Using chinese medicine to understand medicinal herb quality: An alternative to biomedical approaches?

Craig A. Hassel, Christopher J. Hafner, Renne Soberg, Jeff Adelmann, Rose Haywood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Chinese medicine (CM) is one of several ancient systems of medical care based upon a different worldview than the prevailing biomedical model; it employs its own language, systems of logic, and criteria for understanding health and diagnosing illness. Medicinal herbs play a central role in the CM system of practice and knowledgeable CM practitioners have extensive clinical experience using them. However, the established scientific and regulatory organizations that rely upon biomedical understandings of pathology do not accept the definitions for medicinal herb quality used by CM practitioners. Furthermore, local medicinal herb growers within the upper Midwest are in a position to grow many herbs, but are unclear about the demand for and desired qualities of the medicinal herbs they produce. Given this situation, the Medicinal Herb Network was founded as a partnership effort of small-scale medicinal herb growers and practitioners of CM to develop more appropriate standards of medicinal herb quality and to encourage locally grown, high quality medicinal herbs consistent with these standards. An overview of CM serves as grounding from which to articulate the dilemmas experienced by CM practitioners of perceiving medicinal herb quality and integrating knowledge across divergent medical systems. A Network initiative designed to overcome these dilemmas illustrates the possibility of developing a lexicon of quality descriptors for medicinal herbs using Chinese medical theory, while drawing from descriptive sensory analysis procedures currently practiced by a sub-group of food scientists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-347
Number of pages11
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002


  • Chinese medicine
  • Descriptive sensory analysis
  • Epistemology
  • Indigenous knowledge
  • Medicinal herb
  • Quality standards

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