Resources interview:


It is truly remarkable how the histories of the development of Western and Chinese herbal medicine parallel each other.

We invite you to enjoy the discussion below.



History of the Energetics of Western Herbs

An Interview with Jeremy Ross by Bob Quinn, May 1999

Bob Quinn: Jeremy, as someone who practices acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, I have always been struck by the rich theory that I have to draw upon in building Chinese herbal formulas. I've had a strong interest in the use of Western herbs for quite some time as well. When I look at the current scene in Western herbal medicine, it seems there is not a similarly rich theory to draw upon to inform our selection of herbs when we are building a formula. Can you address this issue with some historical perspective?

Jeremy Ross: You've pinpointed the absolute basic challenge in herbal medicine: How do you make an herb combination? What are the principles of combination you use? It's quite true that in Chinese herbal medicine there are precise and clear principles as to how you combine herbs to treat a specific disease. BUT, and this is the fascinating thing that people don't generally know---there is a rich traditional heritage in the West. The West has its own principles of herb combination, but these things have been lost over the last century or so. It's a matter of where you want to start with this, but I would say that in the West you could really go back to the time of the ancient Greeks.

BQ: Could you give us a rough date on where you're starting?

JR: If you wanted to look at that from the point of development of theories, perhaps we could start with the development of the theory of the four elements. This was proposed by Empedocles who lived about 490-430 BC. He suggested that everything--- the whole universe and all the workings of nature--- is composed of four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Now this wasn't a medical theory; it was a general theory. It's interesting to note that it's very close to the same time as the general theory of the Five Elements was systematized in China by Zou Yen. He lived about 350-270 BC. They're within a hundred years of one another. It's important to say that the four elements weren't seen as building blocks of some sort, like we have tomatoes, bacon and baked beans and so on. We're talking about principles. Here are the four principles of transformation for the Greeks, and the five elements were seen in a similar fashion in China.

BQ: Connect the elements then to herbs. How did all this affect the practice of herbal medicine?

JR: In the next progression, the Greeks linked what they called the primary qualities with the elements. The primary qualities are hot, cold, moist and dry, and they are absolutely basic to the prescription of herbal medicine. This actually goes back to Aristotle about 384-322 BC. He linked these primary qualities with the Four Elements.

BQ: Sounds like Chinese medicine.

JR: It sounds incredibly like Chinese medicine. We're looking at basically the two aspects of Yin-Yang. First of all we've got hot and cold, which is one parameter. Then you have moist and dry which is the second. It's difficult to know who came first on this one but the Yin-Yang theory in Chinese medicine goes back way before the Five Elements. The idea in all the cultures of fire and water is absolutely basic. What we're looking at now is how that developed into prescription ideas.

BQ: As I'm recalling things I've read on Greek medicine, it was also based on four humors. Can you bring that piece in and explain how it fits?

JR: This is also comparable to Chinese medicine because the humors were like body fluids or essences of the body. They're very comparable to what you call the Substances of Chinese medicine: Qi, Blood, Jing and Shen. You can say that the theory of the humors developed around 460-370 BC. One of the founding fathers of all this was Hippocrates. The general idea at the time was that the human body was composed of four humors: black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm. What was interesting with these humors was how they linked to the ideas of hot and cold, moist and dry. Not only was each of the humors linked to one of the Four Elements---for instance fire was linked to yellow bile, and black bile was linked to earth and so on--- each humor had two of the primary qualities. For example, the phlegm humor was linked to the two primary qualities of cold and moist; yellow bile was hot and dry; blood was hot and moist; black bile was cold and dry. These four humors were the basic essences out of which the body was composed.

BQ: So if one humor dominated, how did that influence what herbs were used? Were the herbs of opposite energetics chosen to counter that?

JR: Because we're in Seattle we ought to consider the example of the humor of phlegm. The humor of phlegm is cold and moist. Therefore the last thing such a person needs is more foods or more herbs or more climate that are cold and moist. That's why somebody from Seattle is going to want to go someplace like Arizona where it is hot and dry to balance this whenever they can. In other words, the appropriate herb or food is going to be hot and dry to counterbalance that moist and cold. On the other hand, if yellow bile, which is associated with the element of fire (hot and dry), dominated, then you'd want food, climate and herbs---maybe even a partner--- that were cold and moist. You could advertize it in a magazine.

BQ: A new sort of personals ad?

JR: Yes, something like AC-DC, cold and moist. What is fascinating though is that this led to the idea of temperaments. So, we basically have the concept of what the humors are, but with the humors went the temperaments. Temperament here doesn't necessarily just mean the emotions---but certainly they include that. As an example, yellow bile was associated with the choleric temperament, and this is associated with anger. If you went into astrology you would connect it with the planet Mars and its fiery, angry, aggressive, assertive energy. If you're of the phlegmatic temperament you're going to be placid, slow, peaceful, pleasant; it's very similar actually to the Spleen type in Chinese medicine.

BQ: Could we use the word constitution here when we're talking about the Greek temperaments?

JR: You could use the word constitution. The temperament is a mix of physical constitution and personality type. The crucial thing for herbal medicine is that it gives an indication of which diseases a person is likely to have, and therefore, which herbs are likely to be good for them. So, we're looking now at the key aspect of herbal medicine: It's classifying not only the person and the disease into hot and cold, moist and dry, but then you have the corresponding classification of the herbs into these same categories. So you're picking a hot and dry herb to counter a cold and moist condition. You have to classify both the diseases and the herbs. This is what people don't realize has been done in Western herbal medicine. Just like in Chinese medicine, we do have these rules of classification in the Western herbal tradition.

BQ: The similarity to Chinese medicine is striking. The idea of opposing the disease process with the herbs---cooling herbs used to oppose a hot condition for instance. It seems obvious to us now that this makes sense, but really it is not at all obvious that that is the way the system would be set up. I could well imagine a different system, for instance, that tried to match hot herbs with hot conditions.

JR: Yes, it is not at all obvious. What is fascinating is that the Western herbal classification---so far apart in space from China, although not so far apart in time---developed this same system of hot and cold as in China to classify the diseases and the herbs. And also certainly in Europe and in China to a lesser degree, moist and dry were used to classify the diseases and the herbs.

BQ: What about the materia medica of this traditional Western medicine? How were they set up?

JR: Yes, let's look at the materia medica. In ancient Greece there were materia medica written before Dioscorides, who is the one most frequently quoted. For example, there was Diocles in about the 4th century BC, but only fragments of this remain. Dioscorides is the sort of main man in this. We're talking now about the first century AD. He was a Greek living in the Roman Empire who served as a doctor with the Roman army. Now the Roman army went everywhere, and wherever it went it had to have herbs to treat various diseases. Dioscorides recorded all this. What's interesting is that he didn't only record it, but he began to classify the herbs in terms of hot-cold and moist-dry. It would be true to say that he didn't do it in a very systematic way, but nevertheless he did make reference to herbs that affected the four temperaments, and it was classified in that basic system. Another interesting thing was what occurred in China also in the first century AD. There the Shen nong ben cao jing, the Classic of the Materia Medica, was written by unknown authors, and traditionally attributed to Shen nong.

BQ: That's very interesting.

JR: Yes, they're from the same time. What is weird in this is that you consistently get the similar ideas or developments---the Four Elements or the Five Elements and the main materia medica of the Greeks and Romans and Chinese---happening either in the same century or within one century of each other. It's almost too much for coincidence.

BQ: Are you saying you suspect there was something moving along trade routes or are you saying there was something more metaphysical happening?

JR: I would say there are various aspects to this thing. There is the obvious thing---the trade routes have always been the equalizer in herbal medicine even going back to 1500 BC. Secondly, it's very obvious there seems to be some kind of parallel human thinking; it's partly due I think to the nature of human beings that they will try herbs and make similar concepts. But then there really does seem to be some other kind of link of some sort that is difficult to explain; I don't know if it is metaphysical or not. How can you explain this pulse of energy in the 6th century BC, when the philosophical breakthroughs came in Greece and at the same time in China, and another pulse of energy in the first century AD when the materia medica arose in the West and in China. There seems to be---I wouldn't necessarily call it metaphysical---some sort of historical input or impulse of energy both in the East and the West. So, it seems there are three aspects.

BQ: You talked about Dioscorides' work not being particularly well organized. The Ben Cao Jing had three classes of herbs if I recall correctly. This would say there was not a simplistic one-to-one correlation, so it was just a simple translation of concepts from one language to another, but rather a sort of a generalized move to systemization without arriving at identical systems.

JR: I think the first thing to note is that neither Dioscorides nor the original version of the Ben Cao Jing had systematized to the later degree, for example, temperature. This came somewhat later in both cases. The systemization of diseases with herbs in the West was done by Galen's time around about 150-200 AD. It was done in China a little bit later; not until about the sixth century AD did one of the annotators and editors of the Ben Cao Jing systematically classify in terms of temperature and taste. So in both Chinese and Western herbal medicine it was somewhat later that this systemized structure became prevalent. In the West it was Galen; this was his huge contribution and also his curse as it later turned out. He systematized so thoroughly---diseases and herbs were classified in terms of temperament, in terms of moist and dry, in terms of hot and cold, organs entered and everything you could possibly think of. Before you could use a herb you would have to consider if it was a hot herb for a cold condition, an herb for the phlegmatic temperament and so on.

BQ: That sounds a bit rigid, and it locks out any chance for an empirical use of an herb to find its way into the system. Can you talk a bit about where empiricism can fit into this dance?

JR: Yes. I think there are two complementary but opposing threads in herbal medicine---almost like Yin-Yang. One is empiricism, and the empiricists will say:

"We don't know how it works, we can only tell you that it does work. For instance, use this herb for bronchitis because it works for that. We don't know why, we don't care why, we can only tell you that it does."

This approach could be very simple---from a peasant or a nomad society---and it still has use and value.

BQ: And what is the opposing view?

JR: The opposing thing is the logical approach that says:

"We don't really want to use herbs unless we know why they work; we don't want to use herbs unless we classify the diseases and the herbs and can then make a nice match of herb and disease. It's intellectually attractive, and if we can't do that, it's very boorish and peasant-like."

Both approaches have application. The disadvantage of the empirical approach is if you are treating, let's say bronchitis, how do you treat all the types of bronchitis with just general bronchitis herbs. If you use a classificatory system you can say:

"This guy has a low body temperature, he's got bronchitis with white phlegm---here is a warm herb for cold bronchitis." This makes it more specific and more effective. That's the great strength.

BQ: And what do you see as the weakness of the logical approach?

JR: The great weakness is that, unfortunately, the medical professions always tended to have a sort of mental fossilization take place. They've always tended to be terribly conservative and follow the information from the classics. What happened was that two to three centuries after Galen was the fall of Rome. Then Europe suffered a continuous set of invasions from barbarians --- the Goths, the Visagoths, the Vandals, and God knows who else. It's population actually dropped, and its economy went right down. The only people who were literate were those in the church, and at that time the church was so concerned with keeping things stable, they had a very rigid mental approach---and they were the only seat of learning. And so you get the incredible situation where somebody, a young novice, goes to the abbot and says:

"Quick, quick, Father Abbot, out there we have sun spots, black spots on the sun." And the abbot doesn't even bother to look up from his great big ledger and says:

"My dear child, I have read all of Aristotle and nowhere does Aristotle mention sunspots. Please go and change your glasses."

It was a rigid tradition. They implicitly believed Aristotle. The medical fraternity implicitly believed Galen. And for all those 15 centuries after his death he ossified Western herbal medicine which was probably not his intention, but it happened because of what was happening at the time. So it was only when we start to get people who really wanted to simplify things, like Culpeper, that we start to break out of that.

BQ: Yes. You talk about 15 centuries roughly. That is a very long time in human history. It brings us forward quite a bit, and now we have arrived at Nicholas Culpeper. Can you tell me how he saw herbal medicine? Was it strictly along the lines of Galen? Or if he broke away from galenic medicine, in what way did he do that and what did he retain?

JR: Well, I think the thing to remember about this huge 15-century gap is that each of the different European countries had its own Culpeper, so to speak, in its own language. England had no monopoly on herbal medicine. The contribution of Culpeper was great because he combined at least five different things. First, he simplified the incredibly complicated medicine of the day. He translated it from Latin into English so ordinary people could read and understand.

BQ: A very political move.

JR: It was a very political move. He also wanted to get cheap medicine to ordinary people, which meant that he broke away from the complex formulas that the West had inherited from the Arabs. The Arabs had followed Galenic medicine and embroidered it with a huge pharmacy from all over the world. Culpeper broke away from that. He said:

"If we have to have elephant's tusk and Arabian pearl and Chinese muskrat or whatever it is---this is lunacy; it will cost a fortune, it's too complicated. We can grow herbs right here in London in our own backyards."

BQ: Again, that sounds political to me.

JR: Yes. Basically he's saying: Remove the mystery, remove the complexity, take it out of the hands of a privileged few, make it cheap and available to the ordinary person and understandable by the ordinary person. It was a revolutionary step in that direction.

Third, despite the fact that he was interested in simplifying and popularizing herbal medicine, he was in fact the one to translate Galen's principles into English. In one edition of his book, which is still widely available, it gives his translation of the Galenic principles.

His fourth contribution was that he was a very clear and vivid writer. His book is still one of the most clinically useful texts to this day because he was such a practical man.

The last important contribution was an odd one---and that's why many of the medical herbalists, naturopaths and medical people shy away from Culpeper to this day--- he was also an astrologer. This presents a difficulty for people who are trying to make herbs scientific because they think: "Oh my God we can't talk about this." But what's actually extremely useful is that his astrological descriptions actually give the energetic characteristic of the herbs, and you don't need to understand much about astrology to benefit.

For example, Culpeper says that rosemary is ruled by the sun. Being ruled by the sun means two things: First of all, it means the herb warms you, and secondly, it means it has an expansive or centrifugal, outward moving energy that will break through blocks, that will open the stuck and the contracted. This concept is very useful because there are similar concepts in Chinese herbal medicine: Herbs that have an upward direction, a downward direction, an outward or centrifugal direction, an inward or centripetal direction. To take it a bit further, herbs ruled by Jupiter would not necessarily be warming like the sun, but they'd certainly have an expanding outward direction.

BQ: Because it rules expansion?

JR: Yes. The opposing principle would be Saturn. Saturn was seen in Greek mythology to be the planet associated with contraction, rest and the inward or centripetal flow. You would give herbs governed by Saturn to people ruled by Jupiter and vice versa.

BQ: So Saturn and Jupiter are a Yin-Yang pair?

JR: Yes. They are a Yin and Yang pair, and the sun and moon are a Yin and Yang pair. The sun is warming and drying, the moon moistening and cooling. And Venus is the opposite of Mars. So we have this series of complementary opposites which give a fascinating insight into the direction of the herbs.

If we take it into modern biochemistry, going back to the original example of rosemary, two of the important constituents of rosemary are the monoterpene aromatic oils borneol and camphor. These have a stimulating and warming, outward moving effect. They're partly responsible for rosemary's circulatory stimulant, antidepressant and warming action. So we have a link between Culpeper's Western astrology, the Chinese concept of the direction of the energy of the herb and modern phytopharmacy. Culpeper is fascinating, but I think his greatest contribution is above all his vivid writing. He reached people then and now.

BQ: Let me jump now to North America, because it seems with Culpeper we have now reached the time when North America was first settled by Europeans. Tell me something about the herbal traditions of North America and how they fit into this story.

JR: The Mayflower landed in 1620. Culpeper's book was written in 1651 so it wouldn't have been available then, but I think John Gerard's book was published in 1597, although it was rather large to take on the Mayflower. There would have been other herbals available at the time in England, and those coming from Germany would have had access to various materia medica. Some of these would have included detail of Galenic principles and some would have been simple herbal texts for the ordinary person that would have just listed what herbs do.

It is fascinating to see the influence of Culpeper on the classic naturopathic books of America, such as Jethro Kloss' Back to Eden, written in 1939. If you look at the example of rosemary, you'll see a whole list of indications that are actually from Culpeper. Another example is juniper. Culpeper recommends it for cough, shortness of breath, consumption, pains in the belly, cramps and convulsions. And so does Jethro Kloss, using almost identical phrasing. I'm not saying that he copied him. He may have had this from a series of people who copied each other. What is fascinating is that this heritage of Culpeper, which he was taking from Dioscorides' materia medica and Pliny's materia medica---again going back to the first century AD---were transmitted from Culpeper to the basic texts in the US.

Again, if you look at John Christopher's writing and the wording of his entries for different herbs, you'll often find they again parallel those of Culpeper. For example, he recommends juniper to strengthen the brain, the memory and the optic nerve. This is wording straight out of Culpeper. So somehow this European heritage going back all the way to the Roman and Greek times is being transmitted from Culpeper and similar herbals into the basic American textbooks. I really don't think many Americans are aware of their links to Greek herbal medicine.

BQ: On this continent, there was also the Native American tradition that the pioneers and settlers were encountering. They had their own approach and uses of plants, and they had some unique plants here not listed in any European herbal. What happened as these herbs came into use by the settlers and pioneers and could you maybe discuss a few of those herbs?

JR: Yes, I think the American continent made an enormous contribution with first of all the herbs that grow here and then the wisdom of the Native Americans in how to use them. There is quite a long list of herbs. You could take the absolute classics like lobelia and goldenseal, but you also have black cohosh, blue cohosh, squaw vine, Culver's root and so on. The pioneers, when they came from Europe would find herbs that didn't grow in their places of origin. They got from the Native Americans herbs that were extremely effective, and they incorporated these into the materia medica and into the traditions.

One of the famous herbalists was Samuel Thomson who lived 1789-1843. He was a mischievous soul who loved to experiment when he was young by slipping large amounts of lobelia into the food and drink of friends just to see how long and how much they'd vomit. I'm sure, even if not directly, that Thomson got that information from Native Americans. But what is interesting is not just the widening of the materia medica to include the North American herbs, but also the theory of Physiomedicalism, of which Thomson was one of the originators.

It was a very basic concept, but very important nonetheless. It included not only a crude concept of Yin-Yang-- for instance, he used capsicum to stimulate and lobelia to relax---but also a concept of Qi. This is something that later in the history of herbal medicine got rather lost. The Physiomedicalists called their approach vitalism, and they said the most important thing in the human body was the vital force or energy. In their view the most important thing in treating disease was to restore the vital force or energy. One aspect of this vital force was heat and when people were ill, it was thought to be mainly due to cold. This was Thomson---which is a very interesting comparison with the Shang han za bing lun written in China about 200 AD.

BQ: That's quite a separation in time..

JR: Yes, way before but now they are coming back to this concept that the main cause of disease is cold. Therefore the main and key principle of treatment is to warm, so that the vital energy of the body is increased and will then be able to fix the problem itself. Others tried to develop the somewhat simple ideas of Thomson, like Beech and Cook and Lyle and Thurston, but Physiomedicalism unfortunately died out before the theory was fully established.

The later Eclectic movement was more academic, and was concerned in looking at herbs in much greater detail---in testing them, in proving them, in looking at each facet of their different actions, to build up an enormous body of knowledge. King's Dispensatory by Felter and Lloyd would be an absolutely characteristic example. This is the great contribution of the Eclectics, not so much in working out a new theory of herb combination, but with the extreme thoroughness with which they approached the materia medica. What in the end killed the Eclectic and Physiomedical movements was the strengthening development of modern Western pharmacy and Western medicine.

BQ: Germ theory.

JR: Germ theory, and a moving away from the theory of vitalism. People started to see illness as created by alien creatures called germs that must be destroyed. We are no longer talking in terms of the ancient Greeks or in terms of Thomson of increasing the vital force. So we're looking at the concept, sadly, of alienation. In comes the concept of alienation and the separation of the person from themselves. So the disease then becomes the germ, which is separate and is treated by medicine that kills the germ, and not by increasing the vital forces. It was a loss of the understanding of the theory of vitalism, which is again a lot like that of Qi in Chinese medicine. The theories of Qi and the vital force link people to their environment, to other people and to themselves. Once that was lost the whole thing fell into what we've got now.

BQ: We've been talking about North America. I'd like to backtrack a bit and ask if the new American herbs found their way back to Europe?

JR: Absolutely. I think one particularly fascinating thing was the exchange back and forth across the Atlantic. What was coming from Europe in the 17th century over to America were the European herbals and at some stage the information from Culpeper, which got incorporated into the Physiomedical texts. What then happened was in the heyday of the Physiomedicalists and Eclectics some of them went over to lecture in England. One of the famous was a man with the name of Dr. Coffin who went to live in England. I guess you'd call him a Physiomedicalist---not terribly academic---but he was bringing concepts of the new materia medica available in America to the herbalists especially in the North of England who accepted it with great interest. Later came Wooster Beech. So there were both the concepts of the Physiomedicalists and the concepts of the Eclectics.

BQ: Wooster Beech being the Eclectic.

JR: Wooster Beech is sometimes listed as a Physiomedicalist, but he was actually the president of the Eclectic Association. He was on the boundary of the two movements. What then happened was you got the Eclectic and Physiomedicalist concepts and the knowledge of the Native American herbs and their tradition were transferred over to England.

The English herbalists incorporated these concepts and this information on herbs from the Americans into their own corpus of information. This is why, if you look at that certificate over there on my wall, it's absolutely fascinating. The National Institute of Herbalists was founded in England in, I think, 1864, and if you look at the coat of arms you can see on the left you've got an ancient Egyptian medical professional and on the right you've got a Native American medicine man. These are the two integrated aspects of that British National Institute. This was unique to England because you don't find knowledge of Lobelia or Caulophyllum or Cimicifuga in Germany or France. There was a special exchange probably on the basis of language. Actually Coffin went to France and didn't get a good acceptance there, and he quickly went to England. What is happening now in recent years is the reverse---people from the British National Institute are coming to lecture in America.

BQ: Bringing the knowledge back.

JR: Right. Bringing it back. And sometimes the English surprise the Americans by talking about things like Culver's root which many of them have forgotten about because it's fresher in the English minds because their training was in that old physiomedical and native American stuff. Weird. It's just weird cross currents.

BQ: The Institute helped, it sounds like, to keep things alive through this century in a different way than here where we had an incredible dry period. It's probably where Dr. Christopher served his greatest purpose along with a few others. It seems like there were very few in this country who just barely managed to keep things going in terms of herbal medicine. Was it the same in England?

JR: Yes, exactly the same thing was happening in England. It was the dawn of modern pharmacy and modern Western medicine. And also the increasing tendency toward mechanistic thinking, viewing man, society and even the environment as a big machine. It causes a kind of alienation. And the big thing that got lost was the concept of vitalistic theory, as it was called in the West, and in the East it was called Qi. In these concepts everything is linked together.

What happened I think with the National Institute, was that the old principles of herb combination tended to get played down because they were very much trying to impress and be a part of the modern medical and modern scientific world. So they tended to go down the route of:

"We do our diagnosis by Western medicine and we do our treatment in terms of what we know of phytopharmacy." Unfortunately in doing that what tended to happen was the loss of the contact with the vitalistic theory on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the loss of the contact with the Galenic principles---hot and cold, moist and dry and so on.

BQ: What do you think turned things around?

JR: The big boost came when people in Europe started to get interested in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine about thirty years ago. It became apparent that Chinese herbalists were making choices of which herbs to use, that were not based on Western medicine. They did not do their diagnosis based on Western medicine, and their herbs are not classified in terms of biochemistry. In fact, their herbs are classified in terms of hot-cold, organs entered and so on---and so are the diseases. Thus you can match the herb to the disease. There's no need for the Western medicine in the diagnosis, and they're not using phytopharmacy in the classification of herbs.

BQ: So, you seem to feel that the introduction of Chinese herbal medicine into the West has had an impact on the Western herbalists.

JR: Yes, very definitely. What people began to think was that if we can do this with Chinese herbs, why can't we do this with Western herbs? And in fact maybe this classification already exists? Suddenly these people start noticing that Empedocles had a four element classification, and that Aristotle was classifying in terms of hot and cold parameters, moist and dry---like Yin-Yang.

Then they noticed that Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, was classifying people in terms of the four humors---the body is made up of four humors. Following from that, you get the four temperaments. Then they noticed that Galen classified diseases and herbs in terms of the four temperaments, the four humors, the four elements, according to different parts of the body, according to different actions, according to hot-cold, moist-dry and, more than that, he was classifying into 9 grades or degrees of temperature. There was hot and cold in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th degrees and temperate. It was very sophisticated.

And this lasted for centuries. But then with the dawn of modern medicine, and a whole pile of other reasons, it tended to get lost. We rediscovered it I think mainly through the impetus of Chinese medicine. So now we have a situation where we have three parallel traditions. One of those traditions is the Chinese, the other is the Western herbal energetics tradition, which is staggeringly similar to the Chinese, and thirdly we got the equally valuable Western biochemical and phytopharmacological tradition. I think the challenge now is to integrate those three together into a coherent scheme.

BQ: So we're arriving now at a positive use of the science which we had discussed before as having created a problem by disrupting the flow of an energetic understanding. Now science is here and you're talking about it as being able to inform in a positive way our practice of herbal medicine. Clarify that for me.

JR: Yes. I used to be a research scientist in plant physiology, and while I did the research, I became fascinated by the unity I was seeing throughout biology. I was really interested in seeing unifying theories developing in biology. There is no paradox in using scientific material, providing you use it in a flexible way. To believe in science doesn't mean you can't believe in Qi. To believe in science doesn't mean you can't believe in metaphysics. They're not mutually exclusive.

The challenge for science is to use this integrative approach within modern medicine. The integrative approach is already in modern physics. You can read Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics. It's already in mathematics. It's actually already in biology. It's certainly in ecology. The usually conservative, resistant, backward field---sorry to say this---has been medicine. Medicine tends to follow the rules laid down hundreds of years ago. Since the time when Aristotle's word became law and Galen's word became law, medics have always acted that way. What we have now is where the integrative ideas of modern physics, the integrative ideas of modern ecology, and the integrative ideas of Qi theory, or in Western terms vitalistic theory, are now slowly entering modern medicine so that it begins to take in these philosophies.

It is no longer quite so separatist and alienating. It's no longer wholly patient versus bugs. You know, "Kill the bugs!" like aliens in sci-fi movies. Medicine is slowly beginning to understand it is from within the patient himself that the disease originates. Yes, there are external environmental factors, but until you support the vital energy, the Qi, and reduce your concepts about killing the bugs- no matter what the cost to the patient's constitution- medicine won't change. But it is changing, and I think one of the important contributions of Chinese medicine is to bring this to the knowledge of Western doctors, who strangely will accept this coming from Chinese medicine, but they won't accept this coming from their own Western heritage. Their own heritage comes from Aristotle, Hippocrates and Galen, but they'll only accept it if it's from China!

BQ: Yes. That's an interesting point. For the medical doctors, Greek notions of humors are seen as archaic and embarrassing to accept as their roots. They even take a Hippocratic oath, but what Hippocrates said was embarrassing.

JR: It's like the classic phrase in the Bible that a prophet is not known in his own land. So I think that strangely Chinese medicine has been some kind of Trojan horse through which the ancient Western traditions are coming back into medicine, slowly to be integrated not only into herbalism but also into their own Western medicine which was founded on these philosophies in the beginning. It's very, very interesting.

BQ: Another thing that strikes me is that you talk about the impetus for this integration coming from Chinese medicine. But something else about Chinese medicine is different from our history. The Yin-Yang theory was not supplanted when Five Elements arrived or Six Stages or San Jiao theory.

JR: Yes, absolutely correct.

BQ: All these theories found a way to coexist. You can think one way for one patient and another way for the next patient. But science had to knock out the herbal medicine of the day. We were different here in the West. But now it seems like that is a lesson---you're talking now about the integrative movement that is going on now and it seems like we're learning something from the Chinese about avoiding either-or thinking.

JR: I think there are two things here. First, exactly what you say is true, and secondly, there's something else coming from this. Whereas the Chinese can use Six Stages, or Five Elements or Extra Meridians as alternatives, maybe we can go a step further. If we can make---and this is a very Western concept---a unified field theory of medicine, these alternative concepts can actually be integrated together. This is for the future. But my feeling is I always wanted to do this. I always wanted to see the unity in this, bring it forward, and in a flexible but empirical way, try to make some kind of unified theory.

I don't think there is anything wrong with this. We can keep a sort of balance between what you're saying which is we choose this theory this time and the next time another, and we can also try and see if we can integrate the modern biochemistry with the Chinese energetics and the Western herbal energetics. I think this can be done in a new flexible way. And I think this is absolutely fascinating for the future.

BQ: Thanks, Jeremy.

JR: You're welcome.


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