Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Herbal Medicine in Western and Chinese Culture

LEVEL I - Introductory Level


DEPARTMENT Centre for the Liberal Arts and Sciences

DESCRIPTION The chemical basis of the pharmaceutical industry can be considered to be a relatively recent development. Prior to this development, pharmaceutical agents were derived from plant products. A number of these plant products are well known giving effective medication options serving as powerful tools in the practitioner’s pharmaceutical armamentarium: e.g. citrus fruits for vitamin C; digitalis from Foxglove; morphine and heroin from opium; aspirin from the willow tree; phytoestrogens from soya; penicillin from the fungus Penicillium rubens; streptomycin from the soil actinomycete Streptomyces griseus. Many other plant species used for medical purposes in the past western and Chinese traditional medicine have been waylaid by modern pharmaceutical developments.

A significant number of these plant species have been demonstrated to actually be associated with definite biological and pharmaceutical properties. The plant kingdom therefore can be considered to be a potential source for new pharmaceutical agents to augment the doctor’s armamentarium. The unit will review the pharmaceutical contribution that the plant kingdom has given to humanity in the past and looks forward to the future.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:

a. appreciate the role of different plant and herb species in the past within western and Chinese medical culture;
b. appreciate the diversity of the biological and medicinal properties derived from the plant kingdom;
c. appreciate the role of particular plant species used as food, spices and herbs in preventing and ameliorating disease and its symptomatology.

2. Skills
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:

a. identify medically useful plants, spices and herbs used in TCM to prevent and ameliorate disease;
b. be familiar with steps involved in collecting and making crude dry herbal preparations for use in poultices, decoctions, tinctures and macerates;
c. Be familiar with steps involved in obtaining concentrated extracts either by steam distillation or solvent extraction;
d. Be familiar with advice on safety issues and precautions to be taken when handling plants used in TCM.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

1. Zhang-fu, C., Chinese materia medica (China: People's Medical Publishing House, 2014).
2. WHO, China Academy of TCM. Medicinal plants in China : a selection of 150 commonly used species. WHO Regional Office for the western pacific, Mabila, 1989 [ISBN 9290611022] Available at:
3. Jung-Nuan Wu. An illustrated Chinese Materia Medica. University Press, Oxford, 2005 [ISBN 0195140176] Available at:

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Fieldwork

Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Joseph Buhagiar
Charles Savona Ventura (Co-ord.)
Xiao Wang

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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.