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A collection of notes on the topics of classical Chinese, medicine, and traditional culture.
 

This blog is a collection of ruminations, translations, and personal opinions by Sabine and some guest authors. Reflecting my own personality, some posts are academic, some clinical, and some personal, some are excerpts from existing books and some may become part of future books. Please leave a comment with feedback, questions, constructive criticism, and differences of opinion as long as you argue your reasons for disagreement logically. Any personal attacks, uncivil remarks, or self-promoting comments will be deleted.

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Random Notes on Gancao, Danggui, and Fuzi

The following translation is a collection of excerpts I prepared for my students in my Classical Texts class. It presents commentaries by Chen Xiuyuan, Li Shizhen, and Wang Ang, some of my personal favorites.

Gāncǎo 甘草

1. Original 神農本草經:

(一)甘草:氣味甘平,無毒。

(二)主五臟六腑,寒熱邪氣,堅筋骨,長肌肉,倍氣力,金瘡腫,解毒。

(三)久服輕身延年。生用清火,炙用補中。

1) Gāncǎo: Its qì and flavor are sweet and balanced. It is non-toxic.

2) It rules the five zàng organs and six organs, the evil qì of cold and heat, hardening the sinews and bones, making the flesh grow, multiplying the qì strength, incised wounds and swellings, and resolving toxins.

3) Taken for a long time, it makes the body light and extends the years [of one’s life]. Used raw, it clears fire; used mix-fried, it supplements the center.

 

2. 陳修園:神農本草經讀 (early Qing)

(一)物之味甘者,至甘草為極。

(二)甘主脾,脾為後天之本,五臟六腑皆受氣焉。

(三)臟腑之本氣,則為正氣;外來寒熱之氣,則為邪氣,正氣旺則邪氣自退也。

(四)筋者,肝所主也。骨者,腎所主也。肌肉者,脾所主也。氣者,肺所主也。力者,心所主也。

(五)但使脾氣一盛,則五臟皆循環受益,而得其堅之、長之、倍之之效矣。

(六)金瘡者,為刀斧所傷而成瘡,瘡甚而腫。脾得補而肉自滿也。

(七)能解毒者,如毒物入土,則毒化也。土為萬物之母,土健則輕身延年也。

1) In terms of the sweet flavor of medicinal substances, there is none greater than gāncǎo.

2) Sweetness rules the spleen. The spleen constitutes the root of later heaven, and the five zàng organs and six organs all receive their qì from it.

3) As for the root qì of the zàng and organs, this is the right qì. As for the qì of cold and heat that comes from the outside, this is the evil qì. When right qì is effulgent, evil qì retreats on its own.

4) The sinews are ruled by the liver. The bones are ruled by the kidney. The flesh is ruled by the spleen. The qì is ruled by the lung. Physical strength is ruled by the heart.

5) And yet, as soon as you make spleen qì exuberant, the five zàng organs all receive benefit in the progression of the cycle [of five phases] and receive its effect of hardening, promoting growth, and multiplying them!

6) As for incised wounds, these are wounds sustained in injury from knives and axes. When the wounds are serious, they are accompanied by swelling. When the spleen receives supplementation, the flesh naturally becomes full again.

7) As for [gāncǎo’s] ability to resolve toxins, this resembles the situation when toxic substances enter earth/soil and are transformed as a result. Earth is the mother of the myriad things, and when earth is invigorated, this lightens the body and extends the years.

 

3. 李時珍:本草綱目 (Completed in 1578)

【釋名】Explanation of Names

(一)蜜甘(《別錄》)、蜜草(《別錄》)、美草(《別錄》)、 草(《別錄》)、靈通(《記事珠》)、國老(《別錄》)。

(二)弘景曰︰此草最為眾藥之主,經方少有不用者,猶如香中有沉香也。國老即帝師之稱,雖非君而為君所宗,是以能安和草石而解諸毒也。

(三)甄權曰︰諸藥中甘草為君,治七十二種乳石毒,解一千二百般草木毒,調和眾藥有功故有國老之號。

1) Honeysweet (Bielu), Honeygrass (Bielu), Beautygrass (Bielu), Magic Penetration (Jishizhu), Country’s Elder (Bielu).

2) Quoting [Táo] Hóngjǐng: “This herb is the greatest ruler of the multitudes of medicinal substances. Among the classic formulas, there are few that do not use it. This is just like the presence of chénxiāng (agarwood) among the fragrances. ‘Country’s Elder’ is precisely the title for the emperor’s teachers. Even though it is not a lord, it is nevertheless revered by the lords. For this reason it is able to harmonize the [other] herbs and minerals and resolve the various toxins.”

3) Quoting Zhēn Quán: “Among the various medicinals, gāncǎo is the lord. It manages the seventy-two types of stalactite poisoning, resolves the one thousand two hundred forms of plant poisonings, and harmonizes the effects of the multitudes of medicinals. Hence it has the name ‘Country’s Elder’.”

  

根 Root

(一)【氣味】甘,平,無毒。寇宗 曰︰生則微涼,味不佳;炙則溫。

(二)王好古曰︰氣薄味濃,升而浮,陽也。入足太陰厥陰經。時珍曰︰通入手足十二經。

(三)徐之才曰︰朮、苦參、干漆為之使,惡遠志,反大戟、芫花、甘遂、海藻。權曰︰忌豬肉。

(四)時珍曰︰甘草與藻、戟、遂、芫四物相反,而胡洽居士治痰 ,以十棗湯加甘草、大黃,乃是痰在膈上,欲令通泄,以拔去病根也。東垣李杲治頸下結核,消腫潰堅東加海藻。丹溪朱震亨治勞瘵,蓮心飲用芫花。二方俱有甘草,皆本胡居士之意也。故陶弘景言古方亦有相惡相反者,乃不為害。非妙達精微者,不知此理。

1) Qi and Flavor: Sweet, balanced, non-toxic. Quoting Kòu Zōng: “In the raw, it is slightly cooling and its flavor is not the best; mix-fried, it becomes warm.”

2) Quoting Wáng Hàogǔ: “Its qì is fine and its flavor is thick. It is ascending and floating, hence yáng. It enters the foot Tàiyīn and Juéyīn channels.” Quoting Shízhēn: “It penetrates through to enter the twelve channels of the hands and feet.”

3) Quoting Xú Zhīcái: “Báizhú, kǔshēn, and gānqī serves as its envoys; it is averse to yǔanzhì, and it counteracts the effects of dàjǐ, yuánhuā, gānsuì, and hǎizǎo.” Quoting Quán: “Avoid pork!”

4) Quoting Shízhēn: “Gāncǎo counteracts the effects of the four substances hǎizǎo, dàjǐ, gānsuì, and yuánhuā. Hermit Hú Qià [uses it] to manage phlegm by adding gāncǎo and dàhuáng to Shízǎotāng, which is addressing the presence of phlegm above the diaphragm. His intention is to cause its discharge, to pull out the disease by the root. Dōngyuán and Lǐ Gǎo [use this to] manage bindings and nodes below the neck, disperse swellings, and burst hardenings. Dōng adds hǎizǎo. Dānxī and Zhū Zhènhēng manage taxation consumption by using yuánhuā in Liánxīnyǐn. Both of these formulas both include gāncǎo, reflecting the original intention of Hermit Hú. Therefore Táo Hóngjǐng says that the ancient formulas also contain ones with mutually averse and mutually counteracting substances, but that these will not cause harm. If this is not a cause of ingenuity reaching the most profound level of subtlety, I do not know its reason.

  

【主治】Main Indications

(一)五臟六腑寒熱邪氣,堅筋骨,長肌肉,倍氣力,金瘡 ,解毒。久服輕身延年(《本經》)。

(二)溫中下氣,煩滿短氣,傷臟咳嗽,止渴,通經脈,利血氣,解百藥毒,為九土之精,安和七十二種石,一千二百種草(《別錄》)。

(三)主腹中冷痛,治驚癇,除腹脹滿,補益五臟,養腎氣內傷,令人陰不痿,主婦人血瀝腰痛,凡虛而多熱者,加用之(甄權)。

(四)安魂定魄,補五勞七傷,一切虛損,驚悸煩悶健忘,通九竅,利百脈,益精養氣,壯筋骨(大明)。

(五)生用瀉火熱;熟用散表寒,去咽痛,除邪熱,緩正氣,養陰血,補脾胃,潤肺(李杲)。

(六)吐肺痿之膿血,消五發之瘡疽(好古)。

(七)解小兒胎毒驚癇,降火止痛(時珍)。

1) Evil qì of cold and heat in the five zàng and six organs, hardening sinews and bones, lengthening muscles, multiplying strength, metal wounds, resolving toxins. Taken over a long time, making the body light and extending the years (Běnjīng).

2) Warming the center and bringing qì down, vexing fullness and shortness of breath, damage to the zàng organs with coughing, quenching thirst, making the channels flow freely, disinhibiting blood and qì, resolving the toxins of the hundred medicinals, constituting the essence of the nine earths, harmonizing the seventy-two types of minerals and one thousand two hundred forms of herbs (Biélù).

3) Rules cold pain inside the abdomen, treats fright epilepsy, eliminates abdominal distention and fullness, supplements and boosts the five zàng organs, nourishes internal damage to kidney qì, prevents yīn wilting, and rules trickling of blood with lumbar pain in women. In all cases of vacuity with profuse heat, add it (Zhēn Quán).

4) Quiets the hún and settles the pò souls, supplements the five taxations and seven damages, for all cases of vacuity detriment, fright palpitations, vexation and oppression, and forgetfulness, frees the flow through the nine orifices, disinhibits the hundred vessels, boosts essence and nourishes qi, makes the sinews and bones robust (Dàmíng).

5) Used fresh, it drains fire heat; used cooked, it disperses cold from the exterior, gets rid of throat pain, dispels evil heat, relaxes right qì, nourishes yīn blood, supplements the spleen and stomach, and moistens the lung (Lǐ Gǎo).

6) Vomiting up the pus and blood in lung wilting, dissipates the wounds (mistake for 癰 “welling-abscess”?) and abscesses of the five eruptions (Hàogǔ).

7) Resolves small children’s fetal toxin and fright epilepsy, brings fire down and relieves pain (Shízhēn).

 

4. 汪昂:本草備要 (published in 1694)

(一)有補有瀉,能表能裡,可升可降味甘。

(二)生用氣平,補脾胃不足而瀉心火(火急甚者,必以此緩之)。

(三)炙用氣溫,補三焦元氣而散表寒。

(四)入和劑則補益,入汗劑則解肌(解退肌表之熱),入涼劑則瀉邪熱(白虎湯、瀉心湯之類),入峻劑則緩正氣(薑、附加之,恐其僭上;硝、黃加之,恐其峻下,皆緩之之意),入潤劑則養陰血(炙甘草湯之類)。

(五)能協和諸藥,使之不爭。

(六)生肌止痛(土主肌肉,甘能緩痛),通行十二經,解百藥毒(凡解毒藥,並須冷凍飲料,熱則不效。小兒初生,拭去口中惡血,綿漬汁令咂之,能解胎毒),故有國老之稱。

(七)中滿証忌之(甘令人滿。亦有生用為瀉者,以其能引諸藥至於滿所。經云︰以甘補之,以甘瀉之是已。故《別錄》、甄權並云除滿,脾健運則滿除也。仲景治痞滿,有甘草瀉心湯。又甘草得茯苓,則不資滿,而反泄滿。

1) Sometimes supplementing, sometimes draining, is able to [affect] the exterior and the interior, can raise up or bring down, with a sweet flavor.

2) Used raw, its qì is balanced and it supplements insufficiency in the spleen and stomach and drains heart fire (when the fire is acute and severe, you must use this to moderate it).

3) Used mix-fried, its qì is warm, and it supplements the original qì in the Sānjiāo and dissipates cold from the exterior.

4) Added to harmonizing preparations, it supplements and boosts. Added to sweat-inducing preparations, it resolves the flesh (resolves and reduces heat in the fleshy exterior). Added to cooling preparations, it drains evil heat (e.g., Baihutang or Xiexintang). Added to drastic preparations, it revives right qì (added to ganjiang or fuzi, when you fear their overly up-lifting effect; and added to xiaoshi or dahuang, when you fear their drastic down-moving effect. In all cases, the meaning of this sentence is that it moderates their effect). Added to moistening preparations, it nourishes yīn blood (such as in Zhigancaotang).

5) It is able to assist and harmonize all the other medicinals, causing them to not struggle with each other.

6) It generates flesh and relieves pain (earth rules the flesh and sweetness is able to moderate pain), it frees the flow in the twelve channels, resolves the hundred medicinal toxins (it resolves all toxic medicines. At the same time, you must drink it as an ice-cold beverage. When you consume it hot, it is ineffective. When children are just born, wipe out their mouth to get rid of the malign blood in their mouth, use silk floss soaked in its liquid and let them suck on it, it is able to resolve fetal toxin). Therefore it has the name Country’s Elder.

7) In patterns of center fullness, it is contraindicated (Sweetness causes fullness in people. There’s also the notion that it can be used for draining when used raw, because it is able to draw all the other medicinals to reach the place of fullness. This is what the classic saying ‘Use sweetness to supplement, and use sweetness to drain” refers to. Therefore the Biélù and Zhēn Quán both state that it eliminates fullness, because when the spleen’s function of transport is vigorous, fullness is eliminated. [Zhāng] Zhòngjǐng includes the formula for Gancaoxiexintang to treat glomus fullness. Again, when gāncǎo receives [the effect of] fúlíng, it does not supply fullness but on the contrary drains fullness.

 

More Selections from Chen Xiuyuan:

當歸 Dāngguī

【性味】苦、溫,無毒。

Nature and flavor: Bitter, warm, non-toxic.

 

【功效】主咳逆上氣,溫瘧,寒熱洗洗在皮膚中,婦人漏中絕子,諸惡瘡瘍,金瘡。煮汁飲之。

Effect: Rules cough, counterflow, and ascent of qi, warm malaria, cold and heat with shivering in the skin, women’s leaking from the center and interruption of childbearing, all kinds of malign wounds and sores, and incised wounds. Boil the juice and drink it.

 

【集注】Collected Commentaries

(一)當歸氣溫,稟木氣而入肝;味苦無毒,得火味而入心。

(二)其主咳逆上氣者,心主血、肝臟血,血枯則肝木挾心火而刑金;當歸入肝養血,入心清火所以主之也。

(三)肝為風,心為火,風火為陽,陽盛則為但熱不寒之溫瘧;而肺受風火之邪,肺氣怯不能為皮毛之主,故寒熱洗洗在皮膚之中;當歸能令肝血足而風定,心血足而火息,則皮膚中之寒熱可除也。

(四)肝主臟血,補肝即所以止漏也。手少陰脈動甚,則為有子,補心即所以種子也。

(五) 瘡瘍皆屬心火,血足則心火息矣。金瘡無不失血,血長則金瘡瘳矣。

1) Dāngguī is warm in its qì, is endowed with the spirit of wood and enters the liver. Its flavor is sour and it is non-toxic. When it receives the flavor of fire, it enters the heart.

2) As for its effect of governing cough, counterflow, and qì ascent, the heart rules the blood and the liver stores the blood. When blood is desiccated, liver wood holds fire under the arm (seizes, coerces, clasps?) and then punishes metal (wood engenders fire and metal controls wood). Entering the liver, dāngguī nourishes blood. Entering the heart, it clears fire. For this reason, it governs these [conditions].

3) The liver is wind, and the heart is fire. Wind and fire are yáng, and when yáng is exuberant, the result is a type of warm malaria that is only characterized by heat and has no cold. And when the lung contracts the evil of wind fire, lung qì becomes timid and is unable to serve as ruler for the skin and body hair. Therefore you see cold and heat and shivering in the skin. Dāngguī is able to make liver blood sufficient and thereby settle wind, as well as to make heart blood sufficient and thereby extinguish fire. As a result, the cold and heat in the skin can be eliminated.

4) The liver rules the storage of blood, and supplementing the liver therefore immediately stops leaking. When there is great stirring in the hand Shàoyīn vessel, this means that a woman is with child. By supplementing the heart you will [facilitate] the planting of seeds [i.e., quite literally, the implantation of the fetus].

5) Wounds and sores are all associated with heart fire, and when blood is sufficient, heart fire is extinguished! Metal wounds never occur without the loss of blood, and when blood is made to grow, metal wounds are healed!

 

附子 Fùzǐ

【性味】辛、溫,有大毒。

Nature and flavor: Acrid, warm, has great toxicity.

 

【功效】主風寒咳逆邪氣,溫中,金瘡,破癥堅、積聚、血瘕,寒濕痿躄,拘攣,膝痛,不能行步。

Effect: Rules wind cold cough counterflow evil qì, warming the center, metal wounds[1], breaking concretions and hardenings, accumulations and gatherings, blood aggregations, cold-damp-related wilting and crippling, hypertonicity, knee pain, and inability to walk.

 

【集注】Collected Commentaries

(一)《素問》謂以毒藥攻邪是回生妙手,後人立補養等法是模稜巧術,究竟攻其邪而正氣復,是攻之即所以補之也。

(二)附子味辛氣溫,火性迅發,無所不到,故為回陽救逆第一品藥。

(三)《本經》云:風寒咳逆邪氣,是寒邪之逆於上焦也;寒濕痿躄、拘攣、膝痛不能步行,是寒邪著於下焦筋骨也;癥堅、積聚、血瘕,是寒氣凝結,血滯於中也

(四)考《大觀本》咳逆邪氣句下,有『溫中金瘡』四字,以中寒得暖而溫,血肉得暖而合也。大意上而心肺,下而肝腎,中而脾胃,以及血肉筋骨營衛,因寒濕而病者,無有不宜。即陽氣不足,寒自內生,大汗、大瀉、大喘、中風、卒倒等症,亦必仗此大氣大力之品,方可挽回。此《本經》言外意也。

1) What the Sùwèn refers to as using toxic medicinals to attack evil is the wondrous technique of restoring life. Later people established methods like supplementing and nurturing as the crafty skill of “neither here nor there.” In the end, attacking the patient’s evil and then having right qì returned is precisely the reason why you [can] supplement a patient by attacking.

2) Fùzǐ is acrid in flavor and warm in qì. The nature of fire is to erupt with great speed, and there is nothing that it does not get to. Therefore it constitutes our primary medicinal substance for restoring yáng and rescuing from counterflow.

3) What the Běnjīng calls “wind cold cough counterflow evil qì” is a reference to cold evil moving counterflow in the upper Jiāo. Cold-damp wilting and crippling, hypertonicity, knee pain, and inability to walk are precisely [manifestations of] cold evil attaching itself to the sinews and bones in the lower Jiāo. Concretions and hardenings, accumulations and gatherings, and blood aggregations are precisely [manifestations of] cold qì congealing and binding and of qì stagnating in the center.

4) When we investigate the Dà Guān Běn,[2] under the line for cough counterflow evil qì, we find the four characters “warm the center for metal wounds.” This refers to creating warmth in cold strike by warming the patient, and to creating closure [of wounds] by warming the blood and flesh. The deep underlying meaning of this is that regarding the heart and lung above, the liver and kidney below, the spleen and stomach in the center, and the blood, flesh, sinews, bones, ying provisioning, and wei defense, if any of these have contracted disease because of cold-damp, there is not a single case where this [fùzǐ] is not appropriate. And even in cases of insufficiency of yáng qì and spontaneous internal generation of cold, with symptoms like major sweating, major diarrhea, major panting, wind strike, or sudden inversion, we must also rely on this substance with great qì and great strength as the only way to turn the patient’s condition around and restore life. This is the implied meaning of the Běnjīng.

 

Section Two

(五)又曰:附子主寒濕,諸家俱能解到,而仲景用之,則化而不可知之謂神。且夫人所以生者,陽也,亡陽則死。亡字分二字,一無方切,音忘,逃也,即《春秋傳》出亡之義也;一微夫切,音無,無也,《論語》亡而為有,孟子問有餘曰亡矣之義也。

(六)誤藥大汗不止為亡陽,如唐之辛蜀,仲景用四逆湯、真武湯等法以迎之;吐利厥冷為亡陽,如周之守府,仲景用通脈四逆湯、薑附湯以救之;且太陽之標陽外呈而發熱,附子能使之交於少陰而熱已。少陰之神機病,附子能使自下而上而脈生,周行通達而厥愈;合苦甘之芍、草而補虛,合苦淡之苓、芍而溫固,元妙不能盡述。按其立法,與《本經》之說不同,豈仲景之創見歟?

5) Another quotation: Fùzǐ rules cold-damp, which is something that all doctors understand, and [Zhāng] Zhòngjǐng’s use of it to transform [cold-damp] is something called divine because it is unknowable. Furthermore, the reason why humans are alive is yáng. Yáng collapse results in death. The character 亡 can be divided into two meanings: One is pronounced wáng, with the meaning of “to flee” or “to forget”, as in the meaning of “to flee” in the Chūnqiū Zhuàn. The other is pronounced and has the meaning of “not having.” As in the Lùnyǔ  quotation “Not having and yet considering it as having” and when [Zengzi] asks in the Mencius whether there are any left-overs and he answers that there are none.

6) Mistakenly using medicinals to induce serious sweating that fails to stop, this causes yáng collapse. [The use of fùzǐ in this context] is like Xīn Shǔ from the Táng period and [Zhāng] Zhòngjǐng’s method of using Sinitang or Zhenwutang to welcome it [back]. Using vomiting and disinhibiting in reversal cold, this causes yáng collapse. [The use of fùzǐ in this context] is like the palace guard from Zhōu and Zhòngjǐng using Tongmaisinitang and Jiangfutang to rescue the patient. Moreover, when as a branch symptom in Tàiyáng disease yáng is exposed on the outside, resulting in heat effusion, fùzǐ is able to cause it to intersect with Shàoyīn, and the heat abates. In Shàoyīn diseases triggered by the shén, fùzǐ is able to cause rising from below and for the vessel movement to be generated, for circulation and movement to reach everywhere and reversal to be cured. In combination with bitter and sweet medicinals like shaoyao and gancao, it supplements vacuity. In combination with bitter and bland medicinals like fuling and shaoyao, it warms and secures. The original subtlety of this approach is unfathomable. Given how he established this method, which differs from explanations in the Běnjīng, how on earth did Zhòngjǐng craft this insight?

 

[1] Or, as in the commentary below, “warming the center in the treatment of incised wounds.”

[2] An alternate name for the 證類本草, one of the most important materia medica texts from the Song period. It was published first in 1083 under the leadership of唐慎微.