Putting the Classic back in Chinese Herbal Medicine

Gui Zhi
Gui Zhi

When I first started learning acupuncture we spent a lot of time in class learning the basics. Like the yin yang, five element, and the six climatic qi theories. This would prepare us in our understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The reasoning being that we needed this to better understand the Chinese way of thinking. Since it came from a different culture we needed to understand the thinking process.

All well and good. I studied for years and to my amazement when I look at herbal formulas in English text books I see a strange language.

For example I often see herbs described in a Materia Medica in a very Western way.

This is part of an excerpt from one of my books describing the famous herb Gui zhi.

  • Gui zhi
  • The taste is pungent and sweet
  • The organ relationship is lung, heart, bladder
  • The direction is superficial
  • Site of action, channels and upper burner
  • Indications, warms the channels, use for Wind-cold, damp-cold with painful obstruction disorder symptoms, joint pain especially in the shoulder area, makes blood dynamic.

How can this be!?

I believe that when the Chinese State Universities started teaching herbs and formulas they wanted to make it much more Western. Ultimately missing the link to the past.

I read no reference to yin yang, five elements, primary and secondary climatic qi. Where’s the Beef?

What I would expect is this.

Gui zhi is a yang and yin herb. It is yang because it warms, and moves blood. It is yang because it tonifies the function of organs by warming and moving the blood. It is a yin herb because it nourishes the blood. It is much more yang than yin.

It is a Wood herb because it increases Wood wind to give birth to Fire.
It has a pungent taste and pungent belongs to wood and its nature is dispersing.
It has a sweet taste and its nature belongs to Earth which moderates Fire and tonifies function.

It warms the climatic qi cold on the surface and internally. It dries the climatic qi dampness by warming the blood. It increases the climatic qi wind.

It restores the function of the surface by supporting function of the yin levels in the six divisions. Tai yang and shao yin have a interior exterior relationship and gui zhi warms the yang of both tai yang and shao yin.

Gui zhi puts the emperor back on his throne. It tonifies the imperial and ministerial fire.

The problem that arises with Western thinking and Chinese Herbal Medicine is that the connection with the system we use is lost. It makes using and applying herbs and formulas difficult. We end up with a Western Medical approach.

So maybe you agree with me. But what to do about this loss of connection. I have found no books that use this language style.

My solution was to teach myself. Yes, I have plenty of time. I made a list of all the herbs in the classic formulas from the Shang Han Lun. I then went about describing them using the different theories I learned in school. I guarantee you will create a deeper understanding of the herbs and formulas you use.

  • Just make a list
  • Gui zhi is yang because…
  • Gui zhi is yin because…
  • Gui zhi is which of the five elements…
  • Gui zhi is affecting which of the six climatic qi..

If you are interested but do not have as much time as I do then send me a message and I will send you some of my work to get you started.

Have fun studying


Published by Paul Freedman

Herbal Nerd

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