Analysis of historical changes in traditional Chinese medicine based on an Indonesian collection of Chinese materia medica from c. 1870

Yusheng Jia, Lei Lei, Xiao Luo, Zhongzhen Zhao, Mei Wang*, Tinde van Andel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Traditional Chinese Medicine is subject to changes over time: product names, botanical ingredients, processing methods and uses have varied throughout the course of history. Historic collections of Chinese materia medica (CMM) are of great value for research on the evolvement, development and variability of Chinese herbal medicine over time. These changes may have a significant influence on the safety and efficiency of nowadays’ clinical practice. Here we investigate a historic collection of Chinese medicinal products purchased in Indonesia in c. 1870, containing about 395 specimens. Aim of the study: This study compares the specimens contained in late 19th century collection of CMM with contemporary marketed materials by investigating changes in vernacular names, botanical identity and processing methods which are important aspects for safety and clinical practice today. Materials and methods: The contents and associated documentation of the CMM collection of Dr. C.H.A. Westhoff (University Museum Utrecht) were revised by means of morphological identification and study of the associated historic documentation. We compared this Westhoff collection with contemporary CMM, information from literature and various quality standards, including the official Chinese pharmacopoeia. Results: The Westhoff collection represents a unique, well preserved collection of Chinese materia medica, with original uniform bottles, Chinese labels and a partly intact handwritten catalogue. Among the 395 specimens (bottles) of CMM surveyed, there are 387 contain a single component drug, while eight contain multiple components drugs. A total of 293 of the 395 specimens are mentioned in the modern Chinese pharmacopoeia. Ca. 25% of the specimens had been processed, such as stir-fried with or without adjuvants. Our analysis of local Chinese names, botanical content and processing methods indicate that this collection originates from southern part of China, possibly including in the region of Taiwan and was meant as a showcase for pharmaceutical education and/or as curiosity object. Conclusion: Differences in vernacular names, plant parts and processing methods between the Westhoff collection and the current Chinese pharmacopoeia illustrate the regional variety of CMM and changes in CMM in the course of time. This work contributes to the understanding of the evolvement of CMM from a historic perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113714
JournalJournal of Ethnopharmacology
Early online date25 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery

User-Defined Keywords

  • Authentication and medicinal processing
  • C.H.A. westhoff collection
  • Chinese pharmacopoeia
  • Historical and contemporary comparison
  • Traditional Chinese medicine


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