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Chinese Medicinal Plants

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This is the first botanically authoritative and practical illustrated identification guide to Chinese medicinal plants and drugs and their substitutes.

Authors: Christine Leon and Lin Yu-Lin. 816pp. Over 3,000 colour photos, 1 map. 288 x 238mm. Hardback, ISBN 978 1 84246 387 1, Kew Publishing 2017


Winner of the American Botanical Council James A. Duke Excellence in Botanical Literature Award 2018

Winner of the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL) 2018 Award of Excellence in Plant Identification & Field-Guides


This is the first botanically authoritative and practical illustrated identification guide to Chinese medicinal plants and drugs and their substitutes. It offers authoritative guidance on the identification of the herbal drugs themselves, and the plants from which they are sourced.

Over the past 15 years, the authors have been collecting plant specimens throughout China, using verified species to create typical TCM reference drugs, prepared according to traditional methods. 

The herbal drugs included in this book are officially recognised from the Chinese materia medica (as defined in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia) and their selection has been based on those popular in international trade, as well as those recognised by the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association, and those that are easily confused, substituted or adulterated with other plants.

The authors provide a wealth of information on 226 herbal drugs, each illustrated extensively with colour photographs. Plant descriptions are given for official species and substitutes, with details on the harvesting, source and natural range, conservation status, the number of wild Chinese species, and up to date taxonomy and nomenclature for all Latin scientific names. Accompanying this is the derivative drug morphology, showing crude and processed forms, along with drug common names, properties and uses, and toxicity rating. Guidance is given on when to use laboratory-based methods to improve identification robustness.  

The layout and design of the book allow for quick and easy cross referencing of official and substitute species, with images appearing side by side, highlighting key identification characters. The herbal drugs are arranged by plant part, in colour coded sections, and cover the following: rhizomes, roots, tubers and bulbs; aerial parts and whole plants; stems and woods; stem barks and root barks; leaves; flowers and flower parts; and fruits, seeds and other fruit parts.

This easy to use, comprehensive identification manual is ideal for those without botanical or materia medica identification training, as well as TCM traders, herbal dispensaries and practitioners, health regulators, conservationists including CITES enforcement officers, academia, and the natural product industries as well as those involved in the cultivation and sustainable supply of the plants themselves. 

Media reviews:

Without any reservation, if you use dried herbs or sell them, you need to have this book. Tony Harrison, The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine Journal

It is a work of impressive essential guide for anyone involved with importing or dispensing Chinese herbal remedies. Penelope Ody, Herbs

The authors are to be congratulated for a superb contribution to the literature, which I certainly expect to make use of for a lifetime. Wendy Applequist, Economic Botany

This is an invaluable book for anyone involved in ethnopharmacy, pharmacognosy or Chinese medicine practise, but it also reaches farther afield and will be certainly be of great interest to natural product scientists, botanists, ecologists, ethnobotanists and medical anthropologists. Anthony Booker, Journal of Ethnopharmacology

...a publication of impressive, unusual, and unsurpassed scope and extraordinary contribution to the current knowledge of medicinal plants. Steven Foster and Mark Blumenthal, HerbalGram

...a beautifully crafted, thoughtfully prepared, and exhaustively researched volume that fills a necessary gap in the literature. It could not have come at a more opportune time. It will certainly serve as a valuable resource for readers worldwide for years to come. Brian Hockaday, CBHL Newsletter 


Christine Leon is a medical botanist specialising in Chinese medicinal plants, based at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where she has worked since 1980. In partnership with the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development (IMPLAD) in Beijing she established the Chinese Medicinal Plants Authentication Centre at Kew in 1998 whose activities have involved much academic exchange between China and the UK and extensive fieldwork. With her co-author, Professor Lin Yu-Lin, and IMPLAD colleagues, Christine has travelled to 20 of China’s 34 provinces to source authentic and high quality Chinese medicines from fresh plants, and investigated China’s herbal medicine markets for substitutes and adulterants. She has published widely on Chinese medicine authentication, drawing on the Centre’s 4,500 authentic TCM reference specimens and sits on the British Pharmacopoeia’s Expert Advisory Group on Herbal and Complementary Medicines. In 2013 was awarded an MBE for ‘Services to the UK-China Science Relationship’.

Professor Lin Yu-Lin is a leading specialist on the identification of Chinese medicinal plants and their materia medica, and is based at the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing.  He has authored several books on Chinese medicinal plants (in Chinese) including A Colored Identification Atlas of Chinese Materia Medica and Plants as Specified in the Pharmacopoeia of China, and Chinese Medicinal Herbs: a Colored Identification Atlas of Yin Pian.

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