Chinese patent medicines

Medical Herbalism 3(3):8

Much of Chinese herbalism as practiced in the U.S. is in the form of prescriptions of Chinese “patent medicines.” These are the equivalent in China of over-the-counter medicines in the United States. Whereas a Chinese doctor will usually individualize an herbal prescription, a pharmacist will more likely prescribe a patent medicine. The Chinese patents are more important in the American practice of Chinese medicine. Most American acupuncturists are not trained in Chinese herbalism to the same extent that Chinese practitioners are. Resources for personalizing prescriptions of Chinese herbs are not always available in the U.S. outside such centers as San Francisco or New York, where a practitioner can write out a prescription and have it filled by a Chinese pharmacy. Also important in the practice of Oriental medicine in the U.S. are “modern” patents—formulas made by U.S. companies based on traditional Chinese formulas.

The five books below all cover various aspects of Chinese patent medicines. The practitioner will need a basic education in Chinese medical terminology and diagnosis to use these books. The last two books are proprietary—published by American companies or primarily about the products sold by those companies. Other information may be available from individual companies. No one book reviewed here covers the whole field of Chinese and American patents.

Clinical Handbook of Chinese Prepared Medicines. by Chun-Han Zhu1989 Paradigm Publications. Brookline, Mass. 355 pages Hardbound. $39.95 (Order from publisher at 1-800-873-3046)

This is the most authoritative of the books listed here—the Chinese author is thoroughly familiar with the subject from personal experience as a practitioner and teacher. The book deals only with Chinese-made patents. It is a high quality book, durably hardbound with easy-to-read large type. The patents are arranged according to action, with a section on syndrome and formula differentiation accompanying each section.

Outline Guide to Chinese Herbal Patent Medicines in Pill Form. by Margaret A. Naeser 1990 Boston Chinese Medicine. Boston, Mass. Softcover. 372 pages. $24.95 Order from Boston Chinese Medicine, P.O. Box 5747, Boston, Mass. 02114 or call 617-720-4448

This contains essentially the same information as above, but in outline format, better suited to quick clinical reference than the paragraph style of Zhu’s book. It does not contain Zhu’s descriptions of pattern identification and formula differentiation, however. It does have an excellent section cross-referencing western medical terms to the patents. It includes reproductions of the labels of the Chinese patents to help definitively identify the products. The production, typography, and soft cover format make it somewhat harder to read than Zhu.

Chinese Herbal Patent Formulas by Jake Fratkin, OMD Institute for Traditional Medicine. Portland, OR. Softcover, $15.95. Order from Shya Publications PO box 1376 Boulder, CO 80306. (303) 665-0502

This book became the standard text in English in this field when it first came out. It contains useful sections on many American patents, but the list is not up-to-date. Although somewhat overdue for a revised edition, it remains the best general reference to American patents. It does not contain as much detail as the previous two books.

Chinese Classics: Popular Chinese Herbal formulas. Jake Paul Fratkin, OMD 1990. Shya Publications. Softcover. 105 pages. PO Box 1376 Boulder, CO 80306. (303) 665-0502

This book describes the sixty-four products offered by the McZand herbal company, although accompanying each product is a list of what other companies it is available from. Features of interest in this book are brief tongue and pulse information for each product, and a repertory-style index of conditions according to conventional Western terminology.

Prescriptions on Silk and Paper: The History and Development of Chinese Patent Medicines. By Subhuti Dharmananda. 1990. Institute for Traditional Medicine and Preventive Health Care, 2442 SE Sherman, Portland, OR 97214. Bound photocopy. 148 pages. $12.00. Order from ITM. $3 shipping.

This proprietary book describes many Chinese patents, and includes some products available from the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon. It has an appendix on products available from Health Concerns. It has excellent and informative sections on how the development of patents was influenced by the different schools of Chinese herbalism and how they have been modified in the “modern” patents. It also has n authoritative section and discussion on Chinese ingredients from rare and endangered species.
  Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner

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