If there ever was a badass of supernatural proportions in the world of herbal medicine, it would absolutely be Li Shizhen. Considered the father of modern-day Chinese herbalism, Li lived in the 14th century and was born in Hubei, where Wuhan is the present-day capital city. Before his time, Chinese herbalism already had a long history. Ancient writings dating back 3,000 years or more mentioned dozens of herbs used in various situations for healing and diet. Throughout the centuries, Chinese herbalism evolved into its own discipline as doctors recorded herbal knowledge into medical books and the system of Chinese medicine was institutionalized. Li Shizhen’s contribution, however, towers above all. Throughout his life, he traveled extensively, tirelessly organizing, refining, and gaining first-hand experience with thousands of herbs and local remedies from all over China, consulting over 800 medical books - almost every medical book in print at that time. His monumental work, The Compendium,took the dedication of 27 years of his life and his own physical health along with it. In it, he gathers the knowledge of herbal doctors across villages, regions and lifetimes, detailing more than 1,800 medicinal plant and animal products, with 1,100 illustrations and 11,000 prescriptions - descriptions of type, form, flavor, nature, and applications in disease of 1,094 herbs. This epic book is considered the Bible of modern-day Chinese herbal medicine.
We live on a planet constantly rotating with a body of billions of cells in motion. Chinese herbal medicine is a dynamic process and conversation with the body. A guiding principle to follow in Chinese herbal medicine is though patterns exist, our reality is always changing. Herbs that may be used at one stage of a disease in a certain person, may not be beneficial during another stage in the same person. In addition, single herbs are rarely used, as we are not just an amalgam of single functions, but a complex interconnected system. The actions of herbs are understood in context with each other, creating a symphonic and synergistic effect throughout the person as a whole. Our herbal heroes, like Li Shi Zhen, understood this, and opened up a world of connection to plants on this planet as our greatest allies in overcoming illness and living a life of vibrancy. Everyday, when we make our medicine, we fill ourselves with gratitude and honor for the healing system that was created with such lifetimes of labor, dedication, and love.