top of page
  • Writer's pictureinpursuitofplants

Ep2: authenticating Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with Dr Chris Leon

Updated: Oct 11, 2019

Dr Chris Leon amongst the Chinese medicinal herb collection at Kew (C) RBG Kew.


Dr Chris Leon of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew joins us to talk about her work on conservation and authentication of Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM). TCM had a surge of popularity in Europe in the 1980s with remarkable success treating chronic skin complaints. However, regulation of the TCM industry in the West lagged far behind making it difficult originally for the public to locate reputable practitioners and herbal suppliers. Although adverse reactions have always remained scarce and usually very minor, better regulation could have avoided some bad publicity in the early 1990s when identification confusion of a small group of herbs led to kidney damage in some patients. Thanks to new health regulations this has now been fully resolved and the industry has introduced major initiatives to ensure patient safety. As a contribution to this effort, Kew set up a unit to collaborate with Chinese academics to create a reference collection at Kew of raw and processed TCM herbs, the first fully authentic collection of its kind in Europe. Its purpose is to provide a botanical accurate reference point and research focus for TCM herb authentication, interpretation of herb names, laboratory-based quality control standards and a tool for ensuring herbs are sustainably sourced. The collection now covers over 1,000 species and 11,000 specimens. More recently, the collection has also been used by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to train officers who work on the trade of illegal medicinal plants.

Chris' contribution towards UK-China Science Relationship was recognised with an MBE in 2013. She also published a guide to identifying Chinese herbs in 2017 Chinese Medicinal Plants, Herbal Drugs and Substitutes: an Identification Guide (Kew Publishing, 2017) with Lin Yu-Lin, a specialist based at the Institute of Medicinal Plant Development at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.

Other links mentioned in podcast:

Medicinal Plant Names Service (MPNS) at Kew

UK TCM professional practitioner associations:

Register for Chinese Herbal Medicine

The Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture (ATCM)


The Good Practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine Research Association

Selected publications

Valk J.M.A., Leon, C.J. & Nesbitt, M., (2017).  Macroscopic authentication of Chinese materia medica (CMM): A UK market study of seeds & fruits. J Herbal Medicine

Chen, S., Pang, X., Song, J., Shi, L., Yao, H., Han, J. & Leon, C. (2014). A renaissance in herbal medicine identification; from morphology to DNA. Biotechnology Advances, 2014 Jul 31. pii: S0734-9750(14)00109-8. doi 10.1016/j.biotechadv.2014.07.004.

Chan, K., Shaw, D., Simmonds, M.S.J., Leon, C.J., Xu Qihe, Lu Aiping, Sutherland, I., Ignatova, S., Zhu You-Ping, Verpoorte, R., Williamson, E.M. & Duez, P. (2012).   Good practice in reviewing & publishing studies on herbal medicine, with special emphasis on traditional Chinese medicine & Chinese material medica.  J Ethnopharm. 140: 469-475.

Shaw, D., Leon, C.J., Kolev, S. & Murray, M. (1997). Traditional Remedies & Food Supplements; a 5-year toxicological study (1991-1995).  Drug Safety 17(5): 342-356.

Chris (standing at back) and colleagues in China in the 1990s. (C) RBG Kew

198 views0 comments
bottom of page