March 25, 2016

Common Herbs in Chinese Medicine


Cinnamon (guizhi and rougi)

The twigs (guizhi) and bark (rougi) of this large tropical tree are said to warm the body, invigorate the circulation, and harmonize the energy of the upper and lower body. Modern studies demonstrate that cinnamon reduces allergy reactions. Traditionally, cinnamon twig is used when the peripheral circulation is poor and cinnamon bark is used when the entire body is cold. If the upper body is warm and the lower body is cold, then cinnamon will correct the imbalance. Cinnamon is usually cooked together with other herbs to make a warming tea, or powdered with other herbs to make a pill or tablet that regulates circulation of blood. Dosage is 0.3-3 grams of bark and up to 9 grams of twig per day. Caution: large amounts of cinnamon are irritating to the liver and should not be used by those with inflammatory liver disorders.

Ginger (jiang)

ginger Abacus Chinese Medicine and acupuncture in Louisville

The fibrous rhizome of this herb is highly spicy and said to benefit digestion, neutralize poisons in food, ventilate the lungs, and warm the circulation to the limbs. Today, ginger is commonly used as a spice in cooking; as a medicine it has been shown helpful in counteracting nausea from various causes including morning sickness, motion sickness, and food contamination. Many herbalists use ginger in the treatment of cough (it acts as an expectorant) and common cold. Ginger is used in making teas and the powder is encapsulated for easy consumption. Typical dosage is from a few milligrams used as an assistant in herb formulas to about 3 grams per day in making decoctions. Instant tea granules (sugar or honey base) are available. Caution: persons who suffer from dryness-dry cough, thirst, dry constipation, etc.-may find that ginger worsens the condition.

Ginseng (renshen)

ginseng Abacus Chinese Medicine and acupuncture in LouisvilleThe root has long been cherished as a disease-preventive and a life preserver. It calms the spirit, nourishes the viscera, and helps one gain wisdom. Modern applications include normalizing blood pressure, regulating blood sugar, resisting fatigue, increasing oxygen utilization, and enhancing immune functions. Traditionally, the root is cooked in a double boiler to make a tea, used either alone or with several other herbs. Today, teas can be made quickly from carefully prepared extracts in liquid or dry form; ginseng powder is made into tablets or encapsulated, and ginseng formulas are available in numerous forms for easy consumption. Typical dosage is 0.5-3.0 grams. Higher doses may be used over the short term for specific therapeutic actions: in China 30 grams is recommended to treat shock (sudden hypotension). Caution: excessive consumption of ginseng can lead to nervousness and may produce hormonal imbalance in women.

Hoelen (fuling)

fuling Abacus Chinese Medicine and acupuncture in LouisvilleThis herb is a large fungus that grows on pine roots. It is used to alleviate irritation of the gastro-intestinal system and, like atractylodes, it helps transport moisture out of the digestive system into the blood stream and from the various body tissues to the bladder. When bits of the pine root are included in the herb material it is called fushen; the combination of the fungus and pine produces a mild sedative action. This herb, because it is quite mild, is mostly used in making decoctions or dried decoctions, with a dosage equivalent of about 10-15 grams per day. The herb is non-toxic and rarely causes any adverse effects.

Licorice (gancao)

licorice Abacus Chinese Medicine and acupuncture in LouisvilleThe roots have an extremely sweet taste (but are also bitter) and are said to neutralize toxins, relieve inflammation, and enhance digestion. In Europe, a drug has been made from licorice extract that heals gastric ulcers. Licorice is used by Chinese doctors in the treatment of hepatitis, sore throat, muscle spasms, and, when baked with honey, for treatment hyperthyroidism and heart valve diseases. Traditionally, licorice is thought to enhance the effectiveness of herb formulas and is used to moderate the flavor of herb teas; as a result, it is found in about one-third of all Chinese herb prescriptions. Licorice powder is encapsulated for easy consumption or mixed with other herbs and tableted. Dosage is from very small amounts (a few hundred milligrams) to 15 grams per day in decoction used to treat viral hepatitis. Caution: excessive consumption of licorice over an extended period to time can cause sodium/potassium imbalance with symptoms of tachycardia and/or edema.

Ma-huang (mahuang)

mahuang Abacus Chinese Medicine and acupuncture in LouisvilleThe stem-like leaves when taken in a dose of several grams stimulate perspiration, open the breathing passages, and invigorate the central nervous system energy. It has been shown that most of these effects are due to two alkaloid components, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, both of them having been made into modern drugs (for asthma and sinus congestion, respectively). In addition, the stimulating action of ma-huang has led to its use as a metabolic enhancer (burns calories more quickly) for those who are trying to lose weight. Ma-huang also has anti-inflammatory actions useful in treating some cases of arthralgia and myalgia. Ma-huang can be made into a tea, or used in extract form; powdered ma-huang is rarely used. Dosage range is 1-9 grams/day, usually in two or three divided doses.Caution: the stimulant effect of ma-huang can cause insomnia and agitation; persons with very high blood pressure may find this symptom worsened by use of ma-huang.

Peony (baishao and chihshao)

peony Abacus Chinese Medicine and acupuncture in LouisvilleThe root of this common flower is used to regulate the blood. It relaxes the blood vessels, reduces platelet sticking, nourishes the blood, and promotes circulation to the skin and extremities. The root of both wild and cultivated peonies are used. The wild peony yields “red peony” (chihshao) a fibrous root that is especially used for stimulating blood circulation. The cultivated peony yields “white peony” (baishao) a dense root that nourishes the blood. Peony is often combined with tang-kuei, licorice, or other herbs mentioned here to enhance or control their effects. The dosage range is from 0.5-15 grams per day. Peony rarely causes any adverse reactions.

Rehmannia (dihuang)

rehamannia Abacus Chinese Medicine and acupuncture in LouisvilleThe root of this herb is a dark, moist herb that is extensively used to nourish the blood and the hormonal system. It is frequently used in the treatment of problems of aging, because of its ability to restore the levels of several declining hormones. There are two forms of the herb that are currently used: one, designated shengdihuang or raw rehmannia, is given to reduce inflammation and is included in many formulas for autoimmune disorders; the other is designated shoudihuang or cooked rehmannia, and is used as a nourishing tonic. Often, the two forms are combined together in equal proportions to address inflammatory problems that are related to the lack of adequate levels of regulating hormones. The herb is mainly used in making decoctions or dried decoctions, with a dosage of 10-30 grams per day. Caution: persons with weak digestion and tendency to experience loose stool or diarrhea may find that this herb, especially cooked rehmannia, worsens those symptoms.

Rhubarb (dahuang)

rhubarbThis large root was one of the first herbs that the Western world imported from China. It serves as a very reliable laxative, and also has other benefits: enhancing appetite when taken before meals in small amounts, promoting blood circulation and relieving pain in cases of injury or inflammation, and inhibiting intestinal infections. Rhubarb also reduces autoimmune reactions. The impact of rhubarb is influenced by how it is prepared; if it is cooked for a long period of time, the laxative actions are reduced but other actions are retained. Typical dosage is 0.5-3 grams per day. Caution: rhubarb, alone or in formulas, should not be used by those with irritable bowel conditions, as it may cause cramping and diarrhea.

Salvia (danshen)

dahshen Abacus Chinese Medicine and acupuncture in LouisvilleThe deep red roots of this Chinese sage plant have become an important herb during the past two decades even though it was used for centuries before that. It is applied in almost all cases where the body tissues have been damaged by disease or injury; thus, it 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-the so-called microcirculation system. In addition, salvia lowers blood pressure, helps reduce cholesterol, and enhances function of the liver. It may be consumed alone or with other herbs, in wines, teas, pills, or tablets; dosage is 1-20 grams per day. Salvia rarely causes any adverse reactions.

Tang-kuei (danggui)

dang gui Abacus Chinese Medicine and acupuncture in LouisvilleThe root has been long respected as a blood-nourishing agent. It has its highest rate of use among women because tang-kuei will help to regulate uterine blood flow and contraction, but when employed in complex formulas it can be used by both men and women to nourish the blood, moisten the intestines, improve the circulation, calm tension, and relieve pain. Tang-kuei is frequently said to have estrogenic effects, but this is not a valid claim. The recommended dosage for tang-kuei is 0.5-9 grams per day. Tang-kuei may be made as a tea or cooked with chicken to make soup (the taste is quite strong), but it is often used today as a powder, encapsulated or made into tablets, alone or with other herbs. Caution: some individuals find that tang-kuei causes nausea or loose stool.

–from  AN INTRODUCTION TO CHINESE HERBS by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon

While these and other herbs are available in retail sale, it is recommended that you consult with a practitioner of Chinese herbalism for indications of use, formulations and dosage. There is potential for contradindication given one’s specific health status. There is also potential for toxicity when dosage is not appropriately monitored.
jeff capIn the Louisville area, Jeffrey Russell is a practitioner of Chinese Medicine. If you would like to discuss how Chinese herbalism may improve your health, he can be reached at his clinic Abacus Chinese Medicine–Louisville Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine at (502) 299-8900.


Find out more about Jeffrey, his training in Chinese Medicine and his qualifications as an herbalist. Also, you can read more about Chinese herbal medicine here.


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