Notes on This Category

• Since the dispersing effect of some of the herbs in this category is dependent on their volatile oils, they are often decocted only for a short time (or are infused only) since heat causes volatization of these oils. Toasting them thus tends to moderate their effect.
• These herbs should be used with caution in cases of Yin deficiency.
• Herbs in this category are frequently combined with:
A. Herbs that clear heat when there is heat associated.
B. Herbs that warm the interior when there is cold associated.
C. Herbs that tonify the spleen when there is spleen Qi deficiency.
D. Herbs that promote Qi circulation, since moving Qi can help in the elimination of dampness.

Bai Dou Kou – Cardamom fruit – Cluster – Amomum cardamomum or A. kravanh (syn: Elettaria cardamomum) “White Cardamom”

Nature: acrid, warm

Enters: Spleen, Stomach, Lung

Actions: Warms the middle Jiao; promotes Qi circulation, transforms stagnation; stops vomiting; transforms dampness; descends rebellious Qi.

• Dampness and Qi stagnation in the spleen and stomach: distending pain in the epigastrium and abdomen, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, fullness in the chest.
• Stomach cold, or cold from deficiency of the spleen and stomach: vomiting.
• Damp warm-febrile disease: stifling sensation in the chest, lack of appetite, very greasy tongue coat.
• Not too warm (cooler than Sha ren) alright for use with damp-heat.
• Smash before using.
• When decocting, add near the end.
MLT: Sha ren is better for the middle and lower Jiao, while Bai dou kou is better for the middle and upper Jiao.
Hsu: Stomachic, antiemetic, stimulates GI secretions and intestinal peristalsis, inhibits abnormal fermentation in intestines, dispels accumulated air in GI tract, prevents vomiting.
Yoga: Ela: pungent, sweet/heating/pungent; V, K-; P+ (in excess)
• Affects digestive, respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems.
• Stimulant, expectorant, carminative, stomachic, diaphoretic.
• Awakens the spleen, kindles Agni, removes Kapha from the stomach and Lungs.
• Stops vomiting, belching, and acid regurgitation. Good, safe digestive stimulant.
• Stimulates the mind and heart, and gives clarity and joy.
Sattvic. Opens and soothes the flow of the Pranas.
• For colds, cough, bronchitis, asthma, hoarseness, loss of taste, poor absorption, indigestion.
• Nervous digestive upset in children or for high Vata (good with fennel for this).
• Add this herb to milk to neutralize milk’s mucus-forming properties.
• Detoxifies the caffeine in coffee.
• Stimulates absorption from the small intestine.

Dose: 3-6g in decoction, or, preferably, 1.5-4.5g directly as powder.

Cang Zhu – Red Atractylodes rhizome (also known as Black Atractylodes)

Nature: acrid, bitter, warm

Enters: Spleen, Stomach

Actions: Strongly dries dampness and strengthens/activates the spleen; eliminates wind- dampness (and cold); eliminates dampness in the lower Jiao; induces sweating, releases exterior syndromes; improves vision.

• Accumulation of dampness in the middle Jiao: distention in the epigastrium and abdomen, poor appetite, diarrhea, epigastric distention and pressure, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, thick and greasy tongue coat.
• Wind-cold-dampness: Bi syndrome with swollen knees and feet, pain in the extremities.
• Wind-damp-cold EPI: headache, body aches, absence of sweating, and/or oozing yin sores.
• Damp skin disease: acute eczema, vitiligo.
• Night blindness or poor vision with a rough sensation in the eyes.
• Damp-heat pouring downward: leg qi, vaginal discharge, swollen, sore joints (use with heat-clearing herbs).
• Increases IgA, IgG, IgM in nose to enhance local immunity.
• Mix with Bai zhi, grind into powder, and hang over the chest to prevent EPIs. Also burn these two herbs as the weather gets warm – on the new moon about early May – to enhance immunity.
Li: 1/3 the strength of Bai zhu to tonify, 3 times the strength to resolve damp. Quite warm and very drying.
DY: One of the most drying substances in the whole Chinese pharmacopeia.
• Upbears the clear and downbears the turbid.
• Stops diarrhea.
• Can be used for damp-heat when combined with bitter, cold herbs.
Cang zhu is incompatible with black carp, peaches, plums, and Chinese cabbage.
• With Huang bai for mutual reinforcement, to clear heat, dry dampness, disperse swelling, and stop pain. For indications such as:
– 1. Wilting of the lower extremities with pain in the sinews and bones due to damp-heat pouring downward. (Er Miao San) Use salt mix-fried Huang bai.
– 2. Abnormal vaginal discharge, external vaginal itching, and cloudy, scanty urination due to damp-heat. (Use Cang zhu which has been stir-fried until scorched.)
– 3. Red, swollen, hot, painful joints due to wind, damp, heat impediment. (Cang Zhu San)
MLT: Possesses no significant diuretic properties despite its strong drying action (does increase secretion of urinary salts).
• Can dramatically lower blood sugar for some kinds of diabetes.
Hsu: Stomachic, diuretic, diaphoretic, tranquilizer, hypoglycemiant, tonic.

Dose: 4.5-9g

Cao Dou Kou – Alpinia katsumadai seed – Katsumada’s Galangal seed – “Grass Cardamom”

Nature: acrid, very warm

Enters: Spleen, Stomach

Actions: Warms the middle Jiao; promotes Qi circulation; dries dampness.

• Cold and dampness in the spleen and stomach: fullness, distention, and pain in the epigastrium and abdomen, accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea.
• This is the warmest herb in the category.
Cao dou kou is much warmer and much drier than Sha ren. For this reason, it is not usually a first choice. It is appropriate only for cold-dampness.
• When decocting, do not cook long.

Dose: 1.5-6g

Cao Guo – Tsaoko fruit – Amomum tsaoko – “Grass Fruit”

Nature: acrid, warm

Enters: Spleen, Stomach

Actions: Warms the middle Jiao; strongly dries dampness; disperses cold; treats malaria; dissolves stagnation and distention.

• Cold and dampness in the spleen and stomach: distending pain and fullness in the epigastrium and abdomen, vomiting, diarrhea, very greasy tongue coat.
• Malaria: especially due to excess damp-cold or turbid dampness.
• Food stagnation: indigestion, especially due to meat.
• Cold from spleen and stomach deficiency: focal distention, nausea.
• Roasting the herb reduces the possible side effect of vomiting.
Dose: 1.5-6g

Hou Po – Magnolia Bark

Nature: bitter, acrid, warm

Enters: Spleen, Stomach, Lung, Large Intestine

Actions: Promotes Qi circulation; transforms dampness, resolves stagnation; relieves asthma; descends the Qi of the Lungs, stomach, and large intestine (directs upward-rebelling Qi downward); warms and transforms phlegm.

• Accumulation of damp or food causing stagnation of Qi in the middle Jiao: distention and fullness of epigastrium, abdomen, and chest, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea. This is a key herb for eliminating distention and fullness.
• Lung phlegm: wheezing, cough with difficult breathing, stifling sensation in the chest, copious sputum.
• Most effective herb to promote Qi circulation in this category.
• Binds to GABA receptors, produces calming effect.
• Reduces allergic and asthmatic reactions.
• Counters effects of excessive cortisol, beneficial for insomnia and anxiety with high cortisol.
MLT: Gently stimulates intestinal peristalsis – for damp stagnation with either diarrhea or constipation.
Antimicrobial (though significantly weaker than the yellow herbs/berberine).
PCBDP: Stimulant, tonic, aromatic, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory.
Hsu: Antispasmodic, antibacterial, stomachic.
Weil: An Italian study published in February, 2011, compared a magnolia bark extract to soy isoflavones for treatment of anxiety, irritability and insomnia in menopausal women. The researchers found that the isoflavones effectively lessened the severity of classic menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, while magnolia bark eased the participants’ anxiety. Dr. Low Dog noted that an earlier study from Italy found that magnolia bark extract combined with magnesium improved sleep, mood, depression and anxiety in menopausal women.
Honokiol, a Multifunctional Antiangiogenic and Antitumor Agent: [ANTIOXIDANTS & REDOX SIGNALING. Volume 11, Number 5, 2009] Honokiol is a small-molecule polyphenol isolated from the genus Magnolia. It is accompanied by other related polyphenols, including magnolol, with which it shares certain biologic properties. Recently, honokiol has been found to have antiangiogenic, antiinflammatory, and antitumor properties in preclinical models, without appreciable toxicity. These findings have increased interest in bringing honokiol to the clinic as a novel chemotherapeutic agent. In addition, mechanistic studies have tried to find the mechanism(s) of action of honokiol, for two major reasons. First, knowledge of the mechanisms of action may assist development of novel synthetic analogues. Second, mechanistic actions of honokiol may lead to rational combinations with conventional chemotherapy or radiation for enhanced response to systemic cancers. In this review, we describe the findings that honokiol has two major mechanisms of action. First, it blocks signaling in tumors with defective p53 function and activated ras by directly blocking the activation of phospholipase D by activated ras. Second, honokiol induces cyclophilin D, thus potentiating the mitochondrial permeability transition pore, and causing death in cells with wild-type p53. Knowledge of the dual activities of honokiol can assist with the development of honokiol derivatives and the design of clinical trials that will maximize the potential benefit of honokiol in the patient setting.
Wiki: Honokiol is a lignan present in the cones, bark, and leaves of Magnolia grandiflora that has been used in the traditional Japanese medicine Saiboku-to as an anxiolytic, antithrombotic, antidepressant, antiemetic, and antibacterial. While early research on the effective compounds in traditional remedies have simply used whole magnolia bark extracts, known as houpu magnolia, recent work has identified honokiol and its structural isomer magnolol as the active compounds in magnolia bark. In the late 1990s, honokiol saw a revival in western countries as a potent and highly tolerable antitumorigenic and neurotrophic compound.
Anti-tumorigenic activities:
Honokiol has shown pro-apoptotic effects in melanoma, sarcoma, myeloma, leukemia, bladder, lung, prostate, oral squamous cell carcinoma[1] and colon cancer cell lines.[2][3][4][5] Honokiol inhibits phosphorylation of Akt, p44/42 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), and src. Additionally, honokiol regulates the nuclear factor kappa B (NF-?B) activation pathway, an upstream effector of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), MCL1, and cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2), all significant pro-angiogenic and survival factors. Honokiol induces caspase-dependent apoptosis in a TRAIL-mediated manner, and potentiates the pro-apoptotic effects of doxorubicin and other etoposides. So potent is honokiol’s pro-apoptotic effects that it overcomes even notoriously drug resistant neoplasms such as multiple myeloma and chronic B-cell leukemia.
Neurotrophic activity:
Honokiol has been shown to promote neurite outgrowth and have neuroprotective effects in rat cortical neurons. Additionally, honokiol increases free cytoplasmic Ca2+ in rat cortical neurons.[6] Honokiol is a weak cannabinoid CB2 receptor ligand but the naturally occurring derivative 4-O-methylhonokiol was shown to be a potent and selective cannabinoid CB2 receptor inverse agonist and to possess antiosteoclastic effects.[7]
Anti-thrombotic activity:
Honokiol inhibits platelet aggregation in rabbits in a dose-dependent manner, and protects cultured RAEC against oxidized low density lipoprotein injury. Honokiol significantly increases the prostacyclin metabolite 6-keto-PGF1alpha, potentially the key factor in honokiol’s anti-thrombotic activity.[8] presents a pretty comprehensive review of existing scientific data on this herb (click here).

Dose: 3-9g

Hou Po Hua: flower (different species than Xin yi hua, also magnolia flower)
• Acrid, warm, aromatic.
• Similar to, but weaker than the bark.
• Focuses more on the upper and middle Jiao, and regulates liver Qi.
• For a stifling sensation in the chest.
• Stomach ache due to liver/stomach disharmony.
Dose: 3-6g

Huo Xiang – Patchouli – Agastache or Pogostemon

Nature: acrid, slightly warm

Enters: Spleen, Stomach, Lung

Actions: Transforms dampness; releases the exterior, clears summer heat (and wind-cold); harmonizes the middle Jiao, stops vomiting; awakens the spleen.


• Damp accumulation in the middle Jiao: vomiting, distention in the epigastrium and abdomen, poor appetite, nausea, lethargy, weakness, white, moist tongue coat.
• Summer heat with dampness: fever, aversion to cold, headache, distended epigastrium, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting.
• Wind-cold EPI.
• Similar to Zi su ye, though Huo xiang is stronger at circulating Qi and Zi su ye is stronger at eliminating wind-cold. Zi su ye has a stronger focus on the Lungs than Huo xiang.
Li: Often adds to formulas for patients with digestive weakness, or when using difficult-to-digest herbs, (also in combination with Pei lan) to keep herbs from causing stagnation or upsetting or damaging the digestion.
Hsu: Antiemetic, antidiarrheal, tranquilizes GI nerves, antifungal, antipyretic, stomachic.
DY: Moves the Qi; strongly clears summer-heat (mainly summer-heat-dampness).
• The leaf (Huo xiang ye) is more powerful than the stem at draining the exterior. The stem (Huo xiang geng) is better for harmonizing the stomach and stopping vomiting.
• More powerful than Pei lan at resolving the exterior and eliminating summer-heat as well as for stopping vomiting.
• With Pei lan to effectively transform dampness and turbidity, harmonize the middle burner, stop vomiting, eliminate summer-heat (and dampness), and stop diarrhea. For indications such as:
– 1. Vertigo, head distention, fever with or without perspiration, chest oppression, epigastric distention, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea due to external attack of summer-heat-dampness.
– 2. Spleen pure heat. This refers to a rising upward of turbid Qi towards the mouth due to spleen heat generated by an excess of fatty and sweet foods. It is accompanied by a sticky, thick feeling in the mouth, a sugary taste in the mouth, abundant salivation, thick, slimy tongue coat, and a slippery pulse.
– This combination is very effective for its treatment of bad breath or a thick, sticky feeling in the mouth with a sugary taste due to turbid dampness accumulation or turbid dampness transforming into heat.

Dose: 4.5-9g

Pei Lan – Eupatorium (Eupatorium fortunei, E. japonicum) – “Ornamental Orchid”

Nature: acrid, neutral

Enters: Spleen, Stomach

Actions: Transforms dampness; clears summer-heat; releases the exterior and transforms turbidity.

• Damp accumulation in the middle Jiao: distention in the epigastrium and abdomen, poor appetite, nausea, weakness, lethargy, vomiting, stifling sensation in the chest, white, moist tongue coat.
• Summer-heat with dampness: fever, aversion to cold, headache, distended epigastrium, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting.
• Spleen damp-heat: sweet, sticky taste in the mouth, copious saliva, foul breath.
• Early-stage of damp warm-febrile diseases.
• Topical: as powder on a sweaty, sour, smelly scalp (the synonym Xing tou cao relates to this use).
• Does not lead to dryness.
• Much weaker than Huo xiang at releasing exterior syndromes.
Hsu: Antiviral, antipyretic, stomachic, diuretic.
DY: With Huo xiang to effectively transform dampness and turbidity, harmonize the middle burner, stop vomiting, eliminate summer-heat (and dampness), and stop diarrhea. For specific indications and notes, see Huo xiang in this category.
Pei lan is more powerful than Huo xiang for transforming turbid dampness. In addition, it clears dampness which has transformed into heat and treats spleen pure heat. (“Spleen pure heat” refers to a rising upward of turbid Qi towards the mouth due to spleen heat generated by an excess of fatty and sweet foods. It is accompanied by a sticky, thick feeling in the mouth, a sugary taste in the mouth, abundant salivation, thick, slimy tongue coat, and a slippery pulse.)

Dose: 4.5-9g

Sha Ren – Amomum villosum or A. xanthioides – “Sand Seeds”

Nature: acrid, warm

Enters: Spleen, Stomach

Actions: Warms the middle Jiao; promotes Qi circulation; transforms dampness; calms the fetus; stops vomiting; strengthens the stomach.

• Dampness and Qi stagnation in the middle Jiao: distending pain in the epigastrium and abdomen, nausea, vomiting, and especially poor appetite.
• Spleen Yang deficiency cold: diarrhea.
• Morning sickness or violent fetal movement.
• Often added to tonic herbs to keep them from causing stagnation.
• Crush before use.
• Short cook – add near the end of cooking a decoction.
Liu: Sha ren is much warmer than Pei lan, Huo xiang, Cang zhu, and Hou po. Caution with heat conditions.
• This herb consists only of the seeds inside the shell – the shell should be discarded unless its properties are intentionally desired.
• The shell – Sha ren ke – is better at promoting Qi circulation, is less warming, and is weaker overall.
Jin: Great herb for women, including in pregnancy.
• Good for liver invading the spleen.
Chen: Used successfully in one study for treating peptic ulcer.

Dose: 1.5-6g (Sha ren ke is dosed at 3-4.5g)