinese herbal medicines doubled.

At that time, people established traditional Chinese medicine processing. The processing of Chinese herbal medicine has been improved. <Lei Gong Pao Zhi Lun> (Master Lei’s Discourse on Processing of Chinese Materia Medica) is a representative work of traditional Chinese medicine processing.

In this period, Tao Hongjing wrote the <Bencao Jing Jizhu>, which is based on <Shennong Ben Cao Jing> and <Mingyi Bielu>. The <Bencao Jing Jizhu> records 730 Chinese herbal medicines and details the origin, collection method and processing method of Chinese herbal medicine.

In the Tang Dynasty

In the Tang Dynasty (618 AD–907 AD), Chinese herbal medicine developed greatly. More than 1,000 Chinese herbal medicines were used at the time.

The Tang government invested a lot of manpower and material resources to study Chinese herbal medicine. Many pharmacists had compiled <Tang Ben Cao> together.

The <Tang Ben Cao> is the first state pharmacopeia in the world and records 850 Chinese herbal medicines. Among them, Dou Kou (Fructus Amomi Rotundus), Ding Xiang (clove) and Grey amber (ambergris) are from India, Mo Li (jasmine) from Persia, Mu Xiang (Radix Aucklandiae) and Bing Lang (Semen Arecae) from Southeast Asia.

The <Tang Ben Cao> has some illustrations of Chinese herbal medicine and sets a precedent for world pharmacy.

In 731 AD, the <Tang Ben Cao> was introduced to Japan. <Engishiki> which is a Japanese book has recorded <Tang Ben Cao>. The <Tang Ben Cao> is more than 800 years earlier than the <European Nuremberg Pharmacopoeia>.

<Shi Liao Ben Cao>, <Hai Yao Ben Cao>, <Qian Jin Yi Fang>, and <Yao Xing Lun> are all works of this period.

At the time, animal medicine was also used. According to <Tang Ben cao>, sheep liver can treat night blindness and improve vision.

In the Song Dynasty and the Yuan Dynasty

From the Song Dynasty to the Yuan Dynasty (960 AD –1368 AD), more than 1,500 Chinese herbal medicines were used.

The development of Chinese herbal medicine had entered another period. People had certain requirements for the quality of Chinese herbal medicine. The dosage of traditional Chinese medicine formula had a certain standard.

<Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang> is a work of this period. During this period, many ethnic medicines and ethnic treatment methods were also summarized in traditional Chinese medicine.

In the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty

In the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD–1644 AD), the medical expert Li Shizhen spent 27 years writing the <Compendium of Materia Medica>.

<Compendium of Materia Medica> records a total of 1892 Chinese herbal medicines and more than 11,000 traditional Chinese medicine formulas. Among them, Man Tuo Luo(Datura), Zang Hong Hua (Crocus Sativus), and Papaver somniferum are herbs from other countries.

In the 17th century, <Compendium of Materia Medica> was translated in other countries. That transmission contributed greatly to the development of pharmacology worldwide.

In 1765, the medical expert Zhao Xuemin compiled the <Ben Cao Gang Mu Shi Yi>. He extended the <Compendium of Materia Medica>. Among them, 716 new Chinese herbal medicines were added.

Chinese herbal medicines such as Dong Chong Xia Cao (caterpillar fungus), Xi Yang Shen (American Ginseng), Ya Dan Zi (Fructus Bruceae), and Yin Chai Hu(Stellaria Root) were all recorded during this period.

In modern times

Science and modern medicine also affect traditional Chinese medicine to a certain extent. In recent decades, Chinese medicine has undergone reforms. Plant extracts are the fruit of this era.

Pharmacologists will extract the active ingredients of herbal medicines according to their use. Most food supplements contain plant extracts. Some plant extracts are made directly into medicines, such as artemisinin.

The development of Chinese herbal medicine is inseparable from the experiments and experience accumulation of Chinese medicine scientists. The history of Chinese herbal medicine will last.