The U.S.P. was first published in 1820 and ever ten years thereafter until the Second World War, after which it has been revised every five years. It has always been meant to define the physical, chemical, and pharmaceutical characteristics of the most accepted and widely used drugs of the time, and to set the standards for purity. The N.F. was first published in 1888, and up until 1980,in the same year as the United States Pharmacopeia. Since 1980, both have been issued in the same volume.
The National Formulary was originally intended as a list of the official recipes for pharmaceutical formulas; characteristics of those drugs or plants used in the formulas or that were still recognized as secondary drugs; and the substances needed for the manufacturing of drugs but that were not active, like gelatin or pill binders. With the decreased use of tonics and less invasive medications after the Second World War, the National Formulary became primarily a text defining the inactive substances used in drug manufacturing; the United States Pharmacopeia now lists the active substances; and all the rich heritage of tonics, elixirs, bitters, syrups, and alternate preparations has disappeared from the short memory span of Standard Practice Medicine. If an herbalist wanted to practice as a pharmaceutical antiquarian, the U.S.P.s and N.Es of the years between 1890 and 1950 would supply virtually every needed formula and herbal preparation that a Western herbalist would ever need-it’s all there (and all forgotten). To a great degree, the contemporary herbal renaissance is reinventing the wheel.