The Lantern: Volume III, Issue 1 - Article #1
It is interesting how different parts of a thing can grow at different rates, like a gangly adolescent. Here in Australia, we have had the clinical practice of Chinese medicine for over 100 years, and only recently have we grown into a registered profession. Yet we also have registration established for Chinese herbal dispensers, herbal pharmacists, as it were, while that part of the profession is still in its infancy.
This is not a complaint. We need that aspect of the Chinese medicine profession to grow, and perhaps even to outgrow the name “dispenser”, for what we truly need are what are known as zhong yao shi in China: experts in the identification, growing, harvesting, preparation, and storage of Chinese medicinal substances. It is a huge field of knowledge. “Identification”, for example, involves detailed knowledge of traditional methods of identification of 500 or more substances, and modern scientific methods of identification and quality control. Preparation of herbal substances, pao zhi, is itself incredibly complex. This type of study would be well suited for one who is interested in herbal medicine, but is not attracted to the day-to-day dealings with patients.
We need it because Chinese herbal supplies are vulnerable to anything that disrupts the sea-lanes between China and Australia. A war between China and Taiwan, for example (or between China and anyone else, for that matter). An increase in high-seas terrorism. Weather disruption to Chinese ports. Any of these or others we have not imagined could leave us high and dry without a supply. Not to mention the certain future increase in labour costs within China.
We need it because – for all the foregoing reasons – we have to foster the development of Chinese herb production in Australia, and the growing of the herbs themselves is only one part of this: those herbs have to be harvested, identified, checked for quality, stored, distributed and then dispensed.
Yet the growing, in the beginning, is primary. Australian farmers are interested, as the growth in herbal medicine market is estimated at 10 per cent annually, and the return is becoming attractive. In our very first issue of The Lantern, the article “Chinese herb farming in Melbourne” introduced the pilot project headed by Dr Charlie Xue in the Whittlesea area of Victoria. Mr Brian May is the project officer who has been most active in the day-to-day running of the study – almost single-handedly – and his personal workload has been tremendous.
There has been the collection and experimental growing of numerous species of Chinese medicinal plants, determining those most appropriate for local production, testing and evaluation of the early harvests, and investigating agricultural models for their commercial viability; all with a view towards developing a local Chinese herb farming industry here in Victoria. This effort will need to be replicated in other areas of Australia, although Brian’s pioneering work clears away some of the obstacles; we have a multitude of different climates (like China) and different medicinal plants can be grown in each area. We are fortunate to be able to reference the Chinese experience with similar climates and their crops.
Hands-on learning about herbs
A number of students have begun to take part in the project already, and find it both fun and interesting, as for once the intellectual labour with Chinese herbs is matched by the physical. Fingers in the dirt, hands around their roots is certainly an unparalleled method of getting to know your herbs, their natures and personalities.
Help is needed with herb farming activities such as planting herbs, weeding, potting and harvesting. So if you are interested in some hands-on learning about the growing of Chinese herbs, or otherwise would like to volunteer some time in a very worthwhile cause, Brian May would love to hear from you (he can be telephoned at the City of Whittlesea on Wednesdays and Fridays on 03 9217 2148. Email may be more efficient: email@example.com). Let him know what you are interested in, when you can come along, or even if you would just like a look at the project.