Shanghan Lun (Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders) compiled by Zhang Zhongjing, between 196 and 220 CE is among the oldest complete clinical textbooks in the world. It was the first medical work to combine the theories of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) with herbal therapy and contains herbal prescriptions, many of which have been in continuous use since and still widely popular today. Thousands of other herbs and herbal formulas of ancient literature have been carefully handed down with detailed instructions for preparation.
Tu Youyou, a retired scientist at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing, shared half the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her contribution to developing the antimalarial drug artemisinin over 40 years ago. Drugs based on artemisinin have led to saving lives of millions of people. After compiling and studying 2,000 Chinese herbal formulas, Tu Youyou found one compound to be effective: sweet wormwood or Artemisia anuua, used in traditional Chinese medicine for “intermittent fever”—a key indication of malaria. But the true breakthrough of isolating artemisinin was achieved when Dr. Tu found a particular recipe—that required soaking the wormwood in water instead of boiling it—in an ancient Chinese medical text written more than 1,600 years ago.
Artemisinin, the most effective drug that combats malaria today is “a gift from traditional Chinese medicine to the world”, Tu Youyou said in her presentation at Nobel Lectures in Physiology or Medicine in Stockholm. Dr. Tu believes “traditional Chinese medicine and pharmacology are a great treasure house, [which] should be explored and raised to a higher level.” Dr. Tu told the audience, “China has accumulated substantial experience in clinical practice, integrated and summarized medical application of most natural resources over the last thousands of years through traditional Chinese medicine,” and ”adopting, exploring, developing, and advancing these practices would allow us to discover more novel medicines beneficial to the world healthcare”. Lars Heikensten of Nobel Foundation has said, ”It’s a fascinating story when [Dr. Tu] recalled how she went back to traditional Chinese medicine and found this method that’s so very important for mankind.”
Scientists in China, Korea, Japan, and all over the world, have demonstrated that the TCM herbs contain active ingredients that support many of their claimed actions. As global researches into TCM herbs continue, modern technology is adopted to dissect the TCM formulas and their complex biological interactive system to isolate the effective components.
The Chinese Materia Medica includes more than 6,000 plants, roots, flowers, seeds, fruits, minerals, shells, and more. The herbs are combined in formulas and administered as:
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