Alchemy and Protochemistry in the History of TCM

Paul L. Reller L.Ac. / Last Updated: August 03, 2017

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The making of alchemical elixirs

In the use of alchemical elixirs, there was a distinction made between the Wai Dan, or 'outer mercury', and the Nei Dan, or 'inner mercury', although the word Dan, in this context, means something more than mercury or cinnabar (the form of most mercury in ore), and the words inner and outer refer also to something more than inside the body and outside. Nei Dan is a practice of psycho-physiological alchemy, rather than the use of overt elixirs to effect the alchemical change. Nei Dan was practiced extensively to prepare the individual for the Wai Dan alchemical elixirs, and was considered essential to their safe and positive effects on health. According to the famed British historian Joseph Needham the word 'Nei' in this context referred to a non-corporeal, or energetic bodily aspect, and the word 'Wai' to the actual physical metabolism and function. The word 'Dan' was widely used to refer to the overall science of alchemy before this word was actually coined in China, as well as to the alchemical elixirs and laboratory processes itself. Today, we like to divide the world in a binary fashion, describing these concepts as spiritual and physical, or metaphysicial and physical, but in ancient philosophy and natural science there was a more holistic view of the interaction between the energetic and tangible aspects of the human organism, and nature itself. This was perhaps the height of 'mind-body' scientific concepts and deserves more than to be seen as mere superstitious belief in magic. A holistic protocol that combined herbal and nutrient medicine, lifestyle regimens, meditation, and mind-body rituals such as Qi Gong and Dao Yin were integral to the achieving of the alchemical goals of macrobiotic transformations and improved vitality, or yang sheng. In time, the practice of taking the more difficult to make elixirs of the Xian was unpopular, but the variety of other practices continues today and is even gaining momentum and popularity.

To truly understand the use of actual alchemical elixirs in ancient China one needs to take a look at the basic concepts of these complex chemical, or protochemical, extracts. Today, our science tries to find single molecules to enact change in the body as a medicinal substance, and the elixirs were perhaps the opposite concept, a complex combination of synergistic chemicals. The Chinese language even today has 11 symbols, or Chinese language characters, for the term 'elixir'. Of course the word elixir is a European word, derived from the Latin in Medieval times, around the 13th century A.D. The word origin, even in Europe, is obscure, and was reportedly derived from the Arab term al-iksir, meaning al- (the, or the original), and -iksir, meaning a powder used medicinally, and later the word in Europe, as well as the Arab term al-iksir, was widely known to also refer to the essential component of the alchemical elixirs of longevity, termed "the Philosopher's Stone". In modern medicine, the term elixir was used widely to refer to a tincture (herbal or mineral extract with chemicals extracted into alcohol or glycerite) with more than one base (the main ingredient of a compound, or the substance that combines with acids to form ion mineral salts, or electrolyte solutions). In pharmacological terms, the tincture elixir may have referred to medicines that used more than one type of solvent to extract types of chemicals in the herbs or minerals, creating a more complete medicine, or 'tonic'. Common solvents are methanol, glycerite and water. In recent history, from perhaps the 17th century on, the word 'elixir' was often borrowed by medical charlatans to promote sales of supposedly 'quack' herbal medicines that were often nothing more than an excuse to drink more intoxicating alcohol, or relied on the placebo effect to enact a remedy. Surely, thinking of the European word 'elixir' only as a 'quack medicine' is a very limited view of the word, but this is the standard reference today, and sheds a negative light on the concept of the ancient Chinese alchemical elixirs.

Joseph Needham, in his search for historical documents that show the origin of the Chinese alchemical elixirs could not pin point some exact development in time, but rather a very long history of searching for very special herbal medicines, particular plants of the Xian, an extensive work with earth minerals, both industrial and as ingested and topical medicine, and the combination of special herbs and minerals to achieve special effects. He notes that in India, a short ways away from the early Chinese center of culture, similar explorations searching for elixirs of enlightenment in Ayurvedic culture occurred, and developed preparations of plants and minerals. Here, for example, we see earth minerals calcined repeatedly in plant herbal extractions, often preceded by amalgamation and distillation to refine the substance, effectively removing toxic mercury and other toxic chemicals. This process, calcination, or heating the metal to a high temperature to reduce and oxidize it, and then putting it into vinegar and then again in herbal plant decoction, could be performed in many ways. In alchemical literature we find examples of gold calcined in a furnace with mercury and sal ammoniac, silver with sea salt and alkali salt, copper with salt and sulfur, iron with sal ammoniac and vinegar, tin with antimony, lead with sulfur and mercury with aqua fortis. With preparations such as amalgamation, where mercury and another mineral are combined, such as soft gold and liquid mercury, the earth mineral is crushed and the use of mercury dissolves the metal, and this is then heated, and possibly distilled, with the mercury evaporating. The resulting material is spongy and easily oxidized when roasted, and this could combine with the plant extracts in the process.

The Ayurvedic physicians wrote that the ruh and pho of the plant and metal, or the spirits, analagous to the Hun and Po in Chinese, or the human and instinctual nature of the spirit, were thus combined in these plant-mineral elixirs. Dr. Needham suggests that this could have a variety of meanings, including the creation of a both male and female entity (hermaphrodite), a uniting of the yin and yang. It is curious that the meaning of hermaphrodite derives from the Greek gods Hermes and Aphrodite, who in mythology gave birth to a son so loved by the nymph Salmacis that they became one person, both male and female. Of course, we know that Hermes became the symbol for alchemy in Europe, with the lore of Thoth Hermes Trismegistus (thrice great Hermes), and hermaneutical is a term still used today in reference. The body of alchemical literature in Europe is often referred to as the Corpus Hermeticum. Dr. Needham noted that a wide variety of Ayurvedic medicines with such mineral and plant preparations even today are used, called bhasma, kushta, etc. The ultimate goal in creating the xiandan would be to find a mineral substance that preserved the aspects of life in the plant material, and hopefully stimulate the same life preservation macrobiotically in the human organism. This is obviously much more complex in scope that the derisive descriptions of simple toxic mercury compounds that were poisonous but taken by misguided alchemists because they believed in magic. Our historians and scientists that have repeated such descriptions of alchemy ad nauseum should be ashamed. While modern scientists are reportedly unable to replicate the volatile prima materica, or 'Philosopher's Stone', although such great scientists as Sir Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle just a few centuries ago did, according to their texts, we cannot just take this fact and act like little children throwing a temper tantrum and state that all of the rich history of alchemy is therefore stupid. Obviously, serious study of the history of alchemy presents hundreds if not thousands of types of these elixirs, with the most superior of the elixirs, often referred to as the "Elixir of Life", not only involving these elaborate methods of mineral amalgamation, calcination, sublimation, distillation, reduction, decoction, and blending, but taking up to two years of careful attention in a specialized laboratory, and first needed a volatile substance called the 'Prima Materia' to even start the process. There appears no way to mass produce this special medicine, and here may be the real issue of frustration for modern human civilization.

It is certain that the ideas of longevity originated with plant medicines, though, and even may have originated with an observation that animals that ate a particular combination of herbs appeared to live longer and healthier lives. Many texts document the search for the most special of these herbs, as if there was just one species that grew in one location that would be most valuable in this regard. Dr. Needham cites numerous examples of alchemists and physicians sent to find these supposed herbs of longevity, but instead of finding the one magic herb, texts describe many plant extracts. He documents a famed Daoist alchemist, Huang Hsuan-Chung, employed by the Emperor Han Wu Ti in about 100 BCE, who eventually failed to find the specific herb, but wrote of 172 herbal drugs in his treatise on alchemical elixirs of the Xian. If there was indeed a single herb of immortality it was never found, and this points to the lore of such a drug, but not of its reality. Of course, such lore is very motivating, and with a huge fortune, powerful people may fruitlessly search for such a drug, and today we still see rich humans spending fortunes on fruitless tasks. This does not reflect on the many great humans that explored the rich history of alchemy, and obviously did not provide this dumbed down simplistic single entity out of this very complex science. Instead, we find an amazing array of substances, medicines, industrial applications and a rich history of useful theory and understanding that came out of the study and practice of alchemy. Examples today of such elaborate attempts to achieve immortality by very rich individuals include technology such as cryogenics, where the body is is refrigerated at a temperature below minus 150 degrees celsius, with the belief that in the future they can be revived and there will be discovered a way to achieve immortality scientifically. We do not look at such attempts and then condemn all of modern science as a taboo and ridiculous belief in magic, yet we continue to take this attitude about the very broad science of alchemy.

In ancient China, these alchemical elixirs were generally referred to as 'Dan' or 'Yi'. The elixirs created by cyclical transformations in the laboratory were called Huan Dan, and the elixirs based on the alchemical gold created with the Philosopher Stone were called Qin Yi. A variety of 'minor elixirs' were also documented as useful in achieving healthy aging, or longevity, and these were called Xiao Dan (lesser alchemy). Ancient Chinese texts referred to the most precious alchemical elixirs as Shen Dan. This word Shen, as mentioned previously in this article on alchemy, has many meanings, one of which, in context, refers to magic, and this definition is the one almost always cited in Western texts, unfortunately. It is absolutely certain that these ancient philosopher scientists in China that experimented with these superior elixirs did not believe that they worked purely by 'magic'. We must finally get past these sophomoric ideas and Eurocentric biases to actually take a realistic look at alchemical elixirs in ancient China. The character Shen that is used has eleven meanings ascribed in the modern authoritative historical Chinese dictionary, the Hanyu Dazidian. One of these definitions is magical, supernatural, miraculous, mysterious, or abstruse. On the other hand, other definitions define the written character as consciousness, mind, mental faculties, or demeanor, and actions of administering or governing. We may assume that the Shen Dan superior alchemical elixirs were intended to improve the mind, mental consciousness, and those systems that govern, such as the neuroendocrine system.

The word Dan in Chinese is often used to refer to these more complex elixirs of longevity. This written character today is simplified to suggest the energetic substance within the organism, and common meanings of the character include red, powder, singular, 'the one', and use of the character with other characters is still used to indicate a folk medicine (danfang), mercury ore cinnabar (dansha), the area of the body between the kidneys (dantian), and a deep breath controlled by the diaphragm (dantian zhi qi). Obviously, the term is not confined to a simple definition, and is used to denote more complex and varied concepts in the Chinese language, not just the mineral element mercury. Even in European language, the word mercury itself is complex in meaning, not only meaning the mineral element mercury, but implying that indeed mercury is tied to very complex and esoteric concepts. This word mercury still denotes the god Mercury, the term mercurius, the Greek personage Hermes, and the quality of volatility, and the chemical symbol even today is an alchemical reference to hydrargum (Hg), or quicksliver, or 'living mercury', unique to all of the earth minerals.

Obviously, the choice of the word Dan to refer to alchemy and the superior alchemical elixirs involves complex concepts. These concepts involved the idea that within the planet, forces of heat, pressure, radioactivity, fusion, ionic energy, and chemical transmutations created life as we know it, not with a single biochemical action, though, as our modern science tries to find, but by creating a holistic quantum field of events, or a Biome, a planetary Biome. Modern science is still trying to explain the creation of life, and this inability for our developed science to explain how life was formed even today propels a strong debate throughout the human civilization around the world concerning a supposed fight between science and religion, creation and evolution. Such binary thinking is absurd, but dominates human civilization even today, leading to conflict and war. Ancient Chinese Daoist philosophers, or alchemists, observed the creation of life as a more complex and quantum field of events, and sought to recreate the basic events in the alchemical laboratory, hence creating the alchemical elixirs, the Huan Dan, Qin Yi, and Shen Dan. They also realized that a more quantum and holistic field of events were needed for these elixirs of longevity to work. Such concepts are foreign to our modern thought, and difficult to comprehend. Today, we think that taking a simple chemical should work by itself to achieve any goal, the 'miracle of modern science'. To understand these elixirs, we need to expand our consciousness.

Preparation was needed to effectively use the alchemical elixirs in ancient China. Physiological alchemy, or Nei Dan, involved a number of practices that improved the health of mind and body, including breathing exercises, meditation, Qi gong, Dao yin (often described as a sort of Daoist yoga), and Daoist contemplation of the patterns and harmony of Nature. This was combined with healthy dietary habits and herbal formulas to elicit a transmutation of substance within the body, or a change in physiology, to effect cure and prevent disease. This distinction between Nei Dan and Wai Dan, or alchemical transmutations in a laboratory setting, showed that there was a substantial knowledge of toxicity and how to handle the mercury based elixirs safely, by first improving the health of the person utilizing the elixirs with the practice of Nei Dan to minimize the toxic effects of Wai Dan. later in history, Nei Dan became the predominant popular practice of alchemy, and Wai Dan became a practice that was seldom officially acknowledged. Today, the equivalent of Nei Dan would be the rising popularity of yoga, Tai chi, Qi gong, macrobiotics and other dietary practices, meditation, etc., combined with herbal medicine. Nei Dan would incorporate these practices in complex protocols designed to bring the person into a greater Naturalistic health. These two types of alchemical medical practice needed to be combined into a holistic protocol, especially as many of the medicinal Wai Dan elixirs had some degree of toxicity. Bypassing the preparation of the body and mind with Nei Dan was tempting, as the benefits from the elixirs were immediate and sometimes astounding, and this, of course, was often tried, but often produced adverse side effects. This temptation led to use of methods to keep the elixir preparations secret, such as code lexicons and official banning of these printed texts. Such coded language continued in use for centuries, and was found as well in the Arab countries and Europe.

Many stories of famous Chinese physicians who studied the alchemical sciences and did not prepare themselves with the Daoist practice of Nei Dan before trying to heal themselves, or achieve greater health and longevity (health aging), with alchemical medicines, abound in Chinese history. The most famous of these stories concerns the renowned doctor Huang Fu Mi, the author of the famed classic, the Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing, or the Systematic Canon of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, written between 256 and 260 AD. Huang Fu Mi was born a peasant in what is now the province of Gansu, and when he was young was considered very bright and gifted, attracting the famous scholar Xi Tan to his village to teach him. He soon himself became famed as a scholar and was offered a number of court posts and much money, but refused these to continue a virtuous path of study and writing, stating that scholarly study produced the greatest rewards in life, and that he was setting an example to not just seek riches and position, but to benefit humanity. In his 40s, Huang Fu Mi experienced a paralyzing stroke, though, and resorted to harsh alchemical medicines, as well as the popular powdered herbal medicine, Wu Shi San (5 ingredient powder), also called Han Shi San, because it became renowned as a cure-all in the Han Dynasty courts. This powdered medicine contained very stimulating and warming ingredients with some toxicity, and while Huang Fu Mi recovered from his stroke, he nearly died of chronic adverse health effects, with fever, asthma, edema and joint pain. To cure himself, he studied acupuncture classics, and with this stimulation, and adoption of Daoist Nei Dan practices, was restored to excellent health and longevity, prompting him to organize his knowledge into the acupuncture clinical guide, the Zhen Jui Jia Yi Jing, literally the ABCs of clinical acupuncture and moxibustion. The lesson from his life, to utilize a more holistic treatment protocol that addresses a complete array of effects, and not to try to take the short-cut, or miracle cure, when desperate, still rings true, and can be applied to the sensible integration of a more thorough protocol with Complementary Medicine today, especially when taking harsh treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. In the TCM literature, this story of Huang Fu Mi was a cautionary tale of what could happen when one did not use the Nei Dan practices to prepare for use of the Wai Dan elixirs.

Joseph Needham wrote in his great historical texts, Science and Civilization in China, Vol. 3, devoted to the history of alchemy and chemistry in China, that this formula Wu Shi San became popular as the works of the alchemists diverged into specialized branches, the work on the inorganic elixirs of vitality, the organic medicines, and the transformations of substances in the laboratory into gold, silver and other complex substances, that produced such products as gunpowder. At this time in history, the alchemical-based powder Wu Shi San, composed of the 5 minerals of greatest medicinal renown, became famous as an herbal formula to restore ultimate vitality. Doctor Needham shows that Wu Shi San became so famous that a 5th century classic, entitled Shi Shuo Xin Yu, by Liu I-Chhing (Liu Yi-Qing), mentioned a treatise by the famed physician Chhin Chheng-Tsu (Qin Cheng-Zu) entitled Han Shi San Lun (discourse on the formula Wu Shi San, now called Han Shi San). He writes: "Ho Phing-Shu (Ho Ping-Shu) said that those who eat the medicinal powder of the Five Mineral (Wu Shi San) do so not only for curing diseases, but also to enhance their vitality." The 5 minerals in this famous formula were cinnabar (dan sha), realgar (xing huang), purified potash alum (pai fan), stratefied malachite (sheng qing), and magnetite (zhu shi), all of which are still in use today in Chinese herbal medicine, but rarely used, with some key ingredients actually banned from import now in the United States, such as cinnabar, or natural mercury, even though there are no records of poisoning with this medicinal powder in the professional herbal practice in the United States. There is still a strange ubiquitous societal prohibition of these alchemical ingredients and medicines. Alchemical medicines, as popular as they became at this time in history, up until about 1300 AD, also became great secrets, though, and competing medical philosophies sought to erase the documents describing the successful use of these more precious elixirs, especially the inorganic mineral elixirs.There is much speculation historically that this prohibition against alchemical elixirs came from the desire to curb the manufacture of gold and silver, as well as the religious prohibition against extending life or finding some human science that would trump spiritual beliefs. All of this just signifies that our modern civilization is still caught up in neurotic superstitious beliefs and prohibitions.

The continued prohibition against natural mercury ore powder in medicine needs some elucidation. Needham, in his history of these origins of alchemy, protochemistry and chemistry, noted that while we still today often repeat that this mercury ore, or cinnabar, at the heart of Shen Dan, or Vital Mercury (the Chinese name for alchemy), is poison, even scientists in the twentieth century have proved that ingestion of inert cinnabar is not very toxic. Needham cites the work of Ghosh, who made a study of the subject in 1931, using the sensitive Bardach's test. Ghosh found that ingestion of mercuric sulphide stimulated the gastric secretions to hydrochloride concentrations of 0.05 to 0.25 percent at 37 degrees centigrade, and with continuous motility, only some 0.02 percent of the mercuric sulphide went into solution. He examined the tissues of laboratory animals given this cinnabar and noted that the liver tissues showed positive benefits. His conclusions were that cinnabar ingestion alone, unless habitually consumed in large quantities, was safe, due to the low solubility, and that this would increase the mercury content of the intestinal lumen, organs and bodily fluids to a natural level that was not toxic, but controlled. This medical treatment could be used for disinfection, anti-luetic effects, anti-suppurative effects, or other intentions medically. Ghosh showed that the widespread use of cinnabar powder in ancient China and medieval Europe was not dangerous and had proven benefits scientifically, contrary to the often repeated and unsupported statements in medical texts that this use of cinnabar was both useless and poisonous.The legal prohibition against import of cinnabar powder in the United States is not driven by fact of toxicity.

In 2008, due to the lack of recorded evidence of toxicity of cinnabar, experiments and analysis were conducted by experts at the Laboratory of Comparative Carcinogenesis, at the National Institute of NIEHS, in North Carolina, USA, and coordinated with experts at Guiyang Traditional Medical College, in China, as well as Zunyi Medical College, in China. These experiments and analysis, published in Experimental Biology and Medicine, July 2008, vol. 233 (7): 810-817, found that "cinnabar is insoluble and poorly absorbed form the gastrointestinal tract, mainly accumulating in minute amounts in the kidneys, resembling the disposition pattern of inorganic mercury (organic mercury is toxic, not inorganic). Heating cinnabar results in release of mercury vapor, which in turn can produce toxicity similar to inhalation of these (organic) vapors. The doses of cinnabar required to produce neurotoxicity are 1000 times higher than methyl mercury. Following long-term use of cinnabar, renal dysfunction may occur (but not necessarily). Dimercaprol and succimer are effective chelation therapies for general mercury intoxication including cinnabar. Pharmacological studies of cinnabar suggest sedative and hypnotic effects, but the therapeutic basis of cinnabar is still not clear. In summary, cinnabar is chemically inert with a relatively low toxic potential when taken orally. In risk assessment, cinnabar is less toxic than many other forms of mercury, but the rationale for its inclusion in traditional Chinese medicines remains to be fully justified." You can see the link to this summary in Additional Information. We see, once again, that this historically popular and still utilized mineral medicine is not, as frequently purported, an absurd poison that needs to be banned from professional herbal medicine. It is of very low toxicity, and while modern Western studies are not extent, show medical benefits. This study shows that a long-term high-dose ingestion of Cinnabar would be needed to achieve substantial toxicity. TCM herbalists never used a high dosage or prescribed Cinnabar long-term. Such continued bias and prohibition of alchemical mineral medicines is consistent with the historical bias and not the scientific facts.

Historical Records of the Alchemical Elixirs themselves, or Wai Dan

Many of the most renowned scholar-physicians and prestigious Daoist alchemists in China used what were called Qin Fang (forbidden prescriptions), and these elixirs with toxicity were used quite successfully, without problems, but did generate a practice of medical charlatans who peddled versions of these famous alchemical elixirs to the public, to patients who did not have professional access to these famed medicines and the court physicians. For this reason, laws were created to stop the peddling of the elixirs by non-professionals, but these laws apparently did not apply to real physicians, as many famous doctors in this early Chinese history continued to prescribe, take and write about the elixirs. Most of these physicians were also scholars of Daoism, such as Sun Si Miao, and rooted their concepts in the classic texts, such as the Yi Jing (Book of Changes) and the Dao De Jing (Way of Nature and Civilization). The most extent of the alchemical theories was written in the second century by Wei Po-Yang (Wei Bo Yang), who also is credited for the invention of gunpowder. Wei Po-Yang's text, The Kinship of the Three, or Zhou Yi Can Tong Qi, is considered the most important classic of alchemical medicine, and he emphasizes here that the study of the Yi Jing, Huang Lao (Daoism) and alchemical science are like 3 roads leading up different sides of the same mountain. The title of the book also refers to the 3 primary vitalities in humans, termed Zhen Qi, Yuan Qi, and Zheng Qi, which when nurtured and balanced, allow longevity and a very healthy life up to the end (not immortality, as most modern historians keep repeating). These alchemical texts therefore are concerned with a study of Nature and Philosophy that would reveal the secrets to the healthiest life possible.

The creation of alchemical elixirs was just one of the symbiotic tools that these master physicians utilized to achieve this goal of healthy aging, or yang shen, and while this study of alchemy is thus very involved and complicated, the repeated historical reference to this great scholarly science as merely a creation of "magical" potions and transmutation of lead into gold for profit, and a search for actual immortality, is disgusting. Wei Po-Yang, who was later given the title of Highest Purity Adept (Tai Su Chen Jen) and the Cloud Banner Master (Yun Ta Tzu), is credited with discovering the alchemical Elixir of Life, and the classic text Da Dan Chi (Record of the Great Elixir) is also attributed to him. Contrary to what is persistently repeated in historical texts, the Elixir of Life was not a magical elixir of immortality, but rather a means to achieve the culmination of a long life of about a hundred years and end up at the end extremely healthy and brilliant, both mentally and spiritually. The utilization of the Elixir of Life, though, could only be accomplished by a life adhering to the practices of Daoist science, with the practice of Nei Dan preparing the individual for the use of the Wai Dan elixirs. The Yin must support the Yang. While the official practice of creating these 'elixirs of life' that are so famous reportedly ended during the 9th century in China, Joseph Needham shows in his research that they were still being made in the 20th century. He cites a text of the American E. V. Chowdry, who taught anatomy at the Peking Union Medical College n 1917, who wrote: "The (Daoist) priests sometimes attempted to distil mercury. When the distillation has been successfully repeated nine times, the resulting substance will be the 'eilixir of life'. One of the priests of the White Cloud Temple is said to have been killed by an explosion during the sixth distillation." Dr. Needham points out that this sounds like the alchemical sublimations, not simple distillation, that were still being conducted in alchemical laboratories in 1917. Of course, modern chemistry was still making many medicinal substances from the alchemical minerals at this time, in essence 'elixirs', and herbalists were still also making many decoctions combining prepared minerals and herbal materials. The actual core alchemical elixirs were being made in relative secrecy and obscurity, though.

These alchemical elixirs and medicines constituted a broad and popular branch of medicine historically in China, with both the most esteemed physicians and the peasants creating a large variety of elixirs and medicines. Arsenic is one the earth metals found in abundance and is allotropic, or existing in multiple forms, or physical states, in nature. Thus, natural arsenic, Pi shuang, or arsenic trioxide, was an important element of the alchemical elixirs, like mercury (re: liquid mercury), another allotrope, since the elixirs were all about transforming groups of ingredients from one physical state to another in the crucible, and thus arriving at a complex chemical solution that effected such changes in the human organism. A list of alloptropic minerals includes white, black and red phosphorus, diphosphorus, sulfur, and red, grey and black selenium, as well as boron, silicon, germanium, antimony and arsenic. Today, the famed buckyballs, or carbon fullerenes, are allotropic, and curiously, were manufactured and sold, then taken off the market and banned! The allotropic arsenic compounds were used extensively for elixirs and medicinal purposes, and much knowledge of safety measures were known even to the common people in preparing arsenic compounds safely. Arsenic compounds of special quality, prepared in the right fashion were commonly used to treat debility, used alone, as well as being useful in the more complex elixirs. Historical records show that natural arsenic was used extensively with no serious toxic effects, even in the common medical practices of the village peasants. Arsenic compounds were also used extensively in aurifaction and argentifaction, the inorganic alchemy. In the organic branch, arsenic compounds were ground in water and combined with plant herbs, boiled and heated to dryness. These powders were used commonly to treat ailments such as toothache, but not overused.

In the 20th century, arsenic compounds were still widely used, and available at the drug store without prescription, but sensational cases in London claiming that a few housewives had used these to gradually poison an abusive spouse resulted in an impression that they were not safe, although actual evidence of the use of common arsenic medicines to poison were not clear. The extent of the rumors led to the famous movie Arsenic and the Old Lace, representing the common belief. The prior arsenic poisonings that led to this accusation occurred with arsenious acid, though, not arsenic sulfide or trioxide. The arsenious acid had been apparently mistakenly added to processed invert sugar in the factory, or used to afford a cheaper invert processing, and had been used in the brewing of beer at many breweries. Extensive forensic testing of contaminated invert sugar in England, and wider investigation, showed that traces of arsenic were commonly found in many food items, though, and that malting fuel in the beer industry always contained arsenic oxides. The arsenious acid was responsible for the poisoning, not the benign natural arsenics. Subsequent public alarm at the use of arsenic in invert sugar led to the Pure Beer Act in England. Today, arsenic trioxide is still used extensively, with more than 50,000 tonnes produced annually in the world, some still obtained as a byproduct of refining gold and copper ores, important minerals in early Chinese alchemy. Medical applications are still extensive, with Rrisenox approved by the U.S. FDA in the 1970s for the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia unresponsive to other chemotherapy, such as all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), or Tretinoin/Vesinoid, a nutritional medicine derived from a form of Vitamin A. Arsenic trioxide has been used in standard medical treatment consistently since the time of alchemical elixirs, notably as Fowler's solution (a treatment for elevated white blood cells), and Salvarsan (a Paul Erlich treatment for syphillis), as well as both internal and topical medicines to treat cancer, hypertension, gastric ulcers, heartburn, and chronic rheumatism. The singling out of use of natural arsenic in alchemical elixirs as an absurd poison, often repeated, does not hold weight.

Of course, the most curious of the alchemical medicines were the famed mineral elixirs. One of the famous elixirs was called the Nine-vessel elixir of the Yellow Emperor. A famous text outlining how to make the elixir gives these instructions: 1/2 pound each of Realgar and orpiment, 5 pounds of Cinnabar, 3 ounces each of Sulphur, quartz, stalactite, crude sodium sulphate, and arsenolite, 5 ounces each of stalagemites, calcium sulphate, gypsum, brown haematite, lapis lazuli, selenite, red bole clay, mica and magnetite; pound these together, mixed with vinegar, until thoroughly soaked (before placing in the lower bowl of the reaction vessel). Cover with a thin layer of common salt. (The upper bowl of the reaction vessel is then placed mouth-to-mouth over the lower bowl, and the two are rendered air-tight with a lute applied on the outside). Heat for 3 days and nights, and then allow to cool for a half day before opening. This sublimation process is to be repeated until seven cyclical changes have been performed. The product can be used to cure all illnesses, and once treated by this elixir the same illness will never recur. This is from the Thai-Chhing Shih Pi Chi, or the Records in the Rock Chamber, from the original text of Su Yuan-Ming. Because of the inherent danger of toxicity in this elixir, it was taken with much fear of poisoning, for the skill in preparation was extremely important to achieve the safety of the elixir. Accounts of the alchemical work of Sir Isaac Newton describe him as paying constant attention to the alchemical process for seven days and nights to insure that the processes were performed properly. His assistant wrote that he did not appear to sleep during these alchemical processes and would not entrust the process to an assistant. The process of the alchemical works, and the ingredients, were remarkably similar between Chinese alchemy of the third century and Newton's notes from the seventeenth.

An example of a simpler elixir, called the Three Messengers Elixir, used calomel (mercury chloride), cinnabar (mercury sulfide), realgar (arsenic sulfide) and common salt. Still, the processes, using carefully watched furnaces or crucibles, were all important. The key to the alchemical process was the achieving of the cyclical changes that occurred with the application of just the right amount of heat in an airtight container that was glazed or glassed to prevent acidic reaction. The process was repeated, and if a cycle was not carefully watched, the transformations would not occur properly, and the elixir was failed. Even the notes of Sir Isaac Newton reveal that he would forego sleep for days in order to watch the process and adjust the heating and cooling at the precise moments necessary for the alchemical changes. These airtight containers that were used were later called hermeneutical containers, in reference to the perhaps mythical Hermes, who represented the early Alexandrian alchemists in Egypt. These cyclical alchemical changes, from solid to liquid to gas to liquid, were represented by the symbol of the dragon eating its tail in a circular form (Greek ouroboros), called the Chrysopoeia, and the text Chrysopoeia of Kleopatra, written in the late Hellenistic period, became a classic text of European Medieval alchemists. This cyclical serpent eating its tail also became an important allegory in Gnostic Christianity, symbolizing the cyclical nature of the soul through birth and death, and the spiritual knowledge that all life begins and ends as one. This symbol, the Chrysopieia, or ouroboros, is also seen around the world, surrounding the image of Shiva in Hindu mythology, as Shakti around Shiva. When Shakti surrounds Shiva, she is a gentle and radiant goddess, but when divided, Shiva is the goddess of destruction. Carl Jung wrote: "Shakti is represented as a snake wound three and a half times around the lingam, which is Shiva in the form of a phallus...the possibility of manifestation in space...Creation therefore begins with an act of division of the opposites that are united in the deity. From their splitting arises, in a gigantic explosion of energy, the multiplicity of the world." This snake eating its tail is seen in Norse mythology, in the writings of Plato, in Egyptian heiroglyphics, and is mentioned by the modern scientist August Kekule' in his visions of the carbon ring or benzene cycle that is integral to modern chemistry. The widespread importance of the alchemical theories and symbols in human history cannot be underestimated.

On of the most famous physicians in Traditional Chinese Medicine, both with acupuncture and herbal prescription, was Sun Si-Mo. This physician was also one of the most famous alchemists in Chinese history, and a revered Daoist. He was a native of Huayan, in modern Shensi, in the golden age of alchemy, living from 581-682 A.D. He is the author of 2 of the most famous books of herbal formula in TCM history, Qianjing Fang (Prescriptions worth a thousand ducats) and Qianjing Yifang (the Revised version). He also authored many important texts on medicine, Daoism and alchemy, including Taiqing Danjing Yaojue (Essential Instructions from the Books on the Elixirs of the Great Purity). This last book is available in English, translated by Nathan Sivin, 1968. The Great Purity is an early alchemical canon which explores the intoxication through the elixirs, by persons prepared by living Daoist principles, and of the transformations possible by the taking of the elixirs to achieve greater mental and spiritual purity, as well as to prolong the lifespan. In his text, Tai-Jing Dan Jing Yao Jue, or Essentials of the Elixir Manuals for Oral Transmission, Sun Si-Mo lists 37 different elixirs, but gives details only on the few that he personally ingested, because the methods of preparation were available only for these. Already, by this time in history, some of the science appears to have been lost, or had become secret.

In this famous text, Sun Si-Mo describes the alchemical apparatus necessary, including the furnace, reaction-vessel, and hermetic seals of the joints with lute, which consisted of red bole clay, calcium carbonate from oyster shell, kalinite (potash alum, potassium aluminum, aluminum sulphate), talc (magnesium silicon oxide), special salts, and arsenolite (arsenic trioxide). He lists 32 actual formulas, and the preparation of some 14 elixirs. The elixirs outlined have remarkably large amounts of toxic substances in them. It is thought that careful preparation reduced toxicity, that the preparation of the health of the person taking the elixirs had to be enhanced, or that a tolerance, or building-up, had to be achieved before ingesting much of the elixirs. We see the same descriptions of apparatus, preparations and elixirs, as well as the evidence of much ingestion of the mercury and arsenic with Sir Isaac Newton some one thousand years later in history. The personal practice of this protochemical Wai Dan, or elixir alchemy by such great persons gives testimony to its validity.

The apparatus and techniques of the alchemical laboratory were well documented by Sun Si-Mo (Sun Ssu-Mo), and were recreated by Dr. Nathan Sivin, first in 1962, at the University of Singapore. Dr. Nivin assembled two sealed two-part reaction-vessels according the the instructions and illustrations from Sun Si-Mo's 'Scarlet Snow and Flowing Pearls Elixir', with purified realgar, or arsenic sulfide, and rice wine vinegar heated to 900 degrees centigrade within an aludel formed of two nickel crucibles luted together. The crucible was not able to be made air-tight and the experiment thus was uncertain, with the important gaseous vapors escaping and air entering to ruin the process. The sublimate in this experiment thus turned out to be pure metallic arsenic, which badly corroded the crucibles. As described by the ancient Chinese alchemical texts, as well as the notes of Sir Isaac Newton, the alchemical processes are delicate and prone to failure. Newton's notes, and the notes of his assistant, describe Newton as staying awake for days in his laboratory to carefully monitor the process and insure its patency. Newton could not trust this process to an assistant. It is hoped that the difficulties of the alchemical process will be overcome in the future and that modern scientists will continue to try to recreate these experiments. Surely, there may be some truth in the alchemical elixirs if Sir Isaac Newton, one of the acknowledged brightest minds in the history of Western science used these elixirs.

The height of this mineral alchemy and experimentation with the elixirs occurred in the eight and ninth centuries, especially with the alchemist Lu Tung-Pin (Lu Dong-Bin). A shrine to this personage exists at Thaiyuan in Shansi, with a large Ming Dynasty bronze statue central to a temple called 'Palace of the Pure Yang' (Shun Yang Kung), which is now the Provincial Museum. An epigram preserved in this museum from the Empress Dowager in 1900, as she fled during the Boxer Rebellion, illustrates the complexity of the concept of immortality and the 'immortals' such as Lu Dong-Bin. She wrote, "Like endlessness of days is the world of the Dao". This epigram may refer to temporal infinity, or it may refer to a concept of finding infinite time within the construct of our lifespan, thus transforming the concept of the immortal to one of a person who is able to escape the concept of time within his natural life. Chinese alchemy achieved its heights between the fourth and ninth centuries, and the most significant of the early protochemical writings are from the beginning of the ninth century, with a use of a great number of inorganic substances used in elixir experiments, and the development of more complex alchemical theory. During this time, a succession of Tang emperors died by taking alchemical elixirs, supposedly to achieve the transcendent state of being described by the Daoists. A divergent school of alchemists took up the practice emphasizing Nei Dan, instead of the Wai Dan inorganic elixirs, etc., and the alchemical practices using animal and plant components, as well as breathing techniques, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Dao Yin, dietary regimens, exercise techniques, etc.

Over time, until the advent of modern biochemistry in the seventeenth century, alchemy in China flourished but changed. Its popularity, with the advent of the printing press, had resulted in a large number of recorded poisonings, and subsequently the information of ingredients and preparation techniques became couched in secret terminology, so that only the adept would be left to pursue the true laboratory alchemical process, or original Wai Dan. A similar consistent use of secret terminology for the ingredients in alchemical elixirs occurred in Europe at least by the 16th century. In popular literature in China, an alchemy divorced from toxic Wai Dan became renowned, and focused on Daoism and Nei Dan, or ways of mental and physical discipline that would insure health and longetivity by living physically and spiritually in harmony with nature, practicing elaborate breathing techniques and meditations, qi gong, and strict dietary principles. This necessary combination of Nei Dan and Wai Dan represented the natural law of the harmony of Yin and Yang. The eventual symbol for Yin and Yang interaction, the Tai Ji, is an illustration of the cyclical nature of the transformation from Yang to Yin to Yang. The Tai Ji is very similar to the Chrysopoeia, or dragon eating its tail, the most common illustration in European alchemical texts. This elemental idea of the harmony of Yin and Yang continued to be the basis for the creation of a holistic public health regimen in China, and is rooted in the alchemical theories. Alchemy flourished in ritual, literature, poetry and art, as well as in a developed holistic health science, yet protochemical alchemy appears to have gone underground at some point in Chinese history. It is surmised that condemnation of protochemical alchemy throughout Asia and Europe resulted in part from a need to curb the knowledge of the creation of fake gold and silver, which became a problem with the use of a gold currency standard or gold and silver coin system.

The use of herbal extracts historically in Chinese alchemy

The early physician alchemists in China also documented a number of important herbs used in alchemical preparations, or that achieved the medical aims of the mineral elixirs. The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, an early compendium of herbal and mineral medicine, frequently cites the uses of many vegetable herbs to achieve long life and healthy aging, as well as the alchemical aims of increasing intelligence and cognitive abilities. Some of these abilities noted translate as psychic abilities, or divination powers, but it it difficult in modern times to understand what the real definitions of these terms were to the people of the time. It is easy to dismiss these writings of divination, with these translations, as superstition, but this is an error of historical bias, I believe. The herbs mentioned in the Shen Nong were widely used, both to cure or relieve specific problems, as well as to achieve the alchemical aims of healthy aging and increased cognitive abilities. These same herbal extracts are used today, often in common practice, so we see that ancient Chinese alchemy is still being practiced in TCM practice, although this is rarely acknowledged.

Shen Dan, or alchemy, is a very elaborate practice and protocol, and we should stop thinking of it only as the transmutation of lead into gold and the taking of toxic mineral elixirs. Much of the science continues today, and continues as the basis for much of our modern science as well, and the continued derision and ridicule of the science of alchemy is just foolish and neurotic. Not only the use of herbs that were important to ancient Chinese alchemical elixirs and decoctions, but even a return to study of chemicals in herbs that have application with mineral elements is seen in the 21st century. For example, research into gold as a biochemical bridge in medical application and the use of gold and silver nanoparticles in treatment is occurring over then entire planet, with much research studying the use of plant chemicals to both facilitate the reduction of gold and silver compounds and the creation of gold and silver nanoparticles. To see just one of many such studies, here at the Inje University College of Pharmacy, in Gimhae, South Korea, just click here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21913788 . Finally, after centuries of taboo, we are seeing a return to alchemical technology in a modern world. Other modern applications of alchemy include the study of herbal and biological chemistry and interaction with measures of alchemical free energy, using new research data methodology that looks at the holistic field of biochemical interactions. To see such scientific investigation, just click here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27105206 . Utilizing more holistic theories of quantum fields of molecular interaction rather than a static view of biochemistry, we are creating theories and mechanisms to observe the complex biochemical interactions of organic molecules, as well as inorganic minerals in the body. To see an example of such research at the University of Cambridge in the UK with the Ecole Polythechnique Federale de Lausanne, in Switzerland, just click here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27101873 . All of this new scientific approach resembles the rich history of alchemical science in China, and will have dramatic applications that blend the ancient knowledge with the new scientific fields. We may see many of the herbal extracts used by ancient Chinese Daoist Alchemists in these applications.

The most famous of the early texts of herbal medicine is titled the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, considered to be the first complete text of herbal medicine that organizes categories and toxicities of herbal and mineral medicines, with a number of translations and versions today that capture the information in the original text, attributed to perhaps 400 BCE. The earliest recorded mention of this classic medical text was found in the writings of Daoist physician Tao Hong-Jing, who lived from 452-536 AD (CE). Historical texts note that the first extent version of this text based on oral tradition may have been written in the Later Han Dynasty in about 200 AD (CE), but this version has been lost. The text was created to honor one of the great heroes, architects, or patriarchs of Chinese civilization, who took the name Shen Nong, which is often translated as the Divine Farmer, but could be translated as the Clever Peasant. Huang Di, Fu Xi and Shen Nong are 3 historical figures who are still revered for giving Chinese civilization the 'life arts' that preserved health and provided a scientific foundation and technology that advanced the modern civilization from about 2800 BCE onward. The text Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing was thus not written by Shen Nong, but his historical influence was greatly honored, in the same way that the Huang Di de Nei Jing is a foundation text not written by the ancient Huang Di (Yellow Emperor), but highly influenced by his contributions to the medical arts, as are most of the early alchemical texts, which also have Huang Di in their title. The modern translations of the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing are succinct, and describe the uses and forms of the commonly used herbal and mineral extracts in about 400 BCE, thus representing the knowledge just preceding the creation of the alchemical elixirs. The surviving text of the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing may represent the knowledge of these mineral and herbal medicines at the time that the alchemical elixirs were being created and widely used in China.

The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing is organized with a preface explaining the basic concepts in herbal medicine, then the sections outlining classes of Jade and Stone mineral extracts, herbal extracts and wood extracts, a section outlining classes of animal extracts, fruit and vegetable medicines in diet, and cereal medicines in diet. A fourth section is added in some translations that covers probable material from other medical texts from this era that may have been in the original. The layout of the text shows that mineral extracts were often used in treatment, and many types of mineral extract were nontoxic if prepared properly and taken long-term in small dosage to promote longevity and healthy aging. The Superior Class of these mineral medicines, referring to the 120 medicinals in the text that are used as 'sovereigns', which are nontoxic and can be taken for a long time without harm, and are used in this way to nurture longevity, include the following: 1) Nephritum (jade dust or Yu quan), which is used to increase strength and flexibility, promote growth of muscles, and increase adaptation to stress. Nephritum is often taken as a wine, called Jade Sweet Wine (Yu zha); 2) Cinnabar (mercury sulfide, or Dan sha or Zhu sha), which may eliminate parasites and toxins, brighten the vision, prevent senility, and calm; 3) Mercurius (mercuric chloride, or Shui yin), a strictly topical medication to treat fungal infections and scalp sores, parasitic skin infections and lice, and can induce abortions, but which can be reduced to Cinnabar when melted; 4) Azuritum or azurite (basic copper carbonate, or Kong qing), used to treat blindness and deafness, and increase circulation, but may be taken long-term to prolong life and prevent senility. The text states that Azurite may transform copper, iron, lead and tin into gold; 5) Azuritum or azurite (another form called Ceng qing), which may be taken long-term to prevent senility, and is able to transform into gold and copper; 6) Azuritum or azurite (another form called Bai qing), which destroys toxins and parasites, with long-term use prolonging life and preventing senility; 7) Azuritum or azurite (another form called Bian qing), which treats eye pain and poor vision, heals bone fractures, abscesses and swellings, helps dissolve tumors and accumualtions, toxins, and may also be taken to prevent senility; 8) Muscovitum (potash mica, made of aluminum and potassium, or Yun mu), which treats stroke and vertigo, improves semen, aids the vision, and prolongs life; 9) Slaked lime (Po xiao), which is nontoxic and treats kidney and gallstones, and can be taken to help become a xian; 10) Mirabilitum (Xiao shi), which treats deep fever or inflammation, and can be taken to make the body feel light; 11) Alumen (Fan shi), which treats diarrhea and dysentery, vaginal discharge, sores, and eye pain, and may be taken long-term to prevent senility and lengthen life; 12) Flouritum (Zi shi), which treats cough, infertility, and may be taken to prolong life; 13) Quarz crystal (Bai shi ying), which treats diabetes, impotence, cough, and may be taken long-term to lengthen life and make the body feel light; 14) Hallysitum viridis, rubrum, aureum, album, negrum etc.(Qing shi, Chi shi, Huang shi, Bai shi, Hei shi), which treats bloody dysentery, genital sores, vaginal discharge, abscesses, hemmorhoids, and scabies, and may be taken long-term to replenish the marrow, increase weight and strength, and prolong life while making the body feel light; 15) Realgar (Xiong huang), which treats fistulas, sores, abscesses, hemmorhoids, and many types of parasites, and can be taken after it is sublimated to prolong life and make one feel light. We see from this list, some of which are still taken rarely, the guidance for alchemical mineral extracts at this time in longevity and healthy aging, increasing both bodily strength and mental acuity, with proper taking of these herbal mineral extracts in nontoxic form.

Plant herbal medicines mentioned in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing that are classed as sovereign and superior, and able to promote longevity and healthy aging with prolonged use, include a number of species of Ganoderma, a type of medicinal mushroom, one form of which we use today and call Reishi, or Ling zhi, and classified as Ganoderma lucidum, showing that scientists that named this fungus realized its potential to improve the central nervous system. Ling zhi mushroom, a large hard mushroom with a woody red color, is studied today for anticancer effects, immunomodulation, relieving side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, providing strong blood antioxidant effects, and improving or protecting the health of the kidneys, liver and pancreas, according to experts at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, U.S.A. Many other benefits are also well studied, including improving memory and brain function, improving cardiac function and recovery, and treating insomnia, anxiety, dizziness, asthma, and as an antiviral and antimicrobial. The ancient text describes green, red, yellow, white, black and purple varieties, all of which promoted longevity, prevent senility, and make the body feel light. Today, we know of about 80 species of this polypore fungus, and Ganoderma lucidum grows around the world, on living hardwoods and downed hardwoods. A similar species used medicinally is Ganoderma tsugae, mainly found on downed hemlock trees. Some of the many valuable chemicals in the mushroom are shown to provide strong antioxidant effects, especially low molecular weight compounds captured in alcohol extraction. The name Ling Zhi refers to the herb's renown as a promoter of Spiritual Wisdom, and in linked to the early alchemist. LIng zhi has a high mineral content, with a balance of potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, coppper, phosphorous and selenium, as well as a large variety of terpenoids, steroids, phenols, glycoproteins, polysaccharides and nucleotides. The nutrient content is also high, with essential amino acids, especially lysine and leucine, and polyunsaturated fatty acids, but the chemical concentration varies considerably from one mushroom to another. To see a complete descritpion of Ganoderma lucidum and scientific study, from the famed text, Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, click here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/ . It is phenonmenal that this herbal medicine is not more popular.

Other superior herbs in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing that can be taken long-term to promote longevity and benefit aging include wild Asparagus cochinensis (Tian men dong), which treats stroke and strengthens the bone marrow, and may be taken to prolong life and increase vitality, Atractylodis (Bai zhu and Cang zhu), Polygonata odorati (Wei ru, or zhi Yu zhu), which treats stroke, joint sprains, and with prolonged use prevents senility, improves the complexion and makes the body feel light, Rhemannia (Gan di Huang, or Sheng di Huang), with helps with injury, replenishes the bone marrow, promotes growth of muscles, and with prolonged use prevents senility and makes the body feel light, Acori Graminei (Shi chang pu), which treats cough, benefits the heart, vision and hearing, and with prolonged use may improve memory, prevent confusion, and prolong life; Polygala tenuifolia (Yuan zhi), which treats cough, brightens the vision, sharpens the wits, improves memory, and improves strength, and with prolong use prevents senility and makes the body feel light; Ginseng (Ren shen), which calms, benefits the heart, sharpens the wits, and with prolonged use may prolong life and make the body feel light. Many more of the commonly used herbs today are listed in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing as superior class sovereigns that can be taken regularly with prolonged use to promote healthy aging and longevity. The text does not claim that these herbs will create immortality, as many historians purport is claimed in Daoist alchemical texts. Such a claim is ridiculous, and was not made. The ridiculous ones are the Western historians that keep insisting on these false depictions of Chinese history, alchemy and Daoist science. We see that the practice of Shen Dan, or alchemy, in ancient China still carries over strongly with common use of these herbal extracts in clinical practice today, and is only hampered by the reluctance of patients to take the herbal formulas and the decreasing quality of the products in commercial production in an unregulated United States.

Some of the herbs mentioned in ancient alchemical texts by Joseph Needham included Rou gui, or cinnamon bark, Zhang shu (atractylis orata), Ling zhi, or Reishi mushroom, Fu ling (a root fungus), Feng lei (rubus hirsutus rosacea), a bramble, Tian men dong (wild asparagus tuber), pine tree leaves and seeds (Bai zi ren), and the mulberry herbs, which include leaves, twigs, inner bark and roots. The mulberry wood (Sang zhi) and Atractylis parts (Cang zhu and Bai zhu) were especially noted. Much lore surrounds the search for a specific species of mulberry, which drove a number of famous Chinese on quests similar to that of the Holy Grail in Europe. These herbal alchemical decoctions and preparations eventually came to be part of the Materia Medica, or compendium of herbal medicines, and preservation of the alchemical texts related to herbal preparations was not as important as the preservation of the mineral elixirs, which were kept secret by the state, and which produced more dramatic benefits. Herbal alchemy became a popular science, practiced by the general population, and hence, the texts were not preserved like the artifacts of the state. We may assume that most of these herbal alchemical texts deteriorated and were discarded and the information was passed on in various forms in standard herbal compendiums, or by word of mouth.