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CLOSE THIS BOOKTraditional Medicinal Plants (Dar Es Salaam University Press - Ministry of Health - Tanzania, 1991, 391 p.)
VIEW THE DOCUMENTPreparation of herbal medicines
VIEW THE DOCUMENTThe collection of herbs
VIEW THE DOCUMENTVarious clinical uses of medicinal plants
VIEW THE DOCUMENTUtilization of traditional medicine in China
VIEW THE DOCUMENTRelationship between the hydroxylation capacity of Digitalis lanata plants and cell cultures

Traditional Medicinal Plants (Dar Es Salaam University Press - Ministry of Health - Tanzania, 1991, 391 p.)


Preparation of herbal medicines

Santana Enterprises, Uppala 670322
Kerala, India


Herbal preparations are increasingly becoming popular. In India where 75% of the population depend on herbal preparations, 540 plant species are used in different formulations. As with modern medicine a preparation may be of a single herb or a combination of different herbs.

Usually fresh preparations are the most commonly used. However, there are limiting factors, namely availability, which may vary according to seasons, area of collection, convenience and potency.

Herbal medicines are usually prepared as an extract, powder, tablet or a pill. In order to have good results in herbal processing, it is important to have skilled manpower throughout, i.e., from collection to processing and usage. Apart from skilled manpower, other factors which may affect herbal processing include technology, required time for preparations, storage, packing and cost of production.

The production of herbal medicines for therapeutic use at a company in Kerala India, the Santana Enterprises, is discussed. Although the company has no definite production list, it has so far several formulas of different forms and different therapeutic uses. The paper ends by pointing out that the Santana Enterprises Company has a well equipped pharmacy laboratory, physicians, skilled manpower, and herbal medicines may be prepared for anybody on request.


The popularity of herbal preparations is increasing daily because herbs have minimal side effects, and also give permanent relief. Statistics show that India is on the top of the list of countries which use herbal drugs: the country uses nearly 540 plant species in different formulations. 75% of its population depends on herbal medicine for the treatment of various ailments. In fact, India was one of the pioneers in the development and practice of herbal medicine. The most notable healing system in India is what is known as ayurveda. In ayurveda, thousands of herbal preparations are discussed and information is given on their medicinal applications.

Uses of herbal preparations

A single herb, or a combination of different herbs, can be used as preventive, promotive, and curative substances. Fresh preparations are the most commonly used, but there are many limiting factors, namely, availability, area of collection, convenience, and potency.

Adequately grown herbs are available in certain seasons, but sometimes their collection is restricted to certain seasons. Herbal drugs are also not available in all localities. In some cases the potency of & herbal drug does not depend on the season only but also on the area. The tastes of patients differ from one individual to another, and, because of this, herbal drugs have to be prepared in different forms to suit the individual patients. Finally, the potency of herbal medicine can be modified according to the patients' need for utilizing different methods of preparation. Therefore, the potency of the herbal drug can be increased, decreased, or restored.

Forms of herbal preparations

Herbal medicine can be prepared in four ways: as an extract from fresh herbs; as a powder, as a tablet, and as a pill after shade-drying, powdering or processing to produce a tablet or a pill.

When preparing the medicine from fresh material, the fresh or dried herbs are boiled in water and used as a decoction. In some eases natural preservatives are used in the preparations. For example, in Arista and Avaleha, jaggery is the preservative, but the difference is that the Arista is fermented and taken in a liquid form. In case of Avaleha, it is not fermented, and, therefore, it is taken in a solid form. Also in the medicated oil or ghee, the oil and ghee are the natural preservatives.

Processing of herbal medicines

In the preparation of herbal medicines, three points must be considered in achieving good results: quality, quantity, and presentation. In order to achieve the above, skilled persons in the field are required. These will use specific techniques in the preparation of powder or tablets. Such skills are also necessary in the preparation of Avaleha, Arista, and medicated oil or ghee.

Limiting factors in herbal medicine processing

(a) Technology

Although modern technologies are available in the preparation of herbal medicines, such technologies can affect the potency of the preparations. Therefore, specific techniques indicated in ancient textbooks must be evaluated. For example, the drying of herbs in a shade has advantages, since this presents photo-destruction of some active principles. In the preparation of Arista, forty-eight days are required for fermentation without addition of organisms to speed up the fermentation process.

(b) Skilled persons

In herbal medicine processing, the requirement of skilled persons is mandatory. For example, there are no documented recipe on the preparation of Avaleha. Only a few skilled persons know how to do it.

(c) Time

There is a time limit for the preparation of herbal medicines. In the preparation of oil, three days are required. In the preparation of Arista, 48 days period is a minimum time. The following is the required time for various preparations:

· tablet, pills, powder: 1-3 days;
· medicated oil/ghee: 3-108 days;
· Avaleha: 3-7 days;
· Decoction: 3-48 days; and
· Arista, Asava: 48 - 365 days.

(d) Storage of medicines

In order to retain the potency of herbal medicine preparations, airtight and light proof packaging is a necessary requirement. However, one cannot use the preparation indefinitely, as they have an expiry date. For example:

· Powder: 2-6 months;
· Tablets, pills: 1 - 3 years;
· Avaleha: 1-2 years;
· Medicated oil/ghee: 4-12 months;
· Arista, Asava: no time limit.

(e) Packing

Proper packing is important in order to restore potency, to facilitate transport and to avoid damage to the products, and finally, for the satisfaction of the patients. The packages are separated, weighed and counted.

(f) Cost of production

The cost of production varies according to the following reasons: collection costs, processing costs, packing costs, etc. The collection costs largely depend on the source of collection. If the collection of the materials is from sporadically distributed flora, the unit transport costs become very high. These can be reduced by reverting to the cultivation of medicinal herbs. On processing, if the processing is easy and simple, the production coat is lower, but if it is a difficult process, requiring skilled persons and a lot of time, etc. the costs increase. On packing, the cost varies according to the nature of the product and the nature of packing. On transportation, the cost of production increases according to the distance involved in the transportation of the herbal medicines. On the profit, the Santana Enterprises does not receive more than 30% of the total ex-factory charges as profit, but the company gives profits to agents, sub-agents, and distributors, etc. On taxes, the cost of herbal medicine varies according to the taxes paid, for example, sales tax, state tax, central tax and local tax.

Production of herbal medicine for therapeutic use

The therapeutic results of a herbal medicine changes depending on the parts of the herb used, a combination of herbs, and the present form of the herb. The company under discussion has several formulas of different forms and different therapeutic uses. The company does not have a definite production list. The following is an example of five medicinal herbs, with their uses:

(a) Pippal: Piper longum, Linn.
(b) Haritak: Terminalia chebula Retz.
(c) Brahm: Centella asiatica (Linn) Urban.
(d) Bala: Sida cordifolia Linn.
(e) Nimba: Azadiracta indica A. Juss.

The above herbs can be used singly or in combination in the treatment of different ailments. By changing their preparations and form, the ultimate therapeutic results can also be changed.

In the case of Piper longum Linn; the fruit is the part used, and has a pungent taste. The powdered fruit, mixed with honey, is used in cough and loss of appetite. Its Aveleha, if prepared and taken with milk, is good for the improvement of digestion and body strength. If Piper longum (50%) and Terminalia chebula (50%) are mixed together and incorporated in honey, the preparation becomes effective in the treatment of asthma.

In the case of Centella asiatica, the plant is an important herb whose fresh extract is used to improve mental ability. Its Avaleha is taken for 48 days with cow milk.

In the case of Sida cordifolia, the root is the main part used. If the root is prepared with oil, it is used in curing arthritis, body ache, debility, and paralysis. With respect to Azadiracta indica, the bark, leaf and fruits of the plant are the main parts used. The oil from the seeds and the paste are applied to cure a variety of skin diseases. 1/2 a cup of its juice every rooming for 24 days is good for the body.


The company (Santana Enterprises) prepares many herbal medicines. It has a well equipped pharmacy laboratory, physicians, skilled and trained workers capable of preparing herbal medicines. The company will be happy to prepare any medicine as needed.

The collection of herbs


Santana Enterprises
Uppala 670322, Kerala. India


In India, there exists two main forms of herbal preparations, namely, the classic, and folk medicine practices. These are dictated by the theory that exists between nature and the human body linked by taste, the latter considered to be a determining factor during the collection of herbs. This paper highlights on the Indian experience in the collection, identification and storage of herbal remedies.


The collection of herbs is very essential for herbal preparations. In this short communication, we will discuss some of the essential points regarding the collection of herbs, in the context of his experience in India.

Herbs are gifts of nature. Our ancestors completely depended upon this nature only. They developed a way of life in which they explained the maintenance of health by using nature only. In this, the ancients explained some of the secrets of life, and also how one could live without ill-health. Many herbal preparations were used to maintain health.

In India herbal preparation practice exists in two forms. The first one is the preparation of the herbal medicine according to classical texts, e.g. Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Homeopathy, etc. The second is in accordance with folk medicine practices. The latter one is more popular in villages and exists in some of the families only.

In nature we can get abundant raw materials. We can select proper food and herbs to maintain health. There is a strong link between man, herbs, food and nature.

Nature and the body

Nature and our bodies are linked by six tastes: sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter, and astringent.

The body is maintained by food using the six tastes. Generally we can divide people into three categories: the lean; the medium, and the stout.

Keeping in mind the nature of the body, one should use herbs and food containing these six tastes. The lean person should use sweet sour and salty food, and adjust the preparations to maintain health.

The medium person should use sweet, astringent and bitter tastes. The stout person should use herbs and food containing more pungent, bitter, astringent tastes. Thus the taste is also very important during the collection of the herbs.

Parts of plants used

Now let us see which are the collected parts of a herb. Even though the whole plant is useful, in some of the plants, the following parts are more useful: the root, stem, bark, latex, leaves, flowers and, fruit. Some of the examples of herbs which are popularly used in Indian Herbal Preparations are shown in Table 1:

Table 1: Examples of Medicinal plants used in India

Part of plant

Indian name

Botanical name



Withania somnifera Linn.



Tinospora cordifolia Willd.



Holarrhena antidysenterica Linn.



Commiphora mukul (Hook ex-Stocks) Engl.



Centella asiatica Linn.



Woodfordia fructicosa Kurz.



Punica granatum Linn.

Criteria for the collection of the herbs

(a) These must be grown naturally or cultivated in normal natural conditions.

(b) The place and season are also very important, because the quality of the plant differs from place to place, and also according to the season.

(c) Always one should collect sufficiently grown herbs, or collect part of the herb. Otherwise we cannot get the expected results from that herb.

(d) Herbs should be clean, free from insects, dust, etc. One should thus clean it before use.

Some limitations

There are some limitations regarding the collection of herbs. The main problem is that of identification. This is mainly because of different local names in different places.

Another difficulty is shortage of skilled persons for taxonomic identifications. Additionally the herbs are not available in all the seasons, and are also of insufficient quantity. One should thus cultivate some of the herbs for his use. There are also some seasonal criteria for collecting herbal parts. The root should be collected in summer. The leaves should be collected in the rainy or spring season; and the latex in winter.


Storage is another point to consider. The herbs should not be used after one year of collection. The storage must be done in a proper place, free from insects, moisture, heat, etc.

One should consider all these points when preparing the herbal preparations.

Various clinical uses of medicinal plants


China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine
18 Beixincang,
Beijing 100700
China *

* Temporary Address: Traditional Medicine Research Unit, P.O. Box 65001, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


There is a long history of medicinal plants application in China. The earliest "Shennong's Herbal" was written more than two thousand years ago. In this classic work, many medicinal plants, animals and minerals have been recorded. The number of species increased rapidly from 365 in "Shennong's Herbal" to 5767 in the Dictionary of Chinese "Materia Medica" among which, 4773 (82.76%) were medicinal plants, 740 were animals, 82 were minerals and 172 were other processed materials. Evidently, the majority of the drugs used were medicinal plants.

During the long period of application, a wealth of experiences has been accumulated and recorded. After the founding of a New China, the clinical practice of the Traditional Chinese Medicine has been further widened in depth and scope. Many medicinal plants with medicinal and non-medicinal uses were found, not only for the domestic markets, but also for the international markets. Some even became goods in great demand, which showed the potential of the medicinal plants.

The use of medicinal plants is wide and diversified, and the following are their various aspects.

Treating diseases

No doubt, the principal use of medicinal plants is to treat and cure diseases. At first, single drug was used, then multiple drugs (compound prescription), and later on, some active principles were isolated and used in clinical practice, with better efficacy. In the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, relieving symptoms are always the initial aims of the treatment. However, later, the resolving of the syndrome was developed. The drug form also multiplied from traditional decoction to the pill, powder and ointment to the new drug form such as injection, tablet, granule, droplet and aerosol. On the whole, the species of medicinal plants increased, the indications expanded, the efficacy enhanced and the side-effects reduced. It is now being warmly welcomed by the patients for its convenient use.

Based on the allopathic principle, people are able to use the traditional Chinese medicinal plants in treating numerous diseases. They can cure both the acute and chronic diseases as well as the infectious and intractable diseases For instance, using qinghaosu isolated from Artemisia annua will greatly reduce the mortality of chloroquine-resistant Plasmodium which induce malignant cerebral malaria. Using coronary heart tablet, kuanxiong, aerosol and anti-infraction mixture in treating angina pectoris and myocardial infection, would relieve the anginal pain within 3 minutes, reduce the size of infection area and lower the mortality rate from 28% to less than 10%. Apart from that, using harringtonine and indirubin in treating leukemia, using essential oil of Vitex negundo in treating chronic bronchitis, tongmailing in treating scleroderma, Tripterygium wilfordii in treating rheumatic arthritis, as well as using Anisodamine in treating shock and DIC, satisfactory results were obtained with the above-mentioned remedies To some intractable diseases such as malignant tumour and AIDS, a large scale screening project of medicinal plants all over the world (4500 in 3 years) has been implemented by he National Cancer Institute of the United States.

Moreover, enhanced efficacy fully displays the advantage of medicinal plants with the aim of high efficacy, low toxicity, convenience in use, and lower dosage. There is a broad prospect in exploiting medicinal plants for treating purposes.

Prevention of diseases

"Put priority on prevention" is one of the four health policies in China. Ancient Chinese also took the viewpoint of those that could prevent people from contracting disease as wise doctors.

At present, the chief preventive measure is planned immunization, for which the medicinal plant could play a role also. For example, Alternanthera philoxeroides syrup could prevent influenza, as it has been proved clinically and virologically: Taking Guben tablets (Codonopsis pilosulae, Astragalus membranaceus, Atractylodes macrocephala, etc.) in autumn-winter season will prevent the acute attack of chronic bronchitis, Dracocephalum heterophyllum could prevent the acute highland-reaction, serve as blood circulation promoter, and also as a stasis reliever. Plants such as Squama manis pentadactyla, Salvia miltiorrhiza and Carthamus tinctorius could prevent acute radiation sickness, induced experimentally. Liuwei Dihuang decoction (Rehmannia glutinosa, Cornus officinallis etc.) could interrupt the canceration of esophageal epithelium hyperplasia in high incidental area of esophageal cancer. Fuzheng granules (Astragalus membranaceous, Psoralea corylifolia, etc.) could alleviate the adverse effect of chemotherapy, used in late stage postoperative gastric cancer patients. Furthermore, Typha angustifolia, Crataegus pinnatifida, Carthamus tinctorius oil and Camettia sinensis (tea) have the function of lowering the hyperlipidemia, hence prevent the incidence of arteriosclerosis.

In general, according to the adage that "one that has abundant vitality will not be invaded by pathogenic factor", immuno- enhancing medicinal plants (Panax ginseng, Astragalus membranaceous and Cordyceps sinensis), complemented with pathogenicidal or inhibitory agents (Lonicera japonis, Coptis chinensis, Paeonia rubra), would exert prophylactic action on the body.


It is called anti-aging or delay the aging process. Aging is a physiological process of the human body, with multiple endocrine disturbances. Traditional Chinese doctors usually diagnose it as kidney deficiency, or take the aging process as physiological kidney deficiency. The triad senility-kidney deficiency-endocrine disturbances are very closely interlinked. Drugs such as Panax ginseng and ginsenoside, Astragalus membranaceous, Epimedium brevicornum, Polygonatum multiflorum as well as Chunhui capsule, Zhibao Sanbian pill, Guilingji etc., are widely used in treating senility diseases such as hyperlipidemia and weakened intelligence. They have the function of anti-fatigue, anti-stress and anti-oxidation, and also the cerebral thinking and memory improvement. Hence realizing the aim of prolonging the life-span. The well-known anti-aging and rejuvenescent agent-qingchunbao, was a prescription which originated in the royal palace of Ming Dynasty and its chief components are Panax ginseng, Ophiopogon japonis, etc.

The therapeutic function of medicinal plants in treating disease is evident, but in the majority of cases, the organism is expressed as being healthy and in a non-disease state. Therefore the non- therapeutical applications of medicinal plants are wide, and deeply penetrated in the various aspects of daily life in China, as follows:

Medicated oral liquid

Medicated oral liquid is administered to patients with weakened constitution, after suffering from severe illness or high fever, over-exhaustion, precacious senility or neurosis. The commercial products include Acanthopanax granule, Chinese Pollen, and Ginseng Royal jelly. The acanthopanosides A, B, C, D, E, F and G have the function of serving as an antifatigue, and also for alleviating the damage exerted by over-cold, or over-heated stimuli and X-ray irradiation. The life-span of queen bee, owing to taking the royal jelly, is extended 20 times more than that of the working bee. Therefore, taking these oral liquids over a lengthened period, would exert a gradual accumulation of replenishing and strengthening the body, and without any adverse effect. Hence in the international market, these are goods warmly regarded.

Medicinal foods

Chinese traditional doctors consider that there is no apparent difference between medicine and food. For instance, the garlic is a daily eaten food, while at the same time, it possesses bacteriocidal and anthelmintic functions, as well as serving as a stomach tonic, even used for AIDS. The famous "Compendium of Materia Medica" has recorded pharmacological effect of many common foods such as rice, mutton, orange, etc. This is a good method of effecting the "place medicine in food" principle. At present, the medicinal plants have been integrated with the art of famous Chinese cooking, using different kinds of seasoning as well as the cooking technique of frying, stir-frying, stewing and roasting, so that the bitter tasted drugs become delicious cuisine, such as Angelica-Ginger-Mutton soup, Shiquan Dabu soup, Aconitum chicken and Astragalus porridge, etc. In Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, several restaurants of medicinal food have been set up. They are warmly welcome by the international community.

Medicated beverage

Some of the Chinese materia medica could increase the salivation. Some plants were used as beverage in the past dynasties. Prunus mume (drink) and Camellia sinensis (tea) could for example, inhibit the dysentery bacillus and serve as a remedy. One kind of tea - Wurong tea - could lower the blood lipid markedly, and therefore, serve as medicine for arteriosclerosis. At present, there are new developments for beverages such as Tianfu Cola, Lucky Cola, Shaolin Cola, etc, which incorporate medicinal plants for replenishing oil, and promoting salivation. These include Paeonia rubra, Codonopsis pilosula, Acanthopanax senticosus, Rehmannia glutinosa, Ophiopogon japonis and Scrophularia ningpoensis, added to the Cola drinks. Epimedium brevicornum also has been added and thus could enhance the explosive force of people, so it is indicated for the sportsman. Furthermore, Hippophae rhamnoides which is able to relieve the phlegm and soothe the chest, is made as Hippophae soda water, and is readily acceptable to the consumers.

In general, the medicinal plants are orally taken, but they could be used for external applications also. Based on this, various kinds of medicated cosmetics and other materials used daily have been developed. The aim is both to make one beautiful and treat some minor skin diseases.

Medicated daily materials

Detumescent and analgesic Zanthoxylum nitidum or anti-febrile and bacteriocidal Sacandra glaber was added in the tooth paste to form a kind of medicated tooth paste, which is more welcome than adding ordinary perfumes and foaming agents. For example the itch-relieving Polygonatum odoratum was added in soap which is particularly used by the aged people.

Medicated cosmetics

In ancient times, in the royal palace, traditional medicinal plants such as Angelica dahurica, Aloe and Pteria margaritifera (pearl) powder were often used to make the skin white and delicate. Therefore, in cosmetics manufactured today, these medicines form anti-wrinkle creams. Furthermore, some fragrant herbs such as Moschus moschiferus, Gleditsia sinensis and camphor, were used to get rid of the foul odour of bromhidrosis. These products are very attractive in the domestic and international market.

Hair growing agent

Traditional Chinese doctors considered that "hair is the extension of blood", and "the deficiency in kidney makes one bald and his teeth loosened". Therefore in clinical practice, Polygonatum multiflorum, Lycium barbarum, Rehmannia glutinosa, and Angelica sinensis were used to replenish the blood and kidney. Merchandises such as Shengfajling and Shengfajing contain these medicines, together with Strychnos nux-vomica. These are believed to improve the blood circulation of scalp, and therefore to promote the growth of hair.

Snore curing

Snoring during sleep is not a severe disease, but sometimes it affects other people's sleep, and is disturbing. Many kinds of devices have been developed in an attempt to prevent snoring habit, without complete success. Traditional Chinese doctors considered that the occurrence of snoring is due to some deficiency of the patients which causes the uvula to drop. Therefore some astringent medicine such as Magnolia liliflora, Angelica dahurica, etc. were apparently used to suppress snoring. This kind of medicine greatly interested the international pharmaceutical society.

Stopping smoking

Cigarette is an astonishingly large consumable item. Some people take it for one of their daily necessities. They believe that smoking cigarettes may induce inspiration. But others hold that smoking causes air pollution and affects neighbouring people. Particularly the medical society provides more and more evidence that smoking is a carcinogenic factor. So many people wish to stop smoking; they have tried candy as a substitute for smoking, or have transferred their attention to avoid the desire for smoking, but with little success. In China, there are some commercial products called Jieyanling and Jieyancha, in which certain herbal medicines such as Folium, Nelumbo nucifera (lotus leaf), etc. are added, so that the smoker senses a deplorable odour when they contact the cigarette smoke, hence give up the smoking habit voluntarily. Such smoking deterring agents also have a great demand in the international market.

Medical cigarette

Some people have a chronic habit of smoking, and do not want to give up, but they have some ailments affecting the respiratory tract or other systems. So an addition of a medicinal plant extract to the cigarette, giving it some therapeutic effects, is quite useful. Euphorbia helioscopia is used in medicated cigarettes to treat chronic bronchitis; Apocynum venetum is used in treating hypertension and neurasthenia; and Datura metal is applied in treating bronchial asthma. Japan favours medicated cigarette especially with Apocynum.

Alleviating obesity

Obesity is an abnormal state. Sometimes it is quite annoying and is a burden to those patients with myocardial disfunction. Many diseases are relevant to obesity. These include hypertension, hyperlipidemia, arteriosclerosis, coronary heart disease, fatty liver, etc. Moderate eating and drinking is one of the important measures, but it is not enough. Traditional Chinese doctors considered that there is phlegm in fat people, and some phlegm- relieving medicine such as extracts from Pinellia ternata, Arisaema consanguinemn, etc. have been used, as medicinal plants and have proved to be effective in lowering the blood lipids. Other plants used for this purpose are Alismatis orientale, Crataegus pinnatifida, Polygonatum multiflorum and Cassia obtusifolia. Herbal tea based on these plants is widely used by obese people.

Medicated dress

Some people also use the dress for covering and warming the body. Some medicated dresses, gloves, and shoes have been designed and manufactured for therapeutic purpose. Camphor (Bletilla striata), etc. are for example put in dress in cloth and shoes. After wearing for one month, the Tinea pedis, foul odour, moisture and itching are evidently less than in the control. Culture tests have shown that in such remedies fungi are also markedly reduced.

From the above, one can see that the function of medicinal plants are numerous and have a huge potential since the resource is abundant. In order to meet the needs of the vast majority of people who crave for cheap, affordable, but effective medicine, we need to seriously go into full exploitation of the various aspects of medicinal plants. The issue is not only urgent, but also of practical necessity.

Utilization of traditional medicine in China


State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Department of Science and Technology
Dong Xin Road
Beijing 100027


The utilization of Traditional Chinese Medicine in providing health care and prevention of diseases dates back to thousands of years. The Chinese Materia Medica upon which the therapeutic system is based provides a well integrated mechanism in the utilization and development of Traditional Chinese medicine and modern medicine. The present status in the utilization and development of the Chinese Materia Medica is highlighted. The experience of China in the cultivation of medicinal plants for drug production is discussed from socio-economic perspectives. The merits in the use of traditional Chinese medicine against modern medicine in the treatment and prevention of important and complicated diseases are stressed. Current developments in the Chinese Materia Medica include the application of new technologies in research, production, standardization, quality control, conservation and sustainable use of traditional Chinese medicinal resources.


The science of Chinese Materia Medica is a summary of experience of the Chinese labouring people of many centuries in their struggle against diseases, which takes an important role in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and has made great contributions to the development of both Chinese and world medicine. It has been widely popular in China and elsewhere for thousands of years.

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese government has formulated some policy and adopted important measures to protect and promote the development of Chinese Materia Medica. Especially, in recent ten years, our government has attached great importance to the development of traditional Chinese Materia Medica, and pointed out that traditional Chinese herbal medicine and modern medicine are of the same importance. Indeed, the development of Chinese Materia Medica has been listed in the state constitution.

In 1986, the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine was set up under the leadership of the State Council.

In 1988, the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Materia Medica was set up, in order to strengthen the administration of both traditional Chinese medicine and herbal medicine. It undertakes the tasks of health care, education, scientific research, international exchanges and cooperations, as well as the plantation, processing, manufacture and selling of the medicinal herbs.

At present, there are 530,000 Medical and technical personnel in traditional Chinese medicinal field; 480,000 technical personnel and workers engaged in manufacturing, and managing the medicinal herbs. There are more than 2,000 hospitals of traditional Chinese medicine, and 170,000 beds within the hospitals. Practitioners of Chinese medicine have the same right to make diagnosis and prescription, just like the doctors of modern medicine. Their work has a legal status. In the rural areas, there are 1,300,000 village doctors who have received Medical training, and can prevent and treat diseases of the peasants with acupuncture and herbal medicine. A medical network has been formed in counties, villages and towns. In China, there are more than 160 scientific research institutions of traditional Chinese Materia Medica, forming a scientific research system. There are more than 2,000 factories for manufacturing medicinal herbs, producing more than 4,000 kinds of ready-made Chinese herbal medicine every year. Thirty thousand enterprises of Chinese herbal medicine exist at present, forming a network of selling in the whole country.. The State has set up 28 colleges of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The average number of students in each college is about 2,000. More than 80,000 qualified personnel of traditional Chinese medicine have been trained since the founding of new China.

The development of traditional Chinese medicine and drugs has exploited the rich resources of medicine in China, improved the health care of the people in our country, and created considerable economic benefits to the society.

The research and exploitation of the resources of medicinal herbs

China is very rich in medicinal herbs. According to a general survey in China in recent years, it was found that, there are more than 5,000 kinds of herbs after investigating the variety, ecological environment and reserves. The State offers a land of 5,000,000 ha for planting the medicinal herbs every year, giving an output of about 250,000,000 kg per year. At present, there are 10,000 farms producing medicinal herbs and nearly 10,000 technical administrative personnel. A lot of patients in China prefer to receive traditional Chinese medicine and herbal medicine treatment. The total sales of Chinese medicinal herbs and western drugs are almost the same.

Chinese people can choose either traditional Chinese medicine, or modern medicine in preventing and treating diseases. This is a good advantage in improving the health care of the people in our country. In addition, as a newly developed industry, the production of herbs can create considerable economic benefits, and produce drugs for export. Up to now, China has established trade relations with more than 100 countries and regions. The average export exceeds 300,000,000 U.S. dollars every year.

The exploitation of traditional Chinese medicine resources extends beyond the development of the economy, and includes the advancement of medical science, and promotion of the people's health. Thousands of years practice have shown that, the correct application of natural medicines from plants, animals and minerals does not only cure many commonly and frequently encountered diseases, but can also be effective on some very complicated, and serious diseases. For example, in the treatment of malignant tumours, cardiovascular diseases, and cerebrovascular hepatitis, traditional Chinese medicine is superior to Western medicine in some aspects. Traditional Chinese medicine also has better curative effects in treating diseases related to gynaecology, neurology, ophthalmology, dermatology and gastrointestinal disorders. Regarding diseases which have no effective treatment today, e.g. viral infections, immunopathy and functional diseases, traditional Chinese medicine often works. Moreover, traditional Chinese medicine is famous for its simple treating methods with less toxicity and side effects. Today, it is well established that drug-induced diseases do occur. Such cases are rare in traditional Chinese medicine, making it superior to orthodox western medicine.

In recent years, important progress has been made in the research of Chinese Materia medica. This has been accomplished due to the application of new technologies in herbal research. For the study of effectively active elements of Chinese Materia medica, according to imperfect statistics, more than 150 commonly used monomers of Chinese Materia Medica have been thoroughly studied in chemical and pharmacological aspects, etc., with modern methods. Over 500 active monomers have been separated from Chinese Materia medica. It is found that there exist a batch of highly active elements. For instance, Qinghaosu is extracted from Qinghao (Herba Artemisiae Chinghao) with anti-malarial effect. This is an important breakthrough in the history of anti-malarial medicine after the discovery of quinine. The research on active elements of Chinese Materia medica has demonstrated both the Material base of efficacy of Chinese Materia medica, and has discovered its new efficacy and usefulness. Thus the research on the making of new medicines in China have been pushed forward.

Centering on commonly-seen, frequently-encountered, and complicated and difficult diseases in China, research on complex prescription of Chinese Materia Medica (mutual combination of a group of medicines) has been launched. Its clinical results have been proved with experimental medicinal efficacy. The complex prescription of Chinese Materia Medica is one of the characteristics of prescribing traditional Chinese medicine. Its scientific essence is based on systematic regulation. Through scientific grouping and combining, it has such advantage as organic regulation, activation of human recovery ability, and comparing with monomer medicine. The application of isotope, electronic mirror, biochemistry, immunology, technology of tissue culture, etc. to it, has promoted further explanation of its function and theory. By taking a medicine apart to analyse, it is found that in some complex prescriptions, among different flavor of herbs, there is function of cooperation and resistance to some degree.

Owing to various kinds of herbal medicine in China, wide-scale production in many places, a long history of application and many different habits it has been reported that there has existed some confusion on the history of Chinese Materia Medica. Plants with the same name have been referred to as different herbs, while the same herbs have been assigned different names. In 1985 the state issued 'Administrative Law of Medicines' and 'Administrative Measures of Examination and Approval of New Medicines' to strengthen the administrative work of Chinese Materia medica. This is a new requirement for management and research of Chinese Materia medica. Meanwhile the appraisal and research of Chinese Materia Medica have also been deepened and widened. In the past, the main ways of appraisal were based on properties of herbs and experience. At present, modern technology has been adopted and includes: microscope appraisal, thin layer chromatogram, thin colorimeter, thin luminosity chromatogram, the combination of the chromatography and gas chromatography-mass spectrometer, and the highly effective liquid chromatography. These methods have solved the quality appraisal problem, ensuring the correctness and efficacy in clinical application of the medicines.

With the gradual change of the focal point of health work from treatment to prevention, the scope for exploiting and broadening the use of Chinese Material Medica has also constantly become wide, and increasingly more penetrating to many aspects of daily life, such as health care food, health care drinks, cosmetology, cosmetics, medicinal food, natural pigment, natural sweet and bitter pharmaceutical preparations. On the whole, with the constantly rising of living standard of the people, the trend of thought "That Mankind Wants to Go Back to Nature" becomes more realised. For the development of these fields, the Chinese Materia Medica has very great potency.

Some aspects need more attention in order to exploit herbal medicinal resources, and at the same time, to protect and put the resources to rational use. The State Council of the Chinese government has issued some regulations to manage and protect national wild medicinal resources. Chinese Materia Medica protection stations have been set up in the main production areas of certain medicinal materials that are managed by law. Meanwhile, numerous scientific research personnel are using scientific ways and means to constantly raise the quantity and quality of the specific resources.

However, the task confronting the medical workers, e.g., in controlling the population, and making it fit the rate of the development of the resources, the economy and the society is very hard. China needs to continuously improve the quality of population, and raise its health level; to prevent diseases, especially those serious ones such as: cardiovascular, cerebro vascular, malignant tumour, respiratory, infectious, parasitic, and endemic diseases. Attention should also be paid to senile health, as one of the important social problems, especially the aging trend of the population structure. These concern not only the national economy, the people's livelihood, but also reproduction of the coming generations, and the flourishing of the country. We believe that traditional Chinese medicine will definitely make greater contributions to the health of the world peoples.

The policy of the country to open up to the outside world has provided a wide scope for international exchange and cooperation in the field of traditional Chinese medicine. China is a developing country. It has traditional friendship, and friendly cooperation with many other developing countries. We would like to carry out various forms of cooperation and exchange with those countries or scholars who are interested in traditional medicinal plants, and make joint effects to promote the mankind in developing and putting traditional medicinal plants to rational use.

Relationship between the hydroxylation capacity of Digitalis lanata plants and cell cultures


Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine
Shanghai, People's Republic of China


Digitalis lanata plants are used for the isolation of digoxin. As by- products, they always contain high amounts of digitoxigenin glycosides. Biotransformation of cardenolides by plant cell cultures indicate a new possibility of making better use of these by-products. In order to find the cell strains with high and selective 12 b-hydroxylation capacity, the relationship between the hydroxylation capacity of D. lanata plants and cell cultures was studied.

Establishment of cell cultures

The suspension cultures tested in our screening were derived from stem, leaf, anther and ovary callus of 36 D. lanata plants, containing different levels of digoxin. For purposes of plant selection a hydroxylation test with 3H-b-methyldigitoxin was carried out. A total of 83 cultures were investigated, with addition of b-methyldigitoxin 3 days after inoculation.


The results showed that there was some relationship between the hydroxylation rates of leaves and cell strains. However, no direct correlation was observed between digoxin content of the leaves and the hydroxylation rates of the corresponding cell cultures. In spite of nearly identical digoxin content of the plant, the hydroxylating capacity of the corresponding cell strains varied from high 12 b-hydroxylation to total lack of any activity. The variation in yield of b-methyldigoxin even occurred in the cell cultures derived from one parent plant. It was therefore concluded that the biotransformation ability of the strains were indeed different.

Selection of variant strains

During intensive selection, it was found that there was a special cell strain, 10/56-S-50-Se, with hydroxylating capacity much far exceeding that of the original strain, 10/56-S-50. Up to about 900 mg l-1 of product yields were achieved in a 20 liter airlift reactor, which was nearly 3 times higher than the original strain.

Environmental controls - influence of different culture conditions on the hydroxylation capacity of cell cultures.

In the studies conducted to determine the influence of macroelements, carbon sources, and light on hydroxylation capacity of the cell cultures, it was found that there was no absolute correlation between the hydroxylation capacity of the plants and that of the cell cultures. From these results, it was concluded that in order to get the cell strains with high and selective biotransformation capacity, we should simultaneously adopt the following strategy:

(a) the screening of the cell from differentiated plants, with high digoxin contents and high hydroxylating activity;

(b) selection of variant cell strains, and

(c) environmental controls.