(July 3, 1518 – May 26, 1593)

As home to the oldest continuous medical system in the world, China has over the last two millennia mastered innovative methodologies and produced outstanding practitioners of oriental medicine. Most notable of these is Li Shizhen, an enterprising polymath, who revamped pharmaceutics and pharmacology. He would spend 30 years exploring various therapeutic choices and alternatives. In the process, he revolutionized pharmacognosy by isolating and classifying hundreds of medicinal plants. Details of these were published in his magnum opus titled Bencao Gangmu (known in Latin as Compendium Materia Medica). This 53-volume reference book boasts of nearly 1,900 entries: containing roughly 1,100 herbs whose respective characteristics, uses, and side-effects, were detailed. These combined to make it the most voluminous and the most comprehensive publication in the history of Traditional Chinese Medicine. But apart from that, Li Shizhen ensured that Bencao Gangmu remains a treasure trove of scientific information by augmenting it with sections dealing with logic, mining, minerology, geology, biology, chemistry and astronomy. All these explain why it has remained one of the oldest and prized encyclopedias still in use. It is available in more than 20 languages; and could be found in every continent. His other publications covered history, metallurgy, acupuncture, agriculture, and nutrition. Among other things, Li Shizhen is remembered as one of the earliest physicians to study and understand gallstones. He is also among the first clinicians who realized the significance of Ephedra sinica as nasal decongestant. The triclinic-pinacoidal mineral, Lishizhenite {ZnFe2(SO4)4•14(H2O)}, is among various items dedicated to him.

12 Comments

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