Plants Used for Medicine in China

Chinese medicinal herbs were first used by the early Taoists in the mountains of China nearly 4,000 years ago. The repertoire of healing herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, has grown exponentially since its inception. Some plants and foodstuffs used in healing formulas can be found in a backyard or kitchen: green onion, ginger, cinnamon or a mulberry tree, for example, are all imbued with healing properties.

Cong Bai

Cong bai is the Chinese name for "spring onion," or green onion. Green onion is used as a defense against the common cold. It falls into the category of "warm, acrid herbs that release the exterior." Most often, dehydrated herbs are given to the patient who then "decocts"--that is, extracts its essence by heating or boiling the herbs-- her herbal formula and drinks it like tea. Cong bai is an herb often consumed fresh inside a broth to help prevent the beginnings of a cold from settling into the body. The common cold is known as a "wind-cold invasion" in TCM diagnostics.

Sheng Jiang

Sheng jiang is ginger. Fresh ginger is added to a formula when the prescription contains an herb that is difficult to digest. Occasionally, a healing herb has toxic properties that ginger neutralizes; this is why ginger is often served with raw fish. Sheng jiang and cong bai are often cooked together in a broth. Ginger also has healing potential in helping prevent a wind-cold invasion.

Gui Zhi

Gui zhi is a form of cinnamon. Gui zhi is higher quality and processed differently from ordinary kitchen cinnamon. Gui zhi is also used to treat wind-cold invasions that include sweat as a symptom. In some cases, sweating alone may "push out" a wind-cold invasion, but gui zhi is used when sweating is ineffective. Gui zhi is one of the few herbs that is easy on the palate, with its sweet taste.

The Sangs

The sangs are a group of herbs from different healing categories that come from the mulberry tree. The leaf of the tree, or sang ye, is useful for allergy symptoms, such as red, itchy eyes, or what a TCM physician calls "heat." Dehydrated sang ye is added to a formula and often combined with other herbs to treat a patient's complaint as well as any underlying imbalances that may have led to his bothersome symptoms.