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Anemarrhena rhizomes

Chinese: 知母

Pinyin: Zhī Mǔ

Parts used: Dried rhizome

TCM category: Herbs that clear Heat and purge Fire and/or clear Summer Heat

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): BitterSweet

Organ affinity: Stomach Kidney Lung

Scientific name: Anemarrhena asphodeloides

Use of anemarrhena rhizomes (Zhi Mu) 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: Slice the root and dry it in a moisture-free room.

Dosage: 6 - 12 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Clears Heat and Fire from the Qi level. Clears Heat and Fire from the Lung and Stomach. Clears Heat and tonifies the Yin.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which anemarrhena rhizomes may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Fever Dry mouth Dry cough Constipation Night sweats Hypersexuality Bleeding gums

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Spleen Deficiency with loose stools and/ or diarrhea. It should also be avoided for Yin Deficiency Heat (because it clears Excess) and should only be used for Wind-Heat conditions.

Common TCM formulas in which anemarrhena rhizomes (Zhi Mu) are used*

Zhi Bo Di Huang Wan

Source date: 1584 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Yin. Drains Fire.

Zhi Mu is a king ingredient in Zhi Bo Di Huang Wan. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Zhi Bo Di Huang Wan, Zhi Mu is bitter and cooling. It removes excess Heat from the body.

Read more about Zhi Bo Di Huang Wan

Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat and inflammations. Unblocks the flow of Yang Qi and promotes movement (in areas with painful obstruction). Clears Wind and Damp. Relieves pain.

Conditions targeted*: Rheumatoid arthritisConnective tissue disorders and others

Zhi Mu is a deputy ingredient in Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang, Zhi Mu works together with White peony root (Bai Shao) - another deputy herb here - to clear Heat and prevent injury to the Yin by recurrent painful obstruction.

The combination of Cinnamon twigs (the key herb here) and White peony root is a common one that harmonizes the functions of the protective and nutritive Qi.

The less common pairing of Anemarrhena rhizome with Cinnamon twigs effectively prevents Heat from stagnating in the joints.

Read more about Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang

Yu Nu Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Drains Heat from the Stomach. Nourishes Yin.

Conditions targeted*: StomatitisGlossitis and others

Zhi Mu is a deputy ingredient in Yu Nu Jian. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Yu Nu Jian, Zhi Mu helps the king herb Shi Gao (Gypsum) clear Heat from the Stomach and also nourishes the Yin.

Read more about Yu Nu Jian

Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes the Yin and clears Heat.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic pyelonephritisPulmonary tuberculosis and others

Zhi Mu is a deputy ingredient in Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang, Zhi Mu nourishes the Yin and clears Heat from Deficiency.

Read more about Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang

Er Xian Tang

Source date: 1950 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Yin and tonifies Yang of the Kidneys. Clears Empty Heat. Regulates the Directing and Penetrating Vessels.

Conditions targeted*: Perimenopausal syndromeEssential hypertension and others

Zhi Mu is an assistant ingredient in Er Xian Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

Read more about Er Xian Tang

Key TCM concepts behind anemarrhena rhizomes (Zhi Mu)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), anemarrhena rhizomes are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that clear Heat and purge Fire and/or clear Summer Heat' category. Herbs in this category are used to clear inflammatory and infectious conditions, referred to as 'Internal Heat' in TCM. This is why most of the herbs in this category will have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. In TCM one has too much 'Internal Heat' in their body as a result of a deficiency of 'Yin' (which is Cold in nature, see our explanation on Yin and Yang) or, more commonly, an Excess of Yang (Hot in nature). Herbs that clear Heat and purge Fire treat the latter and as such tend to be Cold or Neutral in nature.

As suggested by its category anemarrhena rhizomes are plants that are Cold in nature. This means that anemarrhena rhizomes typically help people who have too much 'Heat' in their body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Heat in their body are said to either have a Yang Excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition anemarrhena rhizomes can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Anemarrhena rhizomes also taste Bitter and Sweet. 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 anemarrhena rhizomes tend 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 Sweet ingredients tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such anemarrhena rhizomes are thought to target the Stomach, the Kidney and the Lung. In TCM the Stomach 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 anemarrhena rhizomes (Zhi Mu)

Diabetic mice treated with Anemarrhena asphodeloides (AA) had significantly reduced blood glucose levels in an insulin tolerance test. Based on these results, the antidiabetic mechanism of AA may be due to decreased insulin resistance.1

Steroidal saponins of Anemarrhena asphodeloides prevented ovariectomy-induced bone loss in rats through the promotion of bone formation.2


1. T Miura, H Ichiki, N Iwamoto, M Kato et al. (2001). Antidiabetic Activity of the Rhizoma of Anemarrhena asphodeloides and Active Components, Mangiferin and Its Glucoside. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 24(9): 1009-1011. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1248/bpb.24.1009

2. H Nian, L Qin, W Chen, Q Zhang, H Zheng et al. (2006). Protective effect of steroidal saponins from rhizome of Anemarrhena asphodeloides on ovariectomy-induced bone loss in rats. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica, 27:728–734. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-7254.2006.00328.x