The identification of Chinese drugs, even within the historical materia medica tradition in Chinese characters, has involved the use of regularised, vernacular and chemical names, as well as illustrations, and has been studied over multiple dynasties and regions in East Asia. The authoritative identification of these ethnonyms with scientific species and molecules involves pharmacists, as well as philologists, and continues to be a problem in ‘China’-sourced medical markets. While the textual legacies of major dictionaries and naturalists carry great weight, figures from local wildcrafting experts to global plant hunters, from the heads of national and international scientific bodies to private drug manufacturers and ethnic ritual masters have also contributed extensively. Rather than imagining drug identification to be a settled matter, it is best understood as a dynamic, ongoing process of pharmacognosy that involves many players in the Chinese medical world.