Bai Zhu (Atractylodes Macrocephala)
Awarded the title as The First Herb of Invigorating Qi and Strengthening Spleen, no doubt Bai Zhu (Atractylodes Macrocephala) lives up to that reputation thanks for its consistent performance. As one of eight well-known medicinal specialties in Zhejiang province, this Chinese herb is produced mainly in Shao Xing.
Given its special effect in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is treated as an equal to Ren Shen (Ginseng). Thus an old saying goes: “Ren Shen in the north and Bai Zhu in the south.” Through the famous classic formula of Si Jun Zi Tang, Four Gentleman Decoction, a quick glance will be given to their significance. Just a quick footnote here, it is the fundamental formula for deficiency of spleen and stomach Qi, which is the inspiration source of numerous subsequent formulas aiming to tonify spleen and benefit vital energy.
What is Bai Zhu?
Also known as White Atractylodes Rhizome or Atractylodes Macrocephala Rhizome, it refers to the root of Atractylodes macrocephala Koidz., which is a perennial herb, 30 to 60 in height. Rhizome is fleshy and clenched like a fist. Stem is erect and branching in upper part. Leaves grow alternatively, 3-parted or undivided in upper stem, elliptic lobes, and margined with spinescents. This perennial flowering plant is with terminal capitulum, bell-shaped involucre, purple-red corolla, and slightly flattened ellipsoid achene. Flowering period is July to September and fruit-bearing stage is August to October.
The medicinal part is the root, which is collected in winter, dirt removed, dried over a fire or in the sun, and fibril removed. It clenches like a fist, 3 to 13cm long, and 1.5 to 7cm in diameter. The surface is grayish yellow or grayish brown in color, with tubercule and intermittent lengthwise wrinkles and fibril scars, and remnant stem base and bud scars on top. The texture is hard and difficult to break. Traverse cross section is uneven, yellowish white to light brown, and scattered with brownish yellow oil spots. It has a delicate fragrance and sweet but pungent taste. But it is sticky when chewing.
What is it used for?
Now modern researches show that it can adjust gastrointestinal motility, fight ulcer, protect liver, improve immune system, relieve stress, enhance hematopoietic function, induce diuresis, fight oxidation, slow down aging, regulate blood sugar level, and fight cancer. Compared with the traditional applications, above-mentioned findings is perfectly in line with them, which to some extent gives more scientific proof to this amazing herb.
Property and indications
From the TCM’s perspective, it is bitter, sweet, and warm in nature and goes to meridians of spleen and stomach. Main functions are to invigorate Qi and strengthen the spleen, eliminate dampness and promote diuresis, stop sweat, and prevent miscarriage. Main clinical usage and indications are lack of appetite due to spleen deficiency, abdominal distension and diarrhea, dizziness and palpitation caused by phlegm and retained fluid, edema, spontaneous sweating, and fetal irritability. Regular dosage is 6 to 12 grams.
Atractylodes ( Bai Zhu )
Atractylodes ( Bai Zhu ) 白朮 Chinese Herbs Articles, also known as dong zhu 冬朮、xia zhu 夏朮，yun zhu 云朮，tai bai zhu 台白朮，wa zhu 蛙朮，ji yabn zhu 雞眼朮. It belong to the “” family.
Atractylodes ( Bai Zhu ) 白朮 has a aromatic, slightly acrid, non toxic and sweet and it is a little sticky when chewed. It is use for treating the spleen and stomach.
Atractylodes ( Bai Zhu ) 白朮 Medical Function:
1. Digestive System
• Protects Liver: Extraction of bai zhu (by boiling with water) was given to lab mice that had liver damage caused by carbon chloride. It lessened the necrosis and mutation of liver cells, and improved the new growth of the liver cells. It lowered the glutamate-pyruvate transaminase (GPT) that was increased.
• Improves gall secretion
• Prevents ulcer of stomach
• Improves movements of intestines and bowels
3. Improves immune system
4. Anti Cancer
Laboratory tests showed that neutral oil of the vaporizing oil bai zhu could inhibit esophagus cancer cells. 10mg/ml/hour could detach all the cancer cells. 5mg/ml/hour could detach most of the cancer cells and damaged the remaining cells. The nucleus became hazy and the cells became empty bubbles. 5. Affects heart and blood vessels
6. Lowers blood sugar
7. Anti coagulation of blood
8. Anti bacteria
Atractylodes ( Bai Zhu ) 白朮 Use Cautions:
Atractylodes ( Bai Zhu ) 白朮 should be use cautiously in cases of giddiness[ yinxu ] (yin deficient).
The investigation of the aromatic oils is a key to understanding the atractylodes herbal materials, particularly cangzhu. Atractylodes lancea is rich in a volatile oil, making up 3.5-7% of the dried rhizome, with atractylodin, β-eudesmol, hinesol, elemol, atractylone, and β-selinene; A. chinensis and other substitute species have less essential oil. The main constituents in the essential oils from the rhizome of A. chinensis are β-eudesmol and atractylone; A. lancea also has hinesol as a major constituent. β-eudesmol is a major component of the essential oil of magnolia bark, an herb in the same Materia Medica category as cangzhu. The fraction comprising the combination of hinesol and eudesmol in A. lancea is called atractylol, and this is the reddish substance appearing on the surface of the sliced rhizome, giving the name red atractylodes.
Atractylodes macrocephala (baizhu) has less essential oil than the cangzhu varieties, with only 0.35-1.35% and with atractylone as the main component, along with smaller amounts of other lactones having similar structure. The differences in chemical composition help confirm that the two herbs (cangzhu and baizhu) may have differing properties, further justifying their separation in the Materia Medica.
Since white atractylodes has little essential oil, and even less of it after being fried (the heat drives off or destroys volatile components), other active ingredients may be present to explain its functions. A component called atractylenolide (a group of sesquiterpene lactones; three noted thus far) is found in baizhu; this component increases with frying of the herb (highest in lightly fried herb, which has turned yellowish, not brown). In terms of the atractylodes effects, it is thought that these components may serve as antispasmodic agents, thus reducing intestinal contractions associated with diarrhea. Diuretic action, measured in laboratory animal experiments, has been attributed to both volatile and non-volatile compounds of atractylodes, including ß-eudesmol, sesquiterpene lactones, and polyacetylenes
Atractylodes refers mainly to Atractylodes macrocephala (macro = big; cephala = head; so, big-headed atractylodes) known in Chinese as baizhu. Less frequently used is Atractylodes lancea (lancea = lance-like, so lance-leaved atractylodes) or its less-desirable (somewhat weaker) substitutes, such as A. chinensis, A. japonicum, and A. ovata, known in Chinese as cangzhu (see plant photos below). The basic term zhu was the only one used when atractylodes was first recorded in the ancient Shennong Bencao Jing (ca. 100 A.D.); the division between these two related herb materials first occurred in the Mingyi Bielu (ca. 500 A.D.). At that time, the tuber-like rhizomes of these plants were specified as either baizhu (bai = white) and chizhu (chi = red), referring to the color observed in the sliced rhizomes, the red being due to spots of accumulated oils. Later,chizhu was renamed cangzhu (cang = gray or black), which refers to the appearance of the outer skin of the rhizome, a dark gray-black color.
Rhizomes with rootlets and stems, freshly pulled Atractylodes lancea.
Dried, whole rhizomes of Atractylodes macrocephala with rootlets and stems removed.
Related Chinese herbal formulas
This herb is widely used in TCM practice. Only in Shang Han Lun (Treatise on Febrile Diseases) and Jin Gui Yao Lue (Synopsis of Golden Chamber), it has been enlisted in 35 formulas. The list can be much longer if taking all later formulas into consideration. However, just a few of them are shared here just for your reference.
(1). Li Zhong Tang or Wan, from Shang Han Lun, has four ingredient herbs. The other three are Ren Shen (Ginseng), Gan Cao (Licorice), and Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger). It is mainly used for epigastric distention and pain and difficulty in urination.
(2). Si Jun Zi Tang, from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Bureau of People’s Welfare Pharmacy), exchanges Fu Ling (Poria) for Gan Jiang on the basis of Li Zhong Tang or Wan. Its indications are pale complexion, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, fatigue, light-colored tongue with white coating, and weak pulse. This formula is derived from the famous Li Zhong Wan. It is well known that Gan Jiang rescues devastated yang for its warm nature while Fu Ling is much mild. Thus the whole formula has changed its nature and they turn into four gentleman.
(3). Shen Ling Bai Zhu San, from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Bureau of People’s Welfare Pharmacy), is the formula that add Shan Yao (Chinese Yam), Lian Zi (Lotus Seed), Bai Bian Dou (Hyacinth Bean), Yi Yi Ren (Seeds of Job’s Tears), Sha Ren (Cardamon), and Jie Geng (Balloon Flower Rhizome) on the basis of Si Jun Zi Tang. It is typically used for excessive damp due to spleen deficiency. According to interpromotion of Five Elements, it is a typical application of reinforcing earth to generate metal. By the way, its other forms like Pian (tablet) and Wan (teapills) are popular over-the-counter drugs in China up to this day.
(4). Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang, from Yi Xue Xin Wu (Medical Revelations), is mainly used for abnormal ascending of phlegm and retained fluid, palpitation caused by excessive phlegm, dizziness and headache. Besides the mentioned three herbs, others are Chen Pi (Tangerine Peel), Fu Ling (Poria), Gan Cao, Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger Rhizome), Da Zao (Chinese Date, Jujube), and Man Jing Zi (Vitex Fruit Seed).
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- Hsu HY and Peacher WG (editors), Shang Han Lun: The Great Classic of Chinese Medicine, 1981 Oriental Healing Arts Institute, Long Beach, CA.
- Hsu HY and Wang SY (translators), Chin Kuei You Lueh, 1983 Oriental Healing Arts Institute, Long Beach, CA.
- Mitchell C, et al. (translators), Ten Lectures on the Use of Medicinals from their Personal Experience of Jiao Shude, 2003 Paradigm Publications, Brookline, Mass.
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- Ding HY, Wu, YC, and Liu HC, Phytochemical and pharmacological studies on Chinese cangzhu, Journal of the Chinese Chemical Society 2000; 47: 561-566.
- Huang Bingshan and Wang Yuxia, Thousand Formulas and Thousand Herbs of Traditional Chinese Medicine, vol. 2, 1993 Heilongjiang Education Press, Harbin.
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- He Shanan and Sheng Ning, Utilization and conservation of medicinal plants in China with special reference to Atractylodes lancea, 1995 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.