A brief history of Chinese Herbalism

The use of herbal medicines in China has been traced to the Zhou Dynasty, late Bronze/early Iron Age, about 2500 to 3000 years ago.

In 1596, hundreds of years before the age of modern Western medicine, Li Shizhen spent decades documenting the vast knowledge of herbal lore.

His book, the Ben Cao Gang Mu (1596), has been used as a pharmacopoeia, but it was also a treatise on botany, zoology, mineralogy and metallurgy.

The Ben Cao Gang Mu mentions 1,892 different herbs and is divided into 6 sections, 52 scrolls and 60 different categories.

It has been reported that Darwin had a copy of the Ben Cao Gang Mu with him on his voyage of discovery in 1831.

The World Health Organization says, “Traditional herbal medicines are naturally occurring, plant-derived substances with minimal or no industrial processing that have been used to treat illness within local or regional healing practices.”

I think that today’s profit-based corporations that produce modern medicine probably don’t want people to be free to use herbal medicine. because it cuts into their profits, but—if given a choice—I’d rather use herbal medicine first and modern medicine as a last resort.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010” Awards


Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

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19 Responses to A brief history of Chinese Herbalism

  1. Semper fi … Auto correct strikes again.

  2. Where I live, herbs are far from free. They rival commercial drugs in cost and are harder to come by. They are powerful. People tend to under-estimate them. They are not benign just because they are natural. You can overdose on a natural drug, no problem. I know people who’ve done it.

    Nothing is completely safe. Also, herbs in this country are unregulated so you never (unless you grow it yourself) know exactly what you’re getting.

    People don’t get the difference between “natural,” “organic,” and “harmless.” They think it’s all the same thing.

    • There was a study of supplement products that was reported by the Los Angeles Times that revealed that we can’t trust anything—the study found powdered granite in products that were supposed to be mineral supplements and in some products there wasn’t very much or any of the supplement being sold. I’ve also read that about 90% of all the supplements and herbs on the market are manufactured at one plant in Mexico somewhere and they sell to most of the companies that sell supplements and herbs.


      Even in China the people don’t trust the merchants that sell herbs. It seems that in a free, un-monitered, market capitalist economic system, we have to pay close attention to that old saying of buyer beware.

      For that reason, I buy my supplements from a company that voluntarily has the FDA inspect their facility and manufacturing process. There facility is certified to be in compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) requirements set forth in NSF/ANSI Standard 173-2012, Dietary Supplements by NSF International, and it also became a registered U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Drug Establishment in 2011. From what I’ve read, not many supplement companies go this route to prove the quality of their products because most wouldn’t measure up. This company also sells its supplements in Australia and from what I’ve read the manufacturing regulations for supplements/herbs in Australia are more highly regulated than the US.

      I imagine that’s another reason why there is so much pressure to get government watch dogs out of making businesses behave—so they can cheat the consumer more and boost profits while cutting quality. What other reason would there be to get the governmetn watchdogs off their backs—but to lie to and cheat the public without worrying about getting caught?

      • I am not convinced it is possible to cheat us more. I think they are all in maximum cheat mode already!

      • Consider the effort of food corporations that are creating these GMO foods who want to keep that food unlabeled and secret so the public won’t know what they are buying, and the fact that the food industry is fighting to lower the legal description of organic foods so they can label foods organic that aren’t organic. There is a food war being waged right now and giant food and chemical corporations are spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying politicians to lower quality standards as much as possible.

        They have always been in cheat mode. They just want to make it totally legal to cheat us, trick us, and fool us, so they can’t be taken to court, fined or sent to prison.

        For instance, AT&T, Comcast and the other big phone providers all have clauses in their contracts that we have to agree to, to use their services, and that fine print says we can’t join a class action court case against them and the only legal option we have is arbitration they control or to take them to small claims court. Ever since the McDonald’s Hot Coffee court case, the big corporations have been tricking us to sign away most if not all of our legal rights that the Bill of Rights gives us, so they can legally cheat us—and I think there’s still a little room for them to get worse. And when it looks like they can’t cheat us any more, they’ll become more creative to find more ways to do it.

      • Fortunately, you can see %GMO foods. Easy to spot them. And I don’t think they will continue to produce a lot of them. People don’t like them. They rot very quickly, don’t taste the way they should and often look rather grotesque. While labeling would be nice, eyes and not being stupid works too.

        I got rear-ended while driving across the Tappanzee bridge. By a bridge worker. In an official New York bridge worker car. I couldn’t sue because of the laws in New York. They paid our medical and repair bills, but you had to have suffered permanent injury great than 20% to actually sue. And he was completely in the wrong. I hope at least they fired him. Tort law sucks.

      • I think many of the tort laws are unconstitutional but with the one seat conservative majority in the Supreme Court and the GOP majority in both Houses of Congress, there will be no chance of justice serving the people because justice is being manipulated to benefit business and profits only. I also doesn’t help that the Milton Friedman thinking neo-liberals seem to have the upper hand in the Democratic party too.

        In fact, we have a reverse corporate reform movement that has been growing in power for the last 30 years to reverse a lot of the gains made in the early 20th century and roll back the U.S. to the era of the robber barons and 1900 when 40% of the U.S. population lived in poverty and millions of parents, to survive, were forced to sell their own children to a form of slavery called servitude as young as age 7 that included factories, coal mines and prostitution.

      • I’m glad I’m old.

      • I’ve thought the same. But what if we live another twenty+ years? If the oligarchs have their way, we could all be homeless and starving by them.

      • If I live another 20 years, it will be a medical miracle. Not that I would object, mind you, but I’m not counting on it 🙂 Anyway, given our fragile finances, we could be homeless and starving next week.

      • I think many Americans—who work for poverty wages, carry too much debt thanks to the poverty wages and have no savings also because of the poverty wages—are one check or month away from being homeless and starving.

      • We are in slightly better shape now than we were a few years ago, but it is very fragile. At least social security and pensions, though small, have always been dependable. But that could change. Even a very small change would finish us off.

      • I also see the danger. The GOP hasn’t had a majority in the Congress for more than 70 years—-and look what they are trying to do now that they do—and if they keep their majority in both Houses of Congress and win the White House in 2016 in addition to the 5 seat conservative majority in the Supreme Court, it’s possible they will gut or do away with SS, Medicare, unemployment, food stamps—the whole safety net and in the process somehow blame the Democrats for the suffering caused.

        Imagine Jeb Bush—or one of the other nut cases in the GOP (like a hard core Tea Party conservative) who plan to go after the office of president—in the White House with an even bigger GOP majority in Congress, and then JB appoints one or two more justices to the Supreme Court before his four or eight year term ends turning the SC even more conservative then it already is. If that happens, most of us might as well jump off a cliff and end it all.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if, before the GOP was done, women lost the vote, children could be sold into slavery again, etc. In fact, the GOP might even roll the U.S. back to the early 1850s and institute slavery again for people of color.

      • I try not to worry about it. It’s bad enough getting old, but this stuff is just so WRONG.

      • I think I might see if I can cover my house in bullet proof armor with bullet proof glass. It would probably cost too much though.


      • Got extra room? We’ll bring coffee.

      • Coffee and ammunition. The coffee will keep us awake longer so we will stay alert. Once the misery and suffering gets bad enough, then the younger people will start burning and looting. Got to be ready. :o)

      • Hey, Garry was a marine. sempervivum fi!

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