English: Agarwood

Chinese: 沉香

Parts used: Wood shavings

TCM category: Herbs that regulate Qi

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): BitterPungent

Organ affinity: Spleen Stomach Kidney Lung

Scientific name: Aquilaria sinensis

Other names: Aloeswood, Gharuwood

Use of Chen Xiang (agarwood) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Cut the wood, remove the part that doesn't contain resin and dry it

Dosage: 1 - 3 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Assists in the flow of Qi and relieves pain. Assists the Kidneys in grasping the Qi of the Lungs. Directs the flow of Qi downward and dispels Cold from the Spleen and Stomach.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Chen Xiang may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Chest congestion Abdominal bloating Abdominal pain Chest pain Asthma Vomiting Wheezing Hiccups Acid reflux

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with prolapsed organs caused by Qi Deficiency or by those with Yin Deficiency with Heat signs.

Common TCM formulas in which Chen Xiang is used*

Nuan Gan Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Liver and Kidneys. Promotes the movement of Qi. Alleviates pain.

Conditions targeted*: VaricoceleHydrocele and others

Chen Xiang is a deputy ingredient in Nuan Gan Jian. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Nuan Gan Jian, Chen Xiang enhances the actions of the key herbs by promoting the movement of Qi and alleviating pain, especially in the lower abdomen.

Read more about Nuan Gan Jian

Si Mo Tang

Source date: 1253 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Promotes the movement of Qi. Directs rebellious Qi downward. Expands the chest and dissipates clumping.

Conditions targeted*: Bronchial asthmaEmphysema and others

Chen Xiang is a deputy ingredient in Si Mo Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Si Mo Tang, Chen Xiang smoothes the flow of Qi, directing it downward from the Lungs to the Kidneys. Working synergistically with the key herb Wu Yao, this combination effectively disperses Stagnation.

Read more about Si Mo Tang

Key TCM concepts behind Chen Xiang's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Chen Xiang belongs to the 'Herbs that regulate Qi' category. Herbs in this category typically treat a TCM condition called 'Qi Stagnation'. Concretely it means that Qi is blocked in the body's Organs and Meridians, most typically the Stomach, Liver, and to a lesser extent, the Lungs. In modern medicine terms, Qi Stagnation often translates into psychological consequences such as depression, irritability or mood swings. It's also frequently associated with conditions such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopausal symptoms, the development of breast swellings as well as various digestive disorders.

Furthermore Chen Xiang is Warm in nature. This means that Chen Xiang tends to help people who have too much 'Cold' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Cold in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess (because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition Chen Xiang can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Chen Xiang also tastes Bitter and Pungent. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like Chen Xiang tends to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. On the other hand Pungent ingredients tend to promote the circulations of Qi and Body Fluids. That's why for instance someone tends to sweat a lot when they eat spicy/pungent food.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Chen Xiang is thought to target the Spleen, the Stomach, the Kidney and the Lung. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. The Stomach on the other hand is responsible for receiving and ripening ingested food and fluids. It is also tasked with descending the digested elements downwards to the Small Intestine. The Kidneys do not only regulate the urinary system but also play a key role in the reproductive system and the growth and aging process of the body. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought in TCM to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the Body Fluids that nourish the body.

Research on Chen Xiang

Extract of agarwood leaves has shown activity against pain and inflammation in mice.1


1. Zhou, M; Wang, H; Suolangjiba; Kou, J; Yu, B (May 2008), "Antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory activities of Aquilaria sinensis (Lour.) Gilg. Leaves extract", Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 117 (2): 345–50, doi:10.1016/j.jep.2008.02.005