Nature: sweet, slightly cold
Enters: Stomach, Kidney
Actions: Generates body fluids for the stomach; nourishes stomach Yin, mildly nourishes kidney Yin; clears heat; brightens the vision; strengthens the lower back, tendons, and bones.
• Stomach Yin deficiency or injury of stomach body fluids by heat: dry mouth, thirst, stomach ache, dry heaves, shiny tongue, intractable fever, wasting and thirsting disorder, constipation.
• Kidney Yin deficiency: prolonged low grade fever (do not count on Shi hu alone in cases of kidney Yin deficiency), blurred vision, dizziness; pain, soreness, weakness of the back and knees; numbness of the extremities or wei syndrome (in appropriate combination).
• Febrile disorders with injured Yin.
• Can trap an EPI in the body and prolong the sickness. If there is a chance of EPI, Mai men dong or Yu zhu is a better choice.
• Premier herb for stomach Yin deficiency: stronger than Mai men dong at nourishing stomach Yin.
• The true herb is effective at lowering blood pressure, even in small doses. Treasured and consumed by elderly, often even saving the cooked herb and chewing on it to get all the medicine out of it.
• The true herb is quite difficult to obtain in the U.S., and is very expensive, though it is also very popular with some practitioners.
Hong-Yen Hsu (Oriental Materia Medica): Stimulates smooth muscle contraction of the small intestine, increases its tonicity, promotes peristalsis and gastric secretion.
• Slightly antipyretic and analgesic.
Eric Brand: Shi Hu is a yin-supplementing medicinal that is sold in many different grades and qualities. True Shi Hu refers to dendrobium orchid, but in actuality most of what is used as Shi Hu on the market is a tolerated substitute rather than true dendrobium. The substitute pictured above is an authentic medicinal, but it is considered a less expensive and less effective form of Shi Hu. True Shi Hu and its substitute (which is properly called “You Gua Shi Hu,” derived from Ephemerantha fimbriata (Bl.) P.E. Hunt et Summ) are both in the orchid family, but they are from plants in different genera that have significantly different appearances. Generally speaking, the two should be differentiated in trade and in clinical use.
The true Shi Hu seen on the market is almost always cultivated. Wild Shi Hu is endangered and is protected under CITES law, so trade is only permitted if a certificate of cultivation is provided. It is common to see products on the Chinese wholesale market or the Chinatown market that are sold as “wild” Shi Hu, but these products are nearly always cultivated and are not truly wild. Generally true Shi Hu is sold in thin, long (or cut) pieces or rolled bundles. The rolls can be large or small, and different subtypes of the medicinal have stems of varying thickness. High quality Shi Hu can be quite expensive.
To test the quality of true Shi Hu, chew it. As you chew, pay attention to the flavor and texture. The more fibrous it is, the more average the quality is. The more sticky and soft it is, the better it is. The good stuff is sticky and slightly sweet when chewed, but it needs to be chewed slowly and held in the mouth to get the full effect. True Shi Hu and You Gua Shi Hu can be differentiated from each other at a glance, but the different grades of true Shi Hu require the test of chewing to fully assess their quality.
Shi Hu is very popular in Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. The Chinese medicine culture in Southern China (Canton, Hong Kong, etc) tends to favor cooling, yin-supplementing agents like Shi Hu, so the South is the place to see a lot of it. The area around Hangzhou is also a major production region for Shi Hu, so it is popular there as well. Shi Hu is often grown in greenhouses and can be grown hydroponically. The best quality tends to go to the Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong markets, and premium quality Shi Hu is grossly overpriced in the U.S. As a general rule, don’t believe vendors that try to tell you that the product is wild, because the wild product is truly rare and insanely expensive.
Good quality Shi Hu is a beautiful thing, and I feel that Shi Hu is underappreciated in the Western TCM world. As I mentioned before in my blog about Chuan Bei Mu, any herb that gets the attention and respect of an entire cultural region is worth looking into. Shi Hu has an incredibly developed niche in East Asian culture and it is a special medicinal that deserves more attention.