Materia medica along with diagnostics is at the heart of herbal medicine. (See the materia medica blog for entries on specific herbs. See the apprenticeship clinic materia medica page for the primary list we use for class.) An herbalist should have a good understanding of many herbs commonly employed for medicine, as well as an understanding of the categories and arrangement of the materia medica.
I have been fascinated with the Five Immortals Temple in the Wudang Mountains of China since a friend told me of his visits there. At first it seemed to be an ideal opportunity to witness pre-TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine, according to government standards) and Taoist healing, along with authentic martial arts and chi gong. I then became even more interested when I realized that the temple teaches about the use of fresh herbs. In this country, I have pretty much only been exposed to pharmacy-based Chinese herbalism (naturally), which utilizes dried herbs of the pharmacy. As a traditional herbalist and wildcrafter, however, I have seen certain herbs (like Motherwort, Echinacea, and many more) work much better in their fresh form (or tinctured from fresh herbs) than when dried. For years I have studied literature on Chinese herbal medicine and cannot remember finding any references to the use of fresh herbs (aside from the herbal legends, which tell about the legendary discovery and uses of herbs) until the Five Immortals website.
Thinking again about the temple, I went to their website to find it updated and expanded, including this article:
The Current Issues of Contemporary Taoist and Chinese Medicine 现代道医与中医存在的问题
The article mentions that the word "shaman" (that is usually associate with Native Americans) began in China, and it goes on to discuss many issues. This article resonates with much that I have found during my work as an herbalist and I am very happy to share it here (link above) in hopes that it expands readers' understanding of the condition of herbalism today.