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close this bookMedicinal plants: Rescuing a global heritage (WB, 1997, 80 p.)
close this folder2. China
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentProduction and trade
View the documentNotable Chinese medicinal plants
View the documentGovernment initiatives
View the documentLinks to modern medicine
View the documentLinks to agriculture
View the documentLinks to forestry
View the documentProtecting medicinal-plant biodiversity

(introductory text...)

In China, medicinal plants have long enjoyed a prominent role in healthcare services. Indeed, Chinese traditional medicine has a history extending back 4000 years with the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine considered to be the world's oldest extant medical book. The most famous Chinese work on on traditional medicine was the Compendium of Materia Medica written by Li Shizhen (1518-1593). The fiftytwo volumes describe 1,892 kinds of medicines, including 374 new ones, and 11,096 folk prescriptions and proven recipes. Zhong Yao Da Ci Dian, published in China in the 1970s describes 5,767 different kinds of herbal medicines (Box 3). In very modem times (1958) A Barefoot Doctors Manual, translated into many languages, describes both modem Western medical practices and the traditional Chinese methods of diagnosis and healing. Chinese traditional medicine stands today as the result of countless centuries of valuable practical experience, and is enriching modem medical knowledge throughout the world.

Box 3: The Snake That Knew

A legend from the most ancient times tells of a farmer who found a snake near his hut. He beat it with his hoe and left it for dead. The same snake reappeared a few days later, apparently as healthy as before. Again the farmer beat it. This time he watched the bleeding snake crawl to a particular clump of weeds and begin to eat them. By the next morning its wounds were healing again, and its vitality rapidly returning.

Such was the fabled discovery of san qi or Panax notoginseng. It is the main ingredient of Yunnan Baiyao, a light tan herbal powder that counteracts internal or external bleeding by promoting extremely rapid cell division and thus bonding the edges of wounds. Yunnan Baiyao also helps to improve blood circulation, disperse blood clots, and stop inflammation and swelling as well as expelling pus and counteracting poisons. Chinese soldiers have carried it in their first aid kits for many centuries. They call it jin bu huan - more precious than gold.

Source: Yuqiu Guo, TONE, 1995.