Herbal properties

An herb is known by its effects, that is, what it can do – its presumed power to influence unseen events in the living organism. A few examples illustrate how an herb establishes properties and claims its place in this system of correspondence.

Understanding herbal propertiesherbs-on-table333x390

Herbal properties are identified according to the principle of correspondence. If a lack of Qi manifests as inertia, fatigue, and shallow breathing, then an herb which improves these symptoms is one that tonifies Qi. If, furthermore, this deficiency of Qi accompanies a pattern of Spleen weakness, manifesting as indigestion, bloating, flabbiness, and this same herb also benefits these complaints, it is recognized as one which tonifies Qi and strengthens the Spleen.

All herbs affect Qi, Moisture, and Blood, but not all herbs have specific influences on particular Organ Networks. Ginseng globally tonifies the Qi, whereas codonopsis particularly tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Lung. Coptis is an herb that purges Heat from all parts of the body, whereas scutellaria especially clears Heat from the Liver and Lung.


Astragalus Membranaceous (huang qi)



Astragalus tonifies Qi. When Qi is depleted, a person feels weak, tired, apathetic, breathless, clammy, and is vulnerable to infection. Grown in the wilds of Outer Mongolia, this fibrous, yellow root strengthens metabolism, respiration, and immunity. It warms the limbs and muscles, dispels Cold and Damp from the internal organs, and fortifies the Spleen, Lung, and Kidney. Modern research studies speak about astragalus as a “biological response modifier” that increases the adaptive function of the adrenal cortex and the production of white blood cells (particularly macrophages and T-cells), red blood cells, hormones such as interferon, and protective proteins called immunoglobulins. Because it inhibits the depression of bone marrow and extends the reproductive life of healthy cells by 50%, astragalus is used to support immune-compromised patients, such as those undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, and those with HIV/AIDS. It protects the liver from fatty degeneration caused by poisons, like carbon tetrachloride, promotes diuresis, lowers blood pressure, and increases overall stamina and endurance.

Angelica Sinensis (dang gui)angelica333x411 (1)

Angelica root tonifies Blood. When Blood is deficient, a person feels limp, restless, irritable, dry, weak-hearted, cold, and fragile. Known as dang gui (dong gway), angelica is regarded as the sovereign herb for women because of its power to restore the Blood, regulate menstrual rhythm, and strengthen the womb. It builds Blood the way astragalus builds Qi, bringing warmth and nourishment to the viscera as well as to the skin, muscles, and flesh. By quickening and enriching Blood, it banishes Cold, Wind, and Damp. It benefits the Liver, Heart, and Spleen and drives away the pain of obstructive stagnation. Pharmacological research documents that angelica stimulates and regulates uterine contractions, increases utilization of oxygen by the liver, calms the central nervous system, and relieves pain associated with neuralgia, ischemia (for example, angina), and rheumatic or osteoarthritis. Because angelica nourishes Blood, mobilizes circulation, generates tissue, dispels Wind, and alleviates pain, it is used to treat anemia, abdominal pain, menstrual cramps, and heart disease, and to promote the healing of wounds, ulcers, and inflammations.

Schisandra Chinensis (wu wei zi)schisandra333x409

Schisandra consolidates Moisture. When the capacity to retain or generate Moisture is lost, a person feels parched, flushed, withered, ravenous, without reserves, as if her life force is tenuous and fickle. Schisandra fruit, “the seed of five flavors,” fosters the generation and storage of Essence, awakening sexual potency and sensitivity. It calms the Spirit, strengthens the area called the Sea of Qi that lies two fingerbreadths below the navel, and supports the Lung, Kidney, and Liver. Contemporary research demonstrates that Schisandra is an adaptogenic substance, like ginseng and astragalus, conferring non-specific resistance, enhancing the total physiological competence of the organism. It both stimulates and relaxes the central nervous system, activates respiration, counteracts the effects of CNS depressant drugs (like opiates), and promotes recovery from non-icteric hepatitis (without jaundice). It also eases childbirth by strengthening uterine contractions, promoting dilation of the cervix, and allaying fatigue. Schisandra alleviates chronic cough and asthma, insomnia, diarrhea, thirst, fatigue, sexual debility, and memory loss; it regulates blood sugar and assists recovery following prolonged fever or illness.

Poria Cocos (fu ling)poriatree333x392

Poria disperses Moisture. When Moisture accumulates and stagnates, a person feels heavy, puffy, lethargic, sore, tender, and vexingly soggy, sticky, and dry. Poria, a fungus that grows on the moist underground roots of pine trees, restores the proper distribution of body fluids, assisting the Heart and Lung, balancing the Spleen and Kidney. The outer skin, central pulp, and base of this bulbous fungus correspond respectively to its three powers: discharging surplus fluids via the Kidney and Bladder; aiding the transforming work of the Spleen and Stomach; and soothing the Lung and Heart. Pharmacological investigation of poria reveals that it is diuretic, reduces blood sugar, relaxes the intestines, has a mild sedative effect, and contains polysaccharides that inhibit cancer. Poria is used to treat abdominal distension, dyspepsia, edema, difficult urination, diabetes, and diarrhea. Brewed by itself or cooked with food, poria is a nutritive tonic for the young, weak, or elderly.
These and other herbs are used in the herbal remedies formulated by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold, available from the Chinese Medicine Works pharmacy in San Francisco.