A primary purpose in looking at materia medica at this time is in consideration of growing herbs. Which herbs have been revered through the ages? Which herbs have we forgotten about? Which herbs do we already have available (like Reishi, Calamus, Water Plantain, Cattail, Wild Yam, Black Cohosh, Tree of Heaven...)? (What are Black Cohosh and Tree-of-Heaven doing in the superior class?) What herbs are we already cultivating (like Chrysanthemum and Asparagus)? Which herbs are closely related to wild ones? Our Solomon's Seal is similar to that mentioned in The Divine Farmer's Materia Medica. As is our Ginseng, our Wild Ginger, our Black Cohosh, Goldthread, and Cattail. Certainly our Motherwort, Angelicas, Gravelroots, and Artemisia species can compare and replace. Can any of our Dodder species? Or Juncus? These are the kinds of questions I wonder about as I turn to the classics.
Any serious study of Chinese medicine involves study of the classics. The classics are mentioned repeatedly in even modern literature on Chinese medicine. As is often the case, it is best to go to the source. Though The Divine Farmer's Materia Medica leaves us with many questions (Like what is Xi Ming Zi, which Blue Poppy has tentatively as Semen Thlaspi Arvensis, and can't our local species be used?), it can also clarify many things and puts much into perspective. For instance, looking at the inclusion of Ganoderma, Tian Men Dong (Tuber Asparagi Cochinensis), Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis), Wei Rui (Rhizoma Polyganati Odorati), Gan Di Huang (Radix Rehmanniae), Shu Yu (Radix Dioscoreae Oppositae), Gan Cao (Radix Glycyrrhizae), Ren Shen (Radix Panacis Ginseng), and Huang Qi (Radix Astragali Membranacei), we can see that many of the top tonic herbs have been so for some time. That Licorice and Astragalus are in this list helps us to understand that their current use is not just a fad. Why then are we not growing more Licorice and Astragalus? Certainly, knowledge of the value of Ginseng has reached many people. But where do we find local cultivated Ginseng?
The Divine Farmer's Materia Medica lists Asparagus root. I need to do thorough research on which species are best to grow here for medicinal use.
Atractylodis is mentioned. This is one I would like to see cultivated more. My own personal reason for this is that I would like to get to know the plant better. My experience has been with the dried root from Chinese distributors and I am very interested to see how it compares to the fresh root as well as the not-so-long-ago dried root. Another reason to cultivate this herb is simply that it is used very commonly in Chinese herbal medicine. I am also interested in Elecampane as an analogue.
Solomon's Seal is mentioned. This is a very important medicinal. I wish I was able to pick from wild stands and use this medicinal root much more than I have. However, it is not found abundantly enough to harvest much from the wild. This is another woodland plant, like Ginseng, that could be wild-cultivated for harvest while wild stands replenish themselves and recover from habitat destruction and overpopulation of deer. It is a moistening lung tonic and used to nourish and treat the sinews.
Wild Yam is listed. This is an important herb that can be cultivated for a local source. Healthy wild stands exist not-too-far-away. There is much research to do regarding the various species.
Chrysanthemum is better known locally as an autumn ornamental. The "tea" (infusion/tisane) is not well known domestically, but is used as a beverage elsewhere (such as China). It is a very important medicinal, used for liver disorders.
Licorice is listed. It can definitely be cultivated in our area and is a commonly employed herb. It is used for chi and lung deficiency and to treat a wild array of lung problems. It is used to boost immunity and treat many kinds of infections. Due to its very sweet nature it can make herbal formulas taste more appealing, and it has a harmonizing effect on formulas.
Bupleurum is listed. As it is a commonly employed ingredient, it is well worth consideration for cultivation.
Tree-of-Heaven fruits are mentioned. This is very interesting as this is a common invasive.
Motherwort seed is listed. This is interesting as I am not familiar with using Motherwort seed, though I am quite familiar with our local Motherwort. Motherwort is tinctured fresh when in flower (certainly, some seeds enter the tincture). It is a very important remedy for anxiety, palpitations, and related disorders.
Gentian is mentioned. It is a classic bitter and well worth consideration for the garden.
Dodder seed is an important remedy in Chinese herbal medicine. Used to nourish jing (essence), it has a special niche. However, as far as I know, our local species are toxic. Perhaps it has already been done, but it seems a bad idea to introduce it anywhere it is not natural as it is a parasitic plant.
Goldthread is mentioned. But we are mostly considering Barberry, the highly invasive shrub, as a replacement.
Cattail is listed, both the pollen and the herb. Use of the pollen is well-known, but I am not familiar with using the herb. Though, I have eaten the bases of young leaves as a "trailside nibble", as well as the young shoots, the starchy rhizomes, and (the best) the young tender flower stalks. It is very interesting to me to see it listed as a superior medicinal. "It mainly treats evil qi in the five viscera and below the heart as well as putrefying mouth with foul smell. It fortifies the teeth, brightens the eyes, and sharpens the hearing. Protracted taking may make the body light and slow aging." Cattail pollen is mainly known as an herb that regulates the blood.
Gravelroot is listed.
Dang gui (Dong Quai) is listed. This is a very important medicinal herb that is used commonly in Chinese medicine.