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Jing Nuan Wu.

Jing Nuan Wu, An Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica, Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN 0195140176, 2005 (hardcover $124.50).

How sad that the editor of this 700-page tome, Dr. Jing Nuan Wu, died before seeing the completion of the elegant, pictorial work An Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica. He would have been proud of his daughter, Elizabeth Yng-Wong, for her efforts to bring the final English version to fruition. The uninformed reader can "google" the editor's name and learn that Dr. Wu pioneered the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in the Washington, DC area for many years before his death in 2002. Such was his renown, not only as a leader in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) but also as an artist and translator of ancient Chinese works, it was reported that the band Steely Dan named a song after him on their 1975 album, Katy Lied (http://www.herbalgramorg/youngliving/herbalgram/articleview.asp?a=2460).

An illustrated Chinese Materia Medica is a book about TCM with special emphasis on herbal medicine. In her acknowledgment, Ms. Wong states that its purpose is to "broaden the scope of medical and botanical knowledge in the hopes that it leads to the ongoing refinement of the healing process around the world." She thanks Dr. Xinzhong Qian, China's former health minister, for his assistance but is unclear about the role he played in the book's assembly. By the same token, although Ms. Wong names others who helped her following her father's death, their contributions are not clear, and the reviewers would have appreciated seeing their bio sketches.

The Introduction comprises 27 pages of the historical development of Chinese herbal medicine, theoretical bases of herbal use and traditional Chinese medicine, and general rules for combining herbal products. Then, monographs of each of more than 300 plants cover more than 600 pages. Each monograph is laid out with remarks on the left-hand side of the page and an illustration of the plant or plant parts (or animals in some cases) on the right-hand side. The remarks consist of the pharmaceutical name; English names; part used; flavor, property, and channel tropism; functions; clinical uses and major combinations; dosage and administration; and precautions. The monographs are targeted to provide guidelines for the preparation and use of herbs, basic ideas about their uses and combinations. There follows an Appendix sans illustrations similarly describing minerals, insects or insect parts used in Chinese herbology. The book concludes with a Selected Bibliography and Glossary of terms.

This is the first fully illustrated English version of the Chinese Materia Medica. It is a data bank of substances used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The translation appears to be done well, and the font used is easy on the eye. The colored, artistic renderings are strikingly beautiful.

The Introduction to An illustrated Chinese Materia Medica traces the history, theories, and development of Chinese herbal medicine through thousands of years. The contributors draw extensively on the rich literature in Chinese medicine as well as on their own experience and expertise to explain the Eastern philosophy. This philosophy is antithetical to the Western healthcare belief, which targets treatment specifically at disease-affected organs. To their credit, they present the central ideas of Eastern philosophy in an understandable way. Still, it is hard to translate or convey these difficult to grasp concepts to a general Western audience.

It is difficult for readers who are not steeped in TCM culture and philosophy to conceptualize restoring an individual's harmony with nature through the use of herbal combinations. Readers should not be surprised that there is no evidenced-based medicine or decisionmaking contained in the book. They should not expect to find any chemistry, pharmacology, or referenced research support or proof of evidence for alternative medicine treatments here either.

According to a 1998 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than four out of 10 Americans use such treatments as herbal remedies, spiritual healing and acupuncture. With people increasingly seeking and using alternatives to conventional or Western medicine, one response has been to expand graduate programs in alternative medicine. This book should be a useful resource for students of naturopathic medicine as well as practitioners of naturopathy. It should be useful resource to acupuncturists (who are herbalists) and to library and information resource professionals (e.g., drug information center staff). Others to whom this book can be recommended include medicinal and pharmaceutical chemists, pharmacologists, and people connected with the herb industry. It cannot be recommended for lay persons who wish to self-medicate.

On the ISBN identifier page, in a small font, a disclaimer cautions readers about the variability of doses used in herbology. This important message should have appeared in the Introduction and highlighted in the section titled Doses. Herbal preparations are usually used in detailed and specialized combinations to produce a "better" effect or "balance" each other. Each monograph provides a "laundry list" of herbs used in combination with the one being considered. There are no details, however, about which combinations are the more popular ones or about whether or not they should be taken together or in reduced or full doses.

Joseph Kwadwo Fordjour, Norman L. Katz Department of Biopharmaceutical Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60612, USA
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Author:Fordjour, Joseph Kwadwo; Katz, Norman L.
Publication:Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy & Phytopharmacology
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2008
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