This page, to be updated soon, will list materials suggested in preparing for the TCMzone course, “Using sensory exploration to learn Chinese herbs more deeply.” This short course is part of a larger course I’ve taught for many years called the Shennong Method, so you will see that language in some of the material here.
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- Having a good copy of the Shennong ben cao jing, and leafing through it before class, may enhance your experience. My favorite version is translated by Sabine Wilms, no other translation even comes close to the elegance and fidelity of this version.
- Chinese Medicinal Identification : An Illustrated Approach is a great book for learning the basics of how to look at herbs from the perspective of assessing quality. One of the best sources for images of Chinese herbs. Eric Brand from Legendary Herbs was part of the team that put this book together. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
- Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm is a great book for anyone who wants to learn about the small scale cultivation of herbs, but it also contains great photos of many Chinese herbs. There aren’t too many on my list in this book, but it’s still worth picking up if you don’t have it.
You will want 10-20g of the following herbs. The best source, by far, is Spring Wind herbs. But if you don’t have a bulk pharmacy, buying an entire pound of herbs may be less attractive. In that case, a local herb shop, or in some cases, healthfood store bulk section may be of use.
If your source offers multiple types of decoction pieces (sliced versus cubed, for example) it may be interesting to get both. Herbs in parentheses are alternates that may be used to replace the primary herb, or used as an interesting comparison.
- 桂枝 Guizhi / Cinnamon twig (Rougui / Cinnamon bark)
- 白芍 Baishao / White peony root (Chishao / Red Peony root)
- 生薑 Shengjiang / Fresh ginger rhizome – get this one at the grocery store. (Ganjiang / Dried ginger rhizome, Paojiang / Blast fried ginger rhizome)
- 甘草 Gancao / Unprocessed licorice root (Zhigcancao or Gancaomi / honey mix fried licorice root)
- 大棗 Dazao / Chinese date (Hei Dazao – black Chinese date)
- 白朮 Baizhu / Atractylodes rhizome (Cangzhu – red Atractylodes rhizome)
- 茯苓 Fuling / Poria fungus (Fushen – Poria fungus with heartwood)
- 黃芩 Huangqin / Scutellaria root
- 黃連 Huanglian / Coptis rhizome
- 五味子 Wuweizi / Schizandra seed
If possible, it would be wonderful to also have specimens of the plants. This is not possible for some herbs at all, and for most people it is a stretch. Some herbs, such as Baishao and Shengjiang, may be possible to find at least in their decorative versions at well stocked local nurseries or Asian grocers that have live plants. Though finding the appropriate species, or even the proper part of the plant may be difficult, we will be looking at photos of whole plants for clues as to the function of the herbs – having the live versions would be even better!
If you have time and inclination, you can sometimes source Chinese herb plants from online sources. My favorite, which sometimes has only seeds but does sometimes sell bare root plants that they ship nationwide, is Strictly Medicinal Seeds.