Chinese Medicine, Herbalism
comments 8

Herb Samples: A Most Useful Study Aid

The last 4 weeks have been a whirl-wind. But I made out out on the other side! Yes, I officially graduated.

My last board exam was the herbal one. I spent a week doing practice tests, reading through my notes and fondling my samples. My herb samples came from the free table at school. Some samples were missing, some had pre-made notes and some had lost their, um, freshness, but I didn’t care. They did the trick. It is much easier to memorize things when the thing you have to memorize is in your hands, or at least it is for me. I would’ve preferred to taste each one individually, see it growing, learn the botany, chemistry and ethnobotanic history in an attempt to really learn it. How much can you know about a plant by just reading about it? A lot, true, but so much can be gleaned experientially.

Above is a small ring of Calm the Spirit herbs. Yuan Zhi is on top; it is a mushroom.

Below are all sorts of herbs. The top right corner is the Clear Summer Heat-Damp category. Huo Xiang is a variety of anise hyssop. A curious thing about Chinese herbalism is that there are official substitutes. Another herb known as Huo Xiang and listed in the same entry in the materia medica is Pogostemon, or patchouli.  Completely unrelated, yet same name, herb and actions. More on that some other day.

What else do we got here? Chuan Jiao is the Sichuan pepper in the Warm the Interior category. It is delicious with fried peanuts, by the way. The bottom left corner is Tian Men Dong, an asparagus root, in the Tonify Yin category.

We learned more than 360 herbs. Keeping my samples organized was almost as hard as memorizing their details.

Below: Maciocia texts for reference, plus two favorites for a more emotional, elemental look at the Organs and meridians.


The herb sample above is not Ba Ji Tian as the notes say, it is Mu Tong. Ba Ji Tian is interesting as it is related to noni, a favorite herb of multi-level marketing companies. It happens to be one of my own favorites for Kidney Qi Xu and Yang Xu with low back pain, fatigue, reproductive problems and the like.

Below: Ah yes, Yin Qiao. Wonderful formula, beautifully balanced, but overused for colds. It’s for Wind-Heat, not Wind-Cold. The chief herbs are honeysuckle and forsythia, both beautiful herbs in a beautiful formula. Another thing I love about this formula is its use of Lu Gen (a reed) and Niu Bang Zi (burdock seed, I adore that weedy little seed).

Formulas are now considered beautiful, intelligent, elegant or graceful. When did that happen? I’ve fallen in love with what others would consider a bunch of dried herbs.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *