v30 #3 A Reference Book You May Have Missed

by | Jul 10, 2018 | 0 comments

PDF copyby Marjorie Hlava  (President, Access Innovations, Inc.)

Chinese Medicinal Plants, Herbal Drugs and Substitutes: An Identification Guide by Christine Leon and Lin Yu-Lin.  Publisher: Kew.  Place of publication: Richmond, Surrey, UK.  Hardback, English. ISBN: 9781842463871. UPC: 9781842463871.  EAN: 9781842463871.

It’s the organization of the book that sets this reference, Chinese Medicinal Plants, Herbal Drugs and Substitutes: An Identification Guide, apart from all the others.  The listings include a wealth of well-done photographs of the plant in all its forms:  living leaves, flower, fruit, as well as dried in crude form, decocted, carbonized and sometimes ground.  Identifying the native habitat where the plant is found, the morphology, methods for decocting the pieces, harvesting, how to process, which parts to use (and not use), the common and botanical names including a full synonymy (botanical names change with amazing rapidity).  Plant descriptions provide both a botanical and a layman’s plant description. There is also a handy conservation status of the plant in China and globally. It is an indispensable guide for anyone working with traditional or herbal remedies. The items covered in the book are recognized in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia (CP) and western medical associations.  It is the first botanically authoritative as well as practical identification guide for traditional Chinese medicine.  It is easy to read and beautifully illustrated.

The book is organized into major sections depending on the plant part most used:  underground (rhizomes, roots, tubers and bulbs) above ground (aerial parts and whole plants), stems and woods, barks, leaves, flowers and their parts, fruits, seeds and other fruit parts.  Each section is color coded at the page edge and then alphabetic order by their Pin Yin names as used in the CP2015. In addition there are three layout types for the pages:

Layout A — Single species which are not widely used outside of China,

Layout B — Comparative text for a pharmacopoeia drug obtained from more than one species not widely used outside of China, and

Layout C — A pharmacopoeia drug obtained from more than one species traded internationally.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the book is that is gives the official and unofficial substitutes.  This is a safety feature that most libraries will want to have available to their patrons. Use of potent “natural medicines” has high risk due to the similarities of the plants, especially when they are dried.  Many of these plants are easily confused or adulterated with other plants making them unsafe or ineffective. There are many substitutions made and the user must be alert to which are effective versus those which are placebos or, worse, dangerous to the point of poisons.

There is extensive front matter and a very extensive 30 page index in this 806 page tome.  The authors, Christine Leon and Lin Yu-Lin, spent 15 years collecting, assembling, testing, and checking the information contained in the reference.  The work is the result of a joint project of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.  The taxonomy and scientific nomenclature reflects current opinions by aligning with Kew’s Medical Plant Name System (MPNS) portal which allows a cross walk from The Chinese Medical sources to Western Medicine.  A significant bonus for the researcher and layman alike.


Marjorie Hlava is the President of Access Innovations, Inc. where she is known for her work applying taxonomies and other controlled vocabularies to digital collections.  She has a degree in Botany as her first love and continues to read widely on the subject.


About the Book’s Authors

Christine Leon is a medical botanist specializing in Chinese medicine.  She has worked at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens since 1997 where she helped establish the Chinese Medicinal Plants Authentication Centre at Kew, in partnership with the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development in Beijing, China.

Lin Yu-Lin is a Professor at the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College known as the leading authority on Chinese medical plants and their materia medica.



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