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— updated 1998-01-19


American herbalists' realpolitik: practice and politics of Chinese herbology

Introduction and table of contents for essays on the practice and politics of Chinese (TCM) herbology and health care.

The essays in this series evolved from discussions of challenges facing TCM herbalists in 1990's America in the areas of education, regulation, and politics. Today's herbalists face the same problems as those of ancient herbalists and physicians, and I have emphasized a historical approach to solving them. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. To avoid this fate, I hope these essays will encourage TCM herbalists around the world to overcome these challenges so our profession can grow, rather than become moribund and dogmatic. — Roger W. Wicke, Ph.D.

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


Table of contents of essays in this series:

  • History of herbology and medical herbalism: oppressed arts. (66K) Special examination of the relationship between religious and political climate and the development of herbal traditions from ancient to modern times.
  • Modest proposals for the improvement of traditional Chinese herbal education, with guidelines for the self-motivated student. (76K) If you are considering a career as an herbalist, you should read this article.
  • The right to practice herbology, legal and historical basis. (56K) Many alternative health practitioners are vaguely aware of the desirability of avoiding claiming to treat or cure disease, in order to avoid being accused of practicing of medicine without a license. Here is the low-down, complete with U.S. and state Supreme Court case citations, that explicitly outlines the boundaries that herbalists and other alternative practitioners must not cross. Know your rights and obligations so that you can practice lawfully and ethically. Note: a state health-care practice license (massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc) does not necessarily protect you from the need to know this information.
  • A review of issues relevant to regulating Chinese herbal practice. (41K) Regulation under the guise of protecting the public has been often used as a device to impose self-serving monopolies on the health care professions.
  • Herbalists' guidelines for avoiding the practice of medicine: a checklist for protecting your rights as an herbalist. Conclusions and guidelines are derived from the preceding articles to help herbalists defend their right to assist and educate the public.
  • Stop FDA attempts to restrict availability of herbs and non-drug natural products: a resource guide for herbalists in countering this trend. Special focus on recent proposals for good manufacturing practices for herbal product manufacturers, which could affect the viability of small herb businesses.

Other articles on health care politics:



I am grateful to C. S. Cheung, M.D., for his insights and encouragement. Our numerous frank discussions together have yielded what I hope is a useful melding of ideas from West and East that, together, may penetrate to the heart of problems facing TCM herbalists.

I would also like to thank my students, including Karin Stallard, Martha Mathews-Libster, Jo Rigg, and Lilo Klaehn for providing me with many of the stimuli and ideas for these essays.

— Roger W. Wicke, Ph.D.