The First Materia Medica: The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing

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The oldest surviving Chinese materia medica, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica), categorised 365 herbs according to three categories: 120 ‘upper’ (上 shang) herbs, 120 ‘middle’ (zhong) herbs; and 125 ‘lower’ (下 xia) herbs. This article discusses the clinical implications of this tripartite organisation, which goes far beyond being a mere indicator of the level of toxicity of the herbs documented. It also includes a discussion of the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing’s categories of jun, chen, zuo or shi (chief, assistant, envoy and messenger), the meaning of which differs significantly from the typical current interpretation of these terms.
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Author JulieAnn Nugent-Head
JCM Issue JCM 104-24
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