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— updated 2006-11-12

Recommended reading in traditional Chinese herbology

Recommended list of books and references for the professional herbalist and serious student of Chinese (TCM) herbology. Topics include TCM health assessment methods (including tongue inspection, pulse palpation); materia medica; herbal formulation; history of medicine; general medical references.

Subtopics on this page…

Copyright ©1995 by RMH-Publications Trust; all rights reserved.





Note for RMHI course participants: required (**) or highly recommended (*) reference texts.

RMHI publications in traditional Chinese herbology

  • ** Wicke, Roger; HerbalThink-TCM: Self-Study Reference, TCM Herbal Tutor, and TCM Pulse Simulator (reference and self-testing software); Rocky Mountain Herbal Institute, Hot Springs, Montana, c2002-2004.
  • Wicke, Roger; Traditional Chinese Herbal Science: volume 1, The Language and Patterns of Life (5th edition); Rocky Mountain Herbal Institute, Hot Springs, Montana, c1994.
  • Wicke, Roger; Traditional Chinese Herbal Science: volume 2, Herbs, Strategies and Case Studies (4th edition); Rocky Mountain Herbal Institute, Hot Springs, Montana, c1994.

For practitioners and advanced students of TCM, see extensive list of publications by C.S. Cheung, M.D., Harmonious Sunshine Cultural Center.

Theory and health assessment methods

  • * Wiseman, Nigel and Ellis, Andrew; Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine; Paradigm Publications; Brookline, Massachusetts; c1995. A good basic text outlining theories of Yin and Yang; Qi, Blood, Essence and Fluids, Channels and Organs; patterns of disharmony; and methods of treatment. Suitable for both acupuncture and TCM herbology training programs.
  • * Porkert, Manfred; The Essentials of Chinese Diagnostics; Acta Medicinae Sinensis, Zurich, Switzerland, c1983. An excellent outline of the major disharmonies of TCM with thoughtful discussion of philological issues, but difficult to read because of frequent usage of Latin terminology to translate TCM terminology.
  • * Glossary of Chinese Medical Terms and Acupuncture Points; transl. and compiled by Nigel Wiseman with Ken Boss; Paradigm Publications; Brookline, Massachusetts; c1990.
  • Kaptchuk, Ted; The Web That Has No Weaver; Congdon and Weed, Inc., New York, c1983. A readable introductory text to the theory of Chinese health disharmonies and their definitions. Does not contain many clinical examples, though, so the reader will require additional material to see how the terminology is used to describe specific clients and to choose herbs.
  • ** Maciocia, Giovanni; Tongue Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine; Eastland Press, Seattle, c1987. Contains several dozen full-color photographs of pathological tongues with explanations, plus comprehensive and lucid explanations of tongue inspection and analysis. The best textbook on this subject.
  • * Bin, Song Tian; Atlas of the Tongue and Lingual Coatings in Chinese Medicine; People's Medical Publishing House and Editions Sinomedic, Strasbourg, France, c1986. Contains several hundred excellent full-color photographs of pathological tongues with descriptions and TCM patterns of disharmony. Unfortunately, text may be difficult to obtain due to printing of limited editions.
  • Ma, Chien-Chung; Yang, Chih-Yi; and Pao, Tien-Pai; Methods of Tongue Diagnosis; Oriental Healing Arts Institute, Long Beach, California, c1981. Many useful details are listed, but may be a bit difficult to understand because of awkward translation.
  • Hsu, Hong-Yen and Wang, Su-Yen; The Theory of Feverish Diseases and Its Clinical Applications; Oriental Healing Arts Institute, Long Beach, California, c1985. A useful explanation of the theory and stages of feverish illnesses. The use of non-standard terminology for disharmonies, the non-PinYin transliteration of herb formulas, and non-standard pharmaceutical names of herb ingredients makes for frequently difficult reading.
  • Porkert, Manfred; The Theoretical Foundations of Chinese Medicine: Systems of Correspondence; MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, c1974. Interesting concepts, but highly theoretical and lacking in practical examples or foundation.
  • Acupuncture, A Comprehensive Text; John O'Connor and Dan Bensky, ed.; Eastland Press, Chicago, c1981. One of the most authoritative texts on acupuncture; includes presentation of basic TCM principles of health assessment also relevant to use of massage and herbs, though these are not discussed.
  • Essentials of Chinese Acupuncture; compiled by Beijing College of Traditional Chinese Medicine et al.; Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, China, 1980.

Pharmacopeia and herbal formulation

  • ** Chinese Herbal Medicine: Formulas and Strategies; Dan Bensky and Randall Barolet, ed.; Eastland Press, Seattle, c1990. One of the most authoritative English texts on TCM herbal formulation, although perhaps a bit too much information for the beginning student to assimilate. In addition, the symptom-sign indications listed for many formulas in some cases are too narrow and do not give the practitioner an idea of the full range of clinical pictures for which the formula might be applicable. To avoid this, one should focus more on the TCM functions of each formula rather than the listed symptom-sign indications.
  • * Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica; Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble, ed.; Eastland Press, Seattle, c1986. One of the most authoritative English texts on TCM materia medica. The beginning herbalist is to beware of certain toxic substances and herbs that are listed, which should be avoided because better alternatives exist. Otherwise, the text is a thorough compilation of TCM clinical functions, dosages, contraindications, and physiological and pharmacological action.
  • ** A Clinical Guide to Chinese Herbs and Formulae; by Chen Song Yu and Li Fei, transl. by Jin Hui De; Churchill Livingstone, c1993. An excellent study guide for the beginning student of TCM and a good companion to Chinese Herbal Medicine: Formulas and Strategies and Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Compares similar herbs and formulas, explains how they differ in their action, and gives guidelines for choosing one over another in specific situations.
  • * The Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica; by Kun-Ying Yen; SMC Publishing Inc., c1992. Full-color photographs of prepared dried Chinese herbs, as commonly available commercially, with text descriptions. Very useful for beginning herbalists in verifying the identity of commercially purchased herb products. Mislabelling of products is not uncommon, and proper identification by inspection is essential for safe practice.
  • * Cheung, C.S.; Traditional Chinese Medicine: Before Completion, vol. I and II; Harmonious Sunshine Cultural Center, San Francisco, c1987. * Cheung, C.S.; Traditional Chinese Medicine: Case Studies, vol. I and II; Harmonious Sunshine Cultural Center, San Francisco, c1987. Recommended for advanced students of TCM; how to handle difficult cases; cases of master herbalists.
  • Cheung, C.S.; Traditional Chinese Medicine: Handbook of Nutritional Therapy; Harmonious Sunshine Cultural Center, San Francisco, c1987.
  • Flaws, Bob; Arisal of the Clear, a Simple Guide to Healthy Eating According to Traditional Chinese Medicine; Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, Colorado USA, c1991.
  • Flaws, Bob; My Sister the Moon, the Diagnosis and Treatment of Menstrual Diseases by Traditional Chinese Medicine; Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, Colorado USA, c1992.
  • Flaws, Bob; Scatology and the Gate of Life: the Role of the Large Intestine in Immunity, an Integrated Chinese-Western Approach; Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, Colorado USA, c1991.
  • Flaws, Bob; Something Old, Something New: Essays on the TCM Description of Western Herbs, Pharmaceuticals, Vitamins and Minerals; Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, Colorado USA, c1991.
  • Flaws, Bob and Wolfe, Honora; Prince Wen Hui's Cook: Chinese Dietary Therapy; Paradigm Publications, Brookline, Massachusetts USA, c1983. An introduction to TCM dietary principles, case studies, traditional Chinese recipes, and classification of common foods by TCM properties.
  • Fu Qing-zhu's Gynecology; transl. Yang Shou-zhong and Liu Da-wei; Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, Colorado USA, c1992.
  • Handbook of Traditional Chinese Gynecology; compiled by Zhejiang College of TCM, transl. Zhang Ting-Liang, ed. Bob Flaws; Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, Colorado USA, c1987.
  • Hsu, Hong-Yen and Peacher, William A.; Chinese Herb Medicine and Therapy; Oriental Healing Arts Institute, c1976.
  • Huang Bing-shan; AIDS and its Treatment by Traditional Chinese Medicine; transl. Fu Di and Bob Flaws; Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, Colorado USA, c1991.
  • Keys, John D.; Chinese Herbs: Their Botany, Chemistry and Pharmacodynamics; Charles E. Tuttle Co., Rutland, Vermont USA, c1976.
  • Lad, Vasant and Frawley, David; The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine; Lotus Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico USA, c1986. An introduction to Ayurvedic health theory with a materia medica including common spices and selected herbs from the Indian and Chinese materia medica.
  • Li Shih-Chen; Chinese Medicinal Herbs; transl. by F. Porter Smith and G.A. Stuart; Georgetown Press, San Francisco, c1973.
  • Lin, Anna; The Dao of Increasing Longetivity and Conserving One's Life, a Handbook of Traditional Chinese Geriatrics and Chinese Herbal Patent Medicines; Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, Colorado USA, c1991.
  • Lin, Anna; Handbook of TCM Urology and Male Sexual Dysfunction; Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, Colorado USA, c1992.
  • Lu, Henry C.; Chinese System of Food Cures; Sterling Publishing Co., New York, c1986.
  • Marcus, Alon; Acute Abdominal Syndromes, their Diagnosis and Treatment According to Combined Chinese-Western Medicine; Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, Colorado USA, c1991.
  • Yeung, Him-che; Handbook of Chinese Herbal Formulas, vol. 1 [materia medica] and vol. 2 [formulas]; Los Angeles, c1983. A handy reference set for TCM herbalists, organized alphabetically by Mandarin PinYin transliteration of the names of herbs and herbal formulas.
  • Jian-Hui, Liang; A Handbook of Traditional Chinese Dermatology; Blue Poppy Press; c1994. [ram: Discusses uses of herbs with standard allopathic treatment, as practiced in mainland China.]
  • Naeser, Margaret A.; Outline Guide to Chinese Herbal Patent Medicines in Pill Form; Boston Chinese Medicine; c1990. [ram: Good descriptions of quite a number of Chinese patent medicines, with ingredients, indications, and contraindications.]

Medical references

  • Bandler, Richard, and Grinder, John; The Structure of Magic, (vol. 1-2); Science and Behavior Books, Inc.; Palo Alto, California, c1975. This series is helpful in understanding the linguistic issues in history-taking and in uncovering client's problems.
  • * Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment; Lange Medical Publications, Los Altos, California, published annually.
  • Grant, J.C.B.; Grant's Atlas of Anatomy; Williams and Wilkins Co., Baltimore, c1972.
  • * Gray's Anatomy; C.M. Goss, ed.; Lea and Fibiger, Philadelphia, c1973.
  • * Guyton, Arthur C.; Textbook of Medical Physiology; W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, c1971.
  • * Macklis, R.M., Mendelsohn, M.E., and Mudge, G.H.; Manual of Introductory Clinical Medicine; Little, Brown, and Co., Boston, c1984.
  • * Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy; Merck and Co., Inc., Rahway, New Jersey, c1977. Published annually.
  • * Snell, Richard S.; Clinical Anatomy for Medical Students; Little, Brown and Co., Boston, c1973.
  • * Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary; C.L. Thomas, ed.; F.A. Davis Co., Philadelphia, c1973.

General history of medicine

  • * Unschuld, Paul U.; Medicine in China: A History of Ideas; University of California Press; c1985. For practitioners of TCM health care, an essential treatise on the source of fundamental ideas in Chinese medical theory, and their relationship to philosophical and religious thought during the various dynasties up to the modern period.
  • Ackerknecht, Erwin H.; A Short History of Medicine; Ronald Press, New York, c1968.
  • Ackerknecht, Erwin H.; History and Geography of the Most Important Diseases; Hafner Publishers, New York, c1965.
  • Atkinson, Donald T.; Magic, Myth and Medicine; World Publishing Co., c1956.
  • Castiglioni, Arturo; A History of Medicine; Alfred A. Knopf, New York, c1941.
  • Clendening, Logan; Source Book of Medical History; Dover Publications, New York, c1942.
  • Edelstein, Ludwig; Ancient Medicine; Owsei Temkin and C. Lilian Temkin, ed.; Johns Hopkins University Press, c1967.
  • Garrison, Fielding H.; An Introduction to the History of Medicine, 4th ed.; W.B. Saunders Co., c1929.
  • Thorwald, Jurgen; Science and Secrets of Early Medicine; Harcourt, Brace, and World, Inc.; New York, c1962.

To learn more

If you would like to learn more about Chinese herbology and the traditional Chinese method of analyzing and assessing patterns of health imbalance, see:

  • HerbalThink-TCM (self-study reference and self-quizzing software) for more information and how to order.
  • Traditional Chinese Herbal Sciences program curriculum. An intensive educational program for working health professionals who cannot relocate for full-time study. Clinical-case-oriented. Appropriate for acupuncturists and other health care providers preparing for professional certification exams.