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Dried herbs and plant portions for Chinese herbology at a Xi'an market

Chinese Herbology (simplified Chinese: traditional Chinese: pinyin: zhōngyào xué) or 中药(zhōngyào), is the common name for the subject of Chinese materia medica. It includes the basic theory of Chinese materia medica, "crude medicine," "prepared drug in slices" (simplified Chinese: traditional Chinese: pinyin: yǐnpiàn) and traditional Chinese patent medicines and simple preparations' source, collection and preparation, performance, efficacy, and clinical applications.

This article contains Chinese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.


Role in Chinese medicine

Ginger is consumed in China as food and as medicine.

Chinese materia medica (simplified Chinese: 中药traditional Chinese: 中藥pinyin: zhōngyào), is also the medicine based on traditional Chinese medicine theory. it includes Chinese crude medicine, prepared drug in slices of Chinese materia medica, traditional Chinese patent medicines and simple preparations, etc.

Herbology is not the Chinese art of combining medicinal herbs.

Herbology is one of the more important modalities utilized in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Each herbal medicine prescription is a cocktail of many herbs tailored to the individual patient. One batch of herbs is typically decocted twice over the course of one hour. The practitioner usually designs a remedy using one or two main ingredients that target the illness. Then the practitioner adds many other ingredients to adjust the formula to the patient's yin/yang conditions. Sometimes, ingredients are needed to cancel out toxicity or side-effects of the main ingredients. Some herbs require the use of other ingredients as catalyst or else the brew is ineffective. The latter steps require great experience and knowledge, and make the difference between a good Chinese herbal doctor and an amateur. Unlike western medications, the balance and interaction of all the ingredients are considered more important than the effect of individual ingredients. A key to success in TCM is the treatment of each patient as an individual.

Chinese herbology often incorporates ingredients from all parts of plants, such as the leaf, stem, flower, root, and also ingredients from animals and minerals. The use of parts of endangered species (such as seahorses, rhinoceros horns, and tiger bones) has created controversy and resulted in a black market of poachers who hunt restricted animals. Many herbal manufacturers have discontinued the use of any parts from endangered animals.

Another difference between Chinese herbology and other traditional medical systems is its considerable use of marine products.

Chinese herbology can be oral (that is, eaten) or be external, as in the case of medicated, herbal adhesive plasters applied to the skin in order to treat certain diseases (such as Gou pi gao)

History of Chinese herbology

Chinese pharmacopoeia

Chinese herbs have been used for centuries. The first herbalist in Chinese tradition is Shennong, a mythical personage, who is said to have tasted hundreds of herbs and imparted his knowledge of medicinal and poisonous plants to farmers. The first Chinese manual on pharmacology, the Shennong Bencao Jing (Shennong Emperor's Classic of Materia Medica), lists some 365 medicines of which 252 of them are herbs, and dates back somewhere in the 1st century C.E. Han dynasty. Earlier literature included lists of prescriptions for specific ailments, exemplified by a manuscript "Recipes for 52 Ailments", found in the Mawangdui tomb, sealed in 168 B.C.E.

Succeeding generations augmented on this work, as in the Yaoxing Lun (simplified Chinese: 药性论; traditional Chinese: 藥性論; also spelled Yao Xing Lun; literally "Treatise on the Nature of Medicinal Herbs"), a 7th century Tang Dynasty Chinese treatise on herbal medicine.

Arguably the most important of these was the Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao Gangmu) compiled during the Ming dynasty by Li Shizhen, which is still used today for consultation and reference.

The history of this literature is presented in Paul U. Unschuld's "Medicine in China: a History of Pharmaceutics"; Univ. of Calif. Press, 1986.

The Shen Nong's Herbal Classic, a 2000-year old medicinal Chinese book considered today as the oldest book on oriental herbal medicine, classifies 365 species of roots, grass, woods, furs, animals and stones into three categories of herbal medicine:

  • The first category, called "superior", includes herbs effective for multiple diseases and are mostly responsible for maintaining and restoring the body balance. They have almost no unfavorable side-effects.
  • The second category comprises tonics and boosters, for which their consumption must not be prolonged.
  • The third category must be taken, usually in small doses, and for the treatment of specific ailments only.

Lingzhi ranked number one of the superior medicines, and was therefore the most exalted medicine in ancient times.[1] The ancient Chinese use of medicinal mushrooms has inspired modern day research into mushrooms like shiitake, Agaricus blazei, Trametes versicolor, and of course lingzhi. Although a 2008 Review, by UC Davis, concluded that there is not enough evidence yet to promote the use of mushrooms or mushroom extracts in the treatment of disease, it stressed the urgency of further research and future clinical trials due to large numbers of promising in vivo and in vitro experiments.[2]

Categorizing Chinese herbs

A Chinese herb shop in Vancouver, Canada

Chinese physicians used several different methods to classify traditional Chinese herbs:

  • The Four Natures (pinyin: sìqì; simplified Chinese: 四气; traditional Chinese: 四氣; or 四性)
  • The Five Tastes (五味; pinyin: wǔwèi)
  • The meridians (pinyin: jīngluò; simplified Chinese: 经络; traditional Chinese: 經絡; )

The earlier (Han through Tang eras) Ben Cao (Materia Medicae) began with a three-level categorization:

  • Low level -- drastic acting, toxic substances;
  • Middle level -- medicinal physiological effects;
  • High level -- health and spirit enhancement

During the neo-Confucian Song-Jin-Yuan era (10th to 12th Centuries), the theoretical framework from acupuncture theory (which was rooted in Confucian Han theory) was formally applied to herbal categorization (which was earlier more the domain of Daoist natural science). In particular, alignment with the Five Phases (Wu Xing) and the 12 channels (meridian) theory came to be used after this period.

The Four Natures

This pertains to the degree of yin and yang, namely cold (extreme yin), cool, warm and hot (extreme yang). The patient's internal balance of yin and yang is taken into account when the herbs are selected. For example, medicinal herbs of "hot", yang nature are used when the person is suffering from internal cold that requires to be purged, or when the patient has a general cold constituency. Sometimes an ingredient is added to offset the extreme effect of one herb.

The Five Tastes

The five tastes are pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty, and each taste has a different set of functions and characteristics. For example, pungent herbs are used to generate sweat and to direct and vitalize qi and the blood. Sweet-tasting herbs often tonify or harmonize bodily systems. Some sweet-tasting herbs also exhibit a bland taste, which helps drain dampness through diuresis. Sour taste most often is astringent or consolidates, while bitter taste dispels heat, purges the bowels and get rid of dampness by drying them out. Salty tastes soften hard masses as well as purge and open the bowels.

The Meridians

The meridians refer to which organs the herb acts upon. For example, menthol is pungent, cool and is linked with the lungs and the liver. Since the lungs is the organ which protects the body from invasion from cold and influenza, menthol can help purge coldness in the lungs and invading heat toxins caused by hot "wind."

Chinese patent medicine

Characteristic little black pills of Chinese patent medicine

Chinese patent medicine (traditional Chinese: 中成藥, Simplified Chinese: 中成药, pinyin: zhōngchéng yào) is a kind of traditional Chinese medicine. They are standardized herbal formulas. Several herbs and other ingredients are dried and ground. They are then mixed into a powder and formed into pills. The binder is traditionally honey. They are characteristically little round black pills.

Chinese patent medicines are easy and convenient. They are not easy to customize on a patient-by-patient basis, however. They are best used when a patient's condition is not severe and the medicine can be taken as a long-term treatment.

These medicines are not "patented" in the traditional sense of the word. No one has exclusive rights to the formula. Instead, "patent" refers to the standardization of the formula. All Chinese patent medicines of the same name will have the same proportions of ingredients.

Herbs in use

The use of Chinese herbs is a very popular tradition. “Many of the modern day drugs have been developed from these herbs such as the treatments for asthma and hay fever from Chinese ephedra, hepatitis remedies from schizandra fruits and licorice roots and a number of anticancer agents from trees and shrubs”. “There are several herbal drugs that invigorate the energy, nourish the blood, calm tension and regulate menstruation such as Bupleurum Sedative Pills and Women’s Precious Pills”. There are over three hundred herbs that are commonly being used today that have a history that goes back at least 2,000 years.

“The two most common ways to using herbs are to make a strong tea that should be simmered for about an hour or possibly more, or to make large honey bound pills”.

Most Chinese herbs are usually used to help build and strengthen the body. The most commonly used herbs are Ginseng (人参, 人參, rénshēn), wolfberry (枸杞子), Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis, 当归, 當歸, dāngguī), astragalus (黄耆, 黃耆, huángqí), atractylodes (白术, 白朮, báizhú), bupleurum (柴胡, cháihú), cinnamon (cinnamon twigs (桂枝, guìzhī) and cinnamon bark (肉桂, ròuguì)), coptis (黄莲, 黃蓮, huánglián), ginger (姜, 薑, jiāng), hoelen (茯苓, fúlíng), licorice (甘草, gāncǎo), ephedra sinica (麻黄, 麻黃, máhuáng), peony (white: 白芍, báisháo and reddish: 赤芍, chìsháo), rehmannia (地黄, 地黃, dìhuáng), rhubarb (大黄, 大黃, dàhuáng), and salvia (丹参, 丹參, dānshēn). These are just a few of the herbs.


Chinese red ginseng roots

The use of ginseng (人参) is well over two thousand years old in Chinese medicine. Ginseng is known to help boost energy, reduce stress and increase endurance. Ginseng contains ginsenosides. The amount of ginsenosides in ginseng depends on how the plant was cultivated and the age of the root. Wild ginseng is rare and commands the highest prices on the market, but most ginseng on the market today is a reasonable price. Red Panax ginseng is the most popular form of ginseng and it is usually packaged as a liquid or tea. Ginseng comes in two kinds, red and white. The color of the ginseng depends on how it is processed. “White ginseng is unprocessed and dries naturally. Red ginseng is processed with steam and is believed to be more effective”. Native Americans have used American ginseng for dry coughs, constipation and fevers. “Many women found relief from night sweats and hot flushes from the use of American ginseng”. “The use of ginseng is a safe way to boost energy, vitality and your overall health”.


Mushrooms have long been used as a medicinal food and as a tea in Chinese herbology. Clinical, animal, and cellular research has shown mushrooms may be able to up-regulate aspects of the immune system.[3][4][5][6] Notable mushrooms used in Chinese herbology include Reishi and Shiitake.


Wolfberry (枸杞子) is grown in the Far East and is grown from shrubs with long vines. The shrubs are covered with small trumpet-shaped flowers, which turn into small, bright red berries. The berries are usually fresh and sometimes used when it is dried. “Goji Berry is mostly used to treat kidney, liver, eye, and skin problems, diabetes, tuberculosis, anxiety, and insomnia. It also helps to lower the blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They are known to improve the state of health, strengthen the immune system and increasing the longevity and vitality of the human kind”.

Dang Gui

Dang Gui (当归, Angelica sinensis or "female ginseng") is an “aromatic herb that grows in China, Japan and Korea. It is used to regulate the menstrual cycle and to treat menopausal symptoms caused by hormonal changes”. Even though it is good for women, it also helps treat the heart, spleen, liver and kidneys that help both men and women. The effect of the herb in treating menstrual cramps is explained by the compounds that help relax the muscle tissue and relieves pain. Dang Gui also stimulates the central nervous system, which can remedy menstrual weakness and headaches. “The use of this herb is mostly found in tea, herbal preparations, capsules and extracts. It usually comes in tablet, liquid extract and raw root forms. The best use of Dang Gui to provide long term relief from menopausal syndromes is to take it regularly for 8 to 12 weeks at a time”. “Using Dang Gui regularly relieves menstrual cramps, prevents the symptoms of menopause and PMS, corrects hormone imbalance and acts as a general tonic for the female reproductive system”. “There isn’t a certain amount of dosage for Dang Gui but in Chinese medicine Dang Gui is made in a special way- it is boiled or soaked in wine, then the liquid is taken orally while the root is being removed”. “In the United States and Europe, Dang Gui is a very popular flavoring component in food products such as ice cream, candy, gelatins and puddings but in Asia it is most likely used to treat female problems”.


Astragalus (黄耆) is a root used for immune deficiencies and allergies. “The Chinese use the dried sliced or powdered root to boost the immune system, to increase the body resistance to infections, healing allergies and to raise and renew vitality. Astragalus is usually mixed with other herbs to make tea such as ginseng and Codonopsis. Astragalus is known to help prevent diseases but not to cure them”.


Atractylodes (白术) is considered very important to the treatment of digestive disorders and problems of moisture accumulation. The herb helps move moisture from the digestive tract to the blood that reduces diarrhea, gas and bloating. Atractylodes is rarely if ever used by itself. It is usually included into tonic prescriptions”.


Bupleurum (柴胡) is useful for the treatment of liver diseases, skin ailments, arthritis, menopausal syndrome, withdrawal from corticosteroid use, nephritis, stress-induced ulcers, and mental disorders. Bupleurum is rich in saponins that reduce inflammation and regulates hormone levels. This specific herb isn’t to be used by itself, but combined with 4 to 12 other ingredients that is made into tea, pills or tablets.”


Cinnamon (桂枝, 肉桂) or mostly known as gui zhi and rou gui are twigs and bark from large tropical trees that warm the body, invigorate the circulation in the body, goes to all 12 channels (meridians) of the body, and harmonizes the energy of the upper and lower body”. Cinnamon also reduces allergy reactions. The herb is usually cooked together with other herbs to make tea that regulates the circulation of blood.

Coptis chinensis

Coptis chinensis (黄莲) is an underground stem that is one of the bitterest herbs used in Chinese medicine. “It is full of alkaloids that inhibit infections and calm nervous agitation”. Coptis is usually combined with other bitter-tasting herbs such as phellodendron, scutellaria and gardenia. This herb has many uses including the treatment of skin diseases, intestinal infections, hypertensions and insomnia. Since coptis is such a bitter tasting herb, it is often used to make pills or tablets.


Ginger (干姜, 乾薑) is a herb and a spice that can be used for many uses even in Chinese cuisine. In this case, it is used in Chinese medicine. “Ginger is highly spicy and is beneficial to digestion, neutralizing poisons in food, ventilating the lungs, to warm the circulation to the limbs, diarrhea and heart conditions”. “Many herbalists use ginger to treat coughs and the common cold”. It is famous for treating nausea. Ginger is also used in making tea.


The use of licorice(甘草) is to treat hepatitis, sore throat, and muscle spasms. When licorice is baked with honey it can also help in the treatment of hyperthyroidism and heart valve diseases. It is very often added to a Chinese formula to harmonize all of the herbs, as well as slow the speed that the formula is digested.


Ephedra (麻黄) is another type of herb. “Ma-huang is a stem-like herb that stimulates perspiration, opens the breathing passages and invigorates the central nervous system”. “It is said that ma-huang has a metabolic enhancer that can burn more calories for those that are trying to lose weight”. However, this can have dangerous side effects. Ma-huang can be made into a tea or can be used in an extract form but powdered ma-huang is rarely if ever used. Because of the marketed, over the counter use of ephedra as diet or energy pills, it is now no longer legally available to Chinese herbalists. The use of Ma Huang in the formula 'Ma Huang Tang' is a well known formula used for colds (wind-cold).


Peony (白芍, 赤芍) is also known as bai shao(white) and chi shao (red) is a flower where the Chinese use the root of the peony to regulate the blood. “The root of the peony relaxes the blood vessels, reduces platelet sticking, nourishes the blood and promotes circulation to the skin and extremities”. “The roots of both wild and cultivated are used. The wild peonies “red peony” (chi shao) are a fibrous root that is used to stimulate blood circulation. The cultivated peony “white peony” (bai shao) is a dense root that nourishes the blood. Peony is often combined with tang-kuei or licorice”. In TCM, it is known as a liver blood tonic.


Rehmannia (地黄) is a root where the dark, moist part of the herb is used to nourish the blood and the hormonal system. It is usually used in the treatment problems of aging because the herbs ability to restore the levels of several declining hormones. There are two forms of the herb that are currently used. One is designated sheng dihuang or raw rehmannia is given to reduce inflammation. The other designated shou dihuang or cooked rehmannia is used as a nourishing tonic. Often the two forms are combined together in equal proportions to address inflammatory problems. This herb is mostly used in making decoctions or dried decoctions”. This herb is in a famous formula called Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (6 Ingredient Rhemannia) which treats yin deficiency.


Chinese rhubarb depicted by Michał Boym (1655)

Rhubarb (大黄) is a large root and was once one of the first herbs that was imported from China. Rhubarb is a reliable laxative and it enhances the appetite when it is taken before meals in very small amounts. It also promotes blood circulation and relieving pain in cases of injury or inflammation and inhibiting intestinal infections. Rhubarb can also reduce autoimmune reactions. The impact of the rhubarb depends on how it is prepared. If the rhubarb is cooked for a long time, the laxative actions are reduced but other actions are retained”.


Salvia (丹参) are the deep roots of the Chinese sage plant. It is applied in cases where the body tissues have been damaged by disease or injury. Salvia is given for post-stroke syndrome, traumatic injury, chronic inflammation and/or infection, and degenerative diseases. It is best known for its ability to promote circulation in the capillary beds or the microcirculation system. Also, salvia lowers blood pressure, helps reduce cholesterol and enhances functions of the liver. Salvia can be taken alone or consumed with other herbs, teas or pills”.

50 fundamental herbs

In Chinese herbology, there are 50 "fundamental" herbs, as given in the reference text[7], although these herbs are not universally recognized as such in other texts. The herbs are:

  1. Agastache rugosa[8] - huò xiāng ()[9]
  2. Alangium chinense[10] - bā jiǎo fēng ()[11]
  3. Anemone chinensis (syn. Pulsatilla chinensis)[12] - bái tóu weng ()[11][13]
  4. Anisodus tanguticus - shān làng dàng ()[14]
  5. Ardisia japonica - zǐ jīn niú ()[15]
  6. Aster tataricus - zǐ wǎn ()
  7. Astragalus propinquus (syn. Astragalus membranaceus)[16] - huáng qí ()[17] or běi qí ()[17]
  8. Camellia sinensis - chá shù () or chá yè ()
  9. Cannabis sativa - dà má ()
  10. Carthamus tinctorius - hóng huā ()
  11. Cinnamomum cassia - ròu gùi ()
  12. Cissampelos pareira - xí shēng téng () or ()
  13. Coptis chinensis - duǎn è huáng lián ()
  14. Corydalis ambigua - yán hú suǒ ()
  15. Croton tiglium - bā dòu ()
  16. Daphne genkwa - yuán huā ()
  17. Datura metel - yáng jīn huā ()
  18. Datura stramonium (syn. Datura tatula)[18] - zǐ huā màn tuó luó ()
  19. Dendrobium nobile - shí hú () or shí hú lán ()
  20. Dichroa febrifuga[19] - cháng shān ()
  21. Ephedra sinica - cǎo má huáng ()
  22. Eucommia ulmoides - dù zhòng ()
  23. Euphorbia pekinensis[20] - dà jǐ ()
  24. Flueggea suffruticosa (formerly Securinega suffruticosa) - yī yè qiū ()[21]
  25. Forsythia suspensa - liánqiào ()
  26. Gentiana loureiroi - dì dīng ()
  27. Gleditsia sinensis - zào jiá ()
  28. Glycyrrhiza uralensis - gān cǎo ()[22]
  29. Hydnocarpus anthelminticus (syn. H. anthelminthica) - dà fēng zǐ ()
  30. Ilex purpurea - dōngqīng ()
  31. Leonurus japonicus - yì mǔ cǎo ()
  32. Ligusticum wallichii[23] - chuān xiōng ()
  33. Lobelia chinensis - bàn biān lián ()
  34. Phellodendron amurense - huáng bǎi ()
  35. Platycladus orientalis (formerly Thuja orientalis) - cèbǎi ()
  36. Pseudolarix amabilis - jīn qián sōng ()
  37. Psilopeganum sinense - shān má huáng ()
  38. Pueraria lobata - gé gēn ()
  39. Rauwolfia serpentina - shégēnmù (), cóng shégēnmù (), or yìndù shé mù ()
  40. Rehmannia glutinosa - dìhuáng () or gān dìhuáng ()[24]
  41. Rheum officinale - yào yòng dà huáng ()
  42. Rhododendron tsinghaiense - Qīng hǎi dù juān ()
  43. Saussurea costus - yún mù xiāng ()
  44. Schisandra chinensis - wǔ wèi zi ()
  45. Scutellaria baicalensis - huáng qín ()
  46. Stemona tuberosa - bǎi bù ()
  47. Stephania tetrandra - fáng jǐ ()
  48. Styphnolobium japonicum (formerly Sophora japonica) - huái (), huái shù (), or huái huā ()
  49. Trichosanthes kirilowii - guā lóu ()
  50. Wikstroemia indica - liǎo gē wáng ()

Other Chinese herbs

In addition to the above, many other Chinese herbs are in common use, and these include:

  1. Akebia quinata (木通)
  2. Arisaema cum Bile[25] (胆南星)
  3. Arsenic trioxide (砒霜)
  4. Arsenolite (砒石)
  5. Aspongopus (九香虫)
  6. Asteriscus Pseudosciaenae (鱼脑石)
  7. Benzoinum (安息香)
  8. Bombyx Batryticatus (僵蚕)
  9. Bulbus Fritillariae Cirrhosae (川贝母)
  10. Bulbus Fritillariae Hupehensis (湖北贝母)
  11. Bulbus Fritillariae Pallidiflorae (伊贝母)
  12. Bulbus Fritillariae Thunbergii (浙贝母)
  13. Bulbus Fritillariae Ussuriensis (平贝母)
  14. Bulbus Lycoridis Radiatae (石蒜)
  15. Cacumen Securinegae Suffruticosae (叶底珠)
  16. Cacumen Tamaricis (西河柳)
  17. Calamina (炉甘石)
  18. Calculus Bovis (牛黄)
  19. Calculus Equi (马宝)
  20. Calomelas (轻粉)
  21. Calyx seu Fructus Physalis (锦灯笼)
  22. Caulis Ampelopsis Brevipedunculae (山葡萄)
  23. Caulis Aristolochiae Manshuriensis (关木通)
  24. Caulis Bambusae in Taeniam (竹茹)
  25. Caulis Clematidis Armandii (川木通)
  26. Caulis Entadae (过江龙)
  27. Caulis Erycibes (丁公藤)
  28. Caulis et Folium Piperis Hancei (山莒Ύ?΍)
  29. Caulis et Folium Schefflerae Arboricolae (七叶莲)
  30. Caulis Euphorbiae Antiquori (火殃ώ?΍)
  31. Caulis Fibraureae (黄藤)
  32. Caulis Gneti (买麻藤)
  33. Caulis Hederae Sinensis (常春藤)
  34. Caulis Impatientis (透骨草)
  35. Caulis Lonicerae (忍冬藤)
  36. Caulis Mahoniae (功劳木)
  37. Caulis Perillae (紫苏梗)
  38. Caulis Piperis Kadsurae (海风藤)
  39. Caulis Polygoni Multiflori (首乌藤)
  40. Caulis Sargentodoxae (大血藤)
  41. Caulis Sinomenii (青风藤)
  42. Caulis Spatholobi (鸡血藤)
  43. Caulis Tinosporae (宽根藤)
  44. Caulis Trachelospermi (络石藤)
  45. Cera Chinensis (虫白蜡)
  46. Chenpi (陳皮)
  47. Cinnabaris (朱砂)
  48. Clematis (威灵仙)
  49. Colla Corii Asini (阿胶)
  50. Concha Arcae (瓦楞子)
  51. Concha Haliotidis (石决明)
  52. Concha Margaritifera Usta (珍珠母)
  53. Concha Mauritiae Arabicae (紫贝齿)
  54. Concha Meretricis seu Cyclinae (蛤壳)
  55. Concretio Silicea Bambusae (天竺黄)
  56. Cordyceps sinensis (冬虫夏草)
  57. Corium Erinacei seu Hemiechianus (刺Ώ?ϧ??)
  58. Cornu Bubali (水牛角)
  59. Cornu Cervi (鹿角)
  60. Cornu Cervi Degelatinatum (鹿角霜)
  61. Cornu Cervi Pantotrichum (鹿茸)
  62. Cornu Saigae Tataricae (羚羊角)
  63. Cortex Acanthopanacis (五加皮)
  64. Cortex Ailanthi (椿皮)
  65. Cortex Albiziae (合欢皮)
  66. Cortex Cinchonae (金鸡纳皮)
  67. Cortex Dictamni (白鲜皮)
  68. Curcumae (郁金)
  69. Dalbergia odorifera (降香)
  70. Hirudo medicinalis (水蛭)
  71. Myrrh (没药)
  72. Olibanum (乳香)
  73. Persicaria (桃仁)
  74. Polygonium (虎杖)
  75. Sparganium (三棱)
  76. Zedoary (莪朮)



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  9. ^ "Agastache rugosa in Flora of China @". Retrieved 2008-02-19.  
  10. ^ "Alangium chinense - Plants For A Future database report". Plants for a Future. June 2004. Retrieved 2008-02-05.  
  11. ^ a b "Alangium chinense in Flora of China @". Retrieved 2008-02-14.  
  12. ^ "Anemone chinensis information from NPGS/GRIN". USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program.. Retrieved 2008-02-05.  
  13. ^ "Anemone chinensis information from NPGS/GRIN". USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program.. Retrieved 2008-02-05.  
  14. ^ "Anisodus tanguticus in Flora of China". Retrieved 2008-02-05.  
  15. ^ Flora of China: Ardisia japonica
  16. ^ "Astragalus propinquus". ILDIS LegumeWeb. International Legume Database & Information Service. 2005-11-01. Retrieved 2008-01-03.  
  17. ^ a b "Huang qi, Complementary and Alternative Healing University". Retrieved 2008-02-19.  
  18. ^ "Datura stramonium information from NPGS/GRIN". Retrieved 2008-02-05.  
  19. ^ "Dichroa febrifuga - Plants For A Future database report". Retrieved 2008-02-05.  
  20. ^ "Euphorbia pekinensis - Plants For A Future database report". Retrieved 2008-02-05.  
  21. ^ "Securinega suffruticosa - Plants For A Future database report". Retrieved 2008-02-06.  
  22. ^ "Glycyrrhiza uralensis - Plants For A Future database report". Retrieved 2008-02-08.  
  23. ^ "Ligusticum wallichii - Plants For A Future database report". Retrieved 2008-02-21.  
  24. ^ Rehmannia glutinosa
  25. ^

General references

  • Wong, Ming (1976). La Médecine chinoise par les plantes. Le Corps a Vivre series. Éditions Tchou.

See also

External links

Educational resources

Simple English

Chinese herbs do not grow in China only. If you find the right climate and soil type, you can grow many of those herbs overseas. For instance, American Ginseng is grown in Wisconsin State.

The raw herbs available in retail have the following natural features:

  • Part of a plant: root, leave, seed, flowers, branch, etc.
  • Unprocessed except being cut, sliced, and cleansed of dirt.
  • Dried because the dried form weighs less and can be stored longer.
  • Some herbs can be eaten after boiling because they turn soft.
  • Most herbs cannot be eaten for they remain very coarse after boiling.
  • Herbs in general do not taste good. Most taste bitter and earthly. Some taste neutral. A few taste even sweet.
  • Inexpensive except for a few like Ren Shen 人參, Chuan Bei Mu 川貝母, or Dong Qong Xia Cao 冬虫夏草.


Herbal tea

How do people take the raw herbs? Raw herbs are usually taken orally by extracting the essence out of them. The natural way being practiced since ancient time is to boil and brew the herbal package in water to get a dark brown solution called herb tea that never tastes good. One hour of brewing should be good enough. Then you drink one or two cups a day. Honey or sugar may be added to make it taste less bad. The herbal package can be conveniently modified by changing some ingredients to make it work for you. So an herbal package is really tailor-made for you only.

Tablet form

Raw herbs can be dried and grounded into a powder then compressed into a tablet which is better than buying your own tablets or having to buy gel capsules

Capsule form

Raw herbs can be made into capsules at home. All you need is a tailor-made package of raw herbs. Turn it into fine powder with a powerful grinder, and put the powder into empty gel capsules. When you swallow the capsules, your digestive system has to extract the essence out of the raw herb powder. Whereas if you drink the herb tea, the essence extraction is already done after brewing. The herbal solution will readily be absorbed by your body. Furthermore, the herb tea has a history spanning over two thousand years. How many years of history does the tablet or capsule have besides offering convenience?

Healing properties

  • Herbs have natural healing effects on organs, blood, and various unhealthy conditions.
  • In contrast to Western pharmaceuticals, which are mainly designed to fix or suppress certain health conditions, herbs have additional enhancing and strengthening values on the body.
  • Due to their strengthening and enhancing values, herbs can also be used for preventive measures.
  • The herbal effects are natural and mild, with little adverse side effects.
  • Each herb has multiple effects on the body, in addition to one major effect.
  • Herbs do not work singly because the effects of one herb are too gentle.
  • The effects of herbs rely on synergies because of their overlapping multiple effects. Therefore, an herbal package of different herbs put together can deliver a much greater effect than a single herb of equal weight.
  • How to create synergy for an herbal package is an essential knowledge and experience that distinguish a good herbalist from a mediocre one.

Usage of some Chinese herbs

(A) General Tonics

(1) *** (Tonify Qi) ***

ren shen 人参 radix Ginseng

dang shen 党参 radix Codonopsis

bai zhu 白朮 rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae

gan cao 甘草 radix Glycyrrhizae

shan yao 山药 rhizoma Dioscoreae

da jao 大枣 fructus Jujubae

(2) *** (Tonify Yang) ***

lu rong 鹿茸 cornu Cervi Pantotrichum

rou cong rong 肉蓯蓉 herba Cistanches

yin yang huo 淫羊霍 herba Epimedii

du zhong 杜仲 cortex Eucommiae

xu duan 续断 radix Dipsaci

gou ji 狗 脊 fructus Psoraleae

bu gu zhi 补骨脂 rhizoma Cibotii

dong chong xia cao 冬虫夏草 Cordyceps

yi zhi ren 益智仁 fructus Alpiniae Oxyphyllae

ge jie 蛤蚧 Gecko

(3) *** (Tonify Blood) ***

dang gui 当归 radix Angelicae Sinensis

hu tao rou 胡桃肉 semen Juglandis

shu di huang 熟地黄 radix Rehmanniae Preparata

he shou wu 何首乌 radix Polgoni Multiflori

e jiao 阿胶 Colla Corii Asini

(4) *** (Tonify Yin) ***

nan sha shen 南沙参 radix adenophorae

bei sha shen 北沙参 radix Glehniae

tian men dong 天门冬 radix Asparagi

mai men dong 麦门冬 radix Ophiopogonis

shi hu 石斛 herba Dendrobii

huang jing 黄精 rhizoma Polgonati

yu zhu 玉竹 rhizoma Polgonati Odorati

shan zhu yu 山茱萸 fructus Corni

gou qi zi 枸杞子 fructus Lycii

nu zhen zi 女贞子 fructus Ligustri Lucidi

mo han lian 旱莲草 herba Ecliptae

bie jia 鱉甲 carapax Trionycis

gui ban 龟板 plastrum Testudinis

(B) Stabilise and Bind

wu wei zi 五味子 fructus Schisandrae

wu mei 乌梅 fructus Mume

wu bei zi 五倍子 galla Chinensis

fu xiao mai 浮小麦 fructus Tritici Levis

he zi 訶子 fructus Chebulae

shi liu pi 石榴皮 pericarpium Granati

rou dou kou 肉荳蔻 semen Myristicae

lian zi 莲子 semen Nelumbinis

qian shi 芡实 semen Euryales

sang piao xiao 桑螵蛸 ootheca Mantidis

wu zei gu 乌贼骨 os Sepiae

bin lang 檳榔 semen Arecae

(C) Transform Phlegm and Stop Coughing

zi wan 紫菀 radix Asteris

bai bu 百部 radix Stemonae

kuan dong hua 款冬花 flos Farfarae

sang bai pi 桑白皮 cortex Mori Radicis

ma dou ling 马兜铃 fructus Aristolochiae

ting li zi 葶靂子 semen Lepidii seu Descurainiae

(D) Regulate Blood: Stop Bleeding

san qi (tianqi) 三七 radix Notoginseng

qian cao 茜草 radix Rubiae

(E) Regulate Blood: Invigorate Blood

shui zhi 水蛭 Hirudo

chuan xiong 川芎 rhizoma Chuanxiong

ru xiang 乳香 Olibanum

mo yao 没药 Myrrha

yu jin 鬱金 radix Curcumae

e zhu 莪朮 rhizoma Zedoariae

dan shen 丹参 radix Salviae Miltiorrhizae

(F) Transform Phlegm-cold

ban xia 半夏 rhizoma Pinelliae

tian nan xing 天南星 rhizoma Arisaematis

bai jie zi 白芥子 semen Sinapis Albae

xuan fu hua 旋覆花 flos Inulae

(G) Regulate Qi

fo shou 佛手 fructus Citri Sarcodactylis

mu xiang 木香 radix Aucklandiae

wu yao 乌药 radix Linderae

xiang fu 香附 rhizoma Cyperi

ju pi (chen pi) 陈皮 pericarpium Citri Reticulatae

ju hong 橘红 exocarpium Citri Rubrum

qing pi 青皮 pericarpium Citri Reticulatae Viride

zhi ke 枳壳 fructus Aurantii

zhi shi 枳实 fructus Aurantii Immaturus

chen xiang 沉香 lignum Aquilariae Resinatum

chuan lian zhi 川楝子 fructus Toosendan

yan hu suo 延胡索 rhizoma Corydalis

xie bai 薤白 bulbus Allii Macrostemi

(H) Regulate Digestion

shan zhu yu 山茱萸 fructus Crataegi

mai ya 麦芽 fructus Hordei germinatus

gu ya 穀芽 fructus Oryzae germinatus

lai fu zi 莱菔子 semen Raphani

ji nei jin 鸡内金 endothelium corneum Gigeriae galli

shen qu 神麴 massa Fermentata Medicinalis

(I) Dispel Wind Dampness

du huo 獨活 radix Angelicae Pubescentis

wei ling xian 威靈仙 radix Clematidis

fang ji 防己 radix Stephaniae Tetrandrae

qin jiao 秦艽 radix Gentianae Macrophyllae

mu gua 番木瓜 fructus Chaenomelis

sang ji sheng 桑寄生 ramulus Taxilli

wu jia pi 五加皮 cortex Acanthopanacis

bai hua she 白花蛇 Agkistrodon seu Bungarus

hu gu 虎骨 os Tigris

wu shao she 烏梢蛇 Zaocys

cang zhu 蒼朮 rhizoma Atractylodis

hou po 厚樸 cortex Magnoliae Officinalis

huo xiang 藿香 herba Agastaches

pei lan 佩蘭 herba Eupatorii

sha ren 砂仁 fructus Amomi

bai dou kou 白豆蔻 fructus Amomi Rotundus

cao guo 草果 fructus Tsaoko

(J) Warm, pungent, Release Exterior Wind Cold

su geng 苏梗 caulis Perillae

zi su ye 苏叶 folium Perillae

xiang ru 香薷 herba Elsholtziae

jing jie 荆芥 herba Schizonepetae

fan feng 防风 radix Ledebouriellae

jiang huo 薑活 radix Angelicae Dahuricae

bai zhi 白芷 rhizoma seu radix Notopterygli

cang er zi 苍耳子 fructus Xanthii

xin yi 辛荑花 flos Magnoliae

bo he 薄荷 herba Menthae

niu bang zi 牛蒡子 fructus Arctii

can tui 蝉蜕 periostracum Cicadae

dan dou chi 淡豆豉 semen Sojae preparatum

ju hua 菊花 flos Chrysanthemi

ge gen 葛根 radix Puerariae

chai hu 柴胡 radix Bupleuri

sheng ma 升麻 rhizoma Cimicifugae

ma huang 麻黄 radix Ephedrae

gui zhi 桂枝 ramulus Cinnamomi

(K) Regulate BloodL Stop Bleeding

zhu ma gen 苧麻根 radix Boehmeriae

bai mao gen 白茅根 rhizoma Imperatae

ce bai ye 侧柏叶 cacumen Biotae

huai hua 槐花 flos Sophorae

da ji 大蓟 herba seu Radix Cirsii Japonici

xiao ji 小蓟 herba Cephalanoploris

di yu 地榆 radix Sanguisorbae

xian he cao 仙鹤草 herba Agrimoniae

bai jiang (败酱草) rhizoma Bletillae

qian cao 茜草 radix Rubiae

ai ye 艾叶 folium Artemisiae Argyi

pu huang 蒲黄 pollen Typhae

(L) Drain Dampness

fu ling 茯苓 Poria

zhu ling 豬苓 Polyporus Umbellatus

ze xie 澤瀉 rhizoma Alismatis

yi yi ren 薏苡仁 semen Coicis

che qian zi 车前子 semen Plantaginis

hua shi 滑石 Talcum

mu tong 木通 caulis Akebiae

jin qian cao 金钱草 herba Lysimachiae

tong cao 通草 medulla Tetrapanacis

shi wei 石苇 folium Pyrrosiae

yin chen hao 茵陈蒿 herba Artemisiae Scopariae

bi xie 萆薢 rhizoma Dioscoreae Septemlobae

(M) Drain Fire

shi gao 石膏 gypsum Fibrosum

zhi mu 知母 rhizoma Anemarrhenae

tian hua fen 天花粉 radix Trichosanthis

lu gen 芦根 rhizoma Phragmitis

huang lian 黄莲 rhizoma Coptidis

huang qin 黄芩 radix Scutellariae

huang bai 黄柏 cortex Phellodendri

zhi zi 梔子 fructus Gardeniae

long dan cao 龙胆草 radix Gentianae

xia ku cao 夏枯草 spica Prunellae

ku shen 苦参 radix Sophorae Flavescentis

jue ming zi 决明子 semen Cassiae

(N) Relieve Fire Toxins

jin yin hua 金银花 flos Lonicerae

ren dong teng 忍冬藤 caulis Lonicerae

lian qiao 连翘 fructus Forsythiae

pu gong ying 蒲公英 herba Taraxaci

zi hua di ding 紫花地丁 herba Violae

da qing ye 大青叶 folium Isatidis

qing dai 青黛 indigo Naturalis

ban lan gen 板蓝根 radix Isatidis

chuan xin lian 穿心莲 herba Andrographitis

yu xing cao 鱼腥草 herba Houttuyniae

shan dou gen 山豆根 radix Sophorae Tonkinensis

she gan 射干 rhizoma Belamcandae

ma chi xian 马齿莧 herba Portulacae

bai tou weng 白头翁 radix Pulsatillae

hong teng 红藤 caulis Sargentodoxae

qin pi 秦皮 cortex Fraxini

(O) Cool Blood

shui niu jiao 水牛角 cornu Bubali

sheng di huang 生地黄 radix Rehmanniae

xuan shen 玄参 radix Scrophulariae

xi jiao 西角 cornu Rhinocerotis

bai jiang 败酱草 herba Patriniae

mu dan pi 牡丹皮 cortex Moutan Radicis

chi shao 赤芍 radix Paeoniae Rubra

zi cao 紫草 radix arnebiae seu lithospermi

(P) Cleasr Deficient Heat

qing hao 青蒿 herba Artemisiae Annuae

bai wei 白薇 radix cynanchi Atrati

di gu pi 地骨皮 cortex Lycii Radicis

yin chai hu 銀柴胡 radix Stellariae

(Q) Purge Downwards, Cathartically Drain Downwards

da huang 大黃 radix et rhizoma Rhei

mang xiao 芒硝 natrii Sulfas

fan xie ye 番瀉葉 folium Sennae

da ma ren 大麻仁 fructus Cannabis

gan sui 甘遂 radix Kansui

yu li ren 郁李仁 semen Pruni

da ji 大戟 radix Euphorbiae Pekinensis

yuan hua 芫花 flos Genkwa

qian niu zi 牽牛子 semen Pharbitidis

(R) Warm Interior and Expel Cold

rou gui 肉桂 cortex Cinnamomi

wu zhu yu 吴茱萸 fructus Evodiae

xi xin 细辛 herba Asari

hua jiao 花椒 pericarpium Zanthoxyli

ding xiang 丁香 flos Caryophylli

gao liang jiang 高莨姜 rhizoma Alpiniae Officinarum

xiao hui xiang 小茴香 fructus Foeniculi

fu zi 地肤子 radix Aconiti Lateralis Preparata

chuan wu tou 川乌头 radix Aconiti

cao wu tou 草乌头 radix Aconiti Kusnezoffiae

wu tou 乌头 radix Aconiti Lateralis Preparata

gan jiang 乾薑 rhizoma Zingiberis

(S) Expel Parasites

shi jun zi 使君子 fructus Quisqualis

da fu pi 大腹皮 pericarpium Arecae

lei wan 雷丸 Omphalia

ku lian pi 苦莲皮 cortex Meliae

nan gua zi 南瓜子 semen Cucurbitae

he cao ya 鹤草牙 gemma Agrimoniae

he shi fructus Carpesii

guan zhong 贯眾(贯仲) rhizoma Dryopteris Crassirhizomae

fei zi 榧子 semen Torreyae

(T) Calm Shen

long gu 龙骨 os Draconis

suan zao ren 酸枣仁 semen Ziziphi Spinosae

yuan zhi 远志 radix Polygalae

bai zi ren 柏子仁 semen Biotae

(U)Extinguish Internal Wind and Stop Tremors

mu li 牡蠣 concha Ostreae

zhen zhu 珍珠 Magarita

zhen zhu mu 珍珠母 concha Margaritifera Usta

dai zhe shi 代赭石 Haematitum

ling yang jiao 铃羊角 cornu Saigae Tataricae

tian ma 天麻 rhizoma Gastrodiae

(V) Open Orifices

she xiang 麝香 Moschus

niu huang 牛黄 calculus Bovis

Bing Pian 冰片 borneolum Syntheticum

su he xiang 苏合香 Storax

shi chang pu 石菖蒲 rhizoma Acori Graminei


(1)The terms used here reflect typical TCM usage (as translated literally from individual Chinese characters), and may not reflect their meanings in TCM, namely, meanings that are normative, figurative or metaphorical when read in context. The meanings of these terms are therefore different from that in common English usage. In particular, they are not to be used for purposes of self-diagnosis, much less for self-medication. For example, "Xia Huo" means "To reduce fire", but "fire" here does not refer to combustion involving oxygen. Even within TCM, there are various meanings of "fire", and it can refer to "real" or "false" fire. The 3 herbs mentioned above cannot be used to reduce "false fire", or fires of yin deficiency in the zhang organs.

(2) An example of the non-literal use of transliterated characters is "long gu" which literally means "dragon bones". This term cannot possible refer to Chinese dragons, since they do not exist. However, one can easily buy "long gu" from any TCM herbal shop. Another term that cannot be taken literally is "di long" which literally means "earth dragon".

(3) Although the above herbs are common in TCM prescriptions, they cannot be purchased if we refer only to their Latin names. One likely reason is that TCM pharmacists rarely, if ever, use the Latin names of the herbs. The Chinese names, or the transliterated names (pinyin) should be used instead. For example, if we ask for "flos Lonicerae" we will almost certainly get a blank look. However, if we ask for "Jin Yin Hua" or 金银花 we will connect immediately, even though the pharmacist may speak any of the large number of Chinese dialects (such as Cantonese, where the herb is known as "Kum Gen Fa", or Golden Silver Flower, in Hong Kong). Wherever possible, use the written form (金银花) to avoid miscommunication and/or mis-pronunciation, since there is no dialect form of the written language.

(4) There are a large number of synonyms of the herb names, in both Chinese, English and Latin. This makes it even more essential to use the written form of the Chinese names to ensure accuracy.

(5) Some herbs are prone to adulteration, substitution, or both. For example, Ling Zhi Cao (Cordyceps) can be substituted with an inactive form of the herb. If an extract is first made with water, the herb will be tasteless when dried and re-used/recycled. On the other hand, the genuine Ling Zhi tastes bitter, but few consumers would know the difference, especially if the herb is mixed in a prescription and boiled together with other herbs. The pharmacists themselves may not be aware, as some may trust their suppliers implicitly, and do not conduct regular testing.

(6) Animal-based "herbs" are prone to substitution or adulteration, including Xiong Dan (bear bile / gall bladder) which looks very much like Niu Dan (bovine bile /gall bladder) when the gall bladder is dried, although Niu Dan is far less bitter in taste. Some are simply unavailable because they are banned in many countries. These include tiger parts, such as Hu Gu (tiger bone) which is substituted by bobcat bone, and Chuan San Jia (scales of the pangolin) which has no animal-based substitute. Niu Huang (bovine gallstone) is unavailable in many Western countries and Singapore because of its potential impact on pregnant women, although Niu Huang Pills with about 2% of Niu Huang are available in many Asian countries.

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