Atractylodes rhizomes

Chinese: 白术

Pinyin: Bái Zhú

Parts used: Dried rhizome

TCM category: Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): BitterSweet

Organ affinity: Spleen Stomach

Scientific name: Atractylodes macrocephala

Use of atractylodes rhizomes (Bai Zhu) 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: Remove impurities, soak in water, wash, slice and dry.

Dosage: 3 - 9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Tonifies the Spleen Qi. Fortifies the Spleen Yang and dispels Damp through urination. Tonifies Qi and stops sweating. Calms restless fetus when due to Deficiency of Spleen Qi.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which atractylodes rhizomes may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Loss of appetite Abdominal colic Abdominal bloating Diarrhea Palpitations Edema Night sweats Miscarriage

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Yin Deficiency with Heat signs or with extreme thirst.

Common TCM formulas in which atractylodes rhizomes (Bai Zhu) are used*

Yue Ju Wan

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Promotes the movement of Qi. Releases all types of Stagnation (Qi, Blood, Phlegm, Fire, Food and Dampness).

Conditions targeted*: Peptic ulcersIrritable bowel syndrome and others

Bai Zhu is a king ingredient in Yue Ju Wan. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Yue Ju Wan, Bai Zhu releases Qi-Stagnation and clears Dampness and Phlegm. It also helps relieve the symptoms of focal distention in the chest and copious sputum.

Read more about Yue Ju Wan

Gui Pi Tang

Source date: 1529 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies and nourish Qi and Blood. Tonifies Heart and Spleen.

Conditions targeted*: Nervous exhaustionMyasthenia gravis and others

Bai Zhu is a king ingredient in Gui Pi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Gui Pi Tang, Bai Zhu strengthens the Spleen and dries Dampness.

Read more about Gui Pi Tang

Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang

Source date: 1827 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Supports Kidney Yang. Supplies Spleen Qi. Expels Cold and Dampness from the Uterus.

Bai Zhu is a king ingredient in Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang, Bai Zhu nourishes the Qi of the back and umbilicus 

Read more about Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang

Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Yang.

Bai Zhu is a king ingredient in Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang, Bai Zhu tonifies and raise Qi.

Read more about Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang

Wan Dai Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies the Middle Burner. Removes Dampness. Stops vaginal discharge. Strengthens the Spleen.

Conditions targeted*: PreeclampsiaOtitis media and others

Bai Zhu is a king ingredient in Wan Dai Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Wan Dai Tang, Bai Zhu strengthens the Spleen, tonifies Qi, removes Dampness, and builds up the Essence. Bai Zhu and Shan Yao (Yam) work collaboratively. They enters the extraordinary Vessels and support the Girdle Vessel in securing the Channels.

Read more about Wan Dai Tang

Si Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic gastritisPeptic ulcers and others

Bai Zhu is a deputy ingredient in Si Jun Zi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Si Jun Zi Tang, Bai Zhu strengthens the Spleen and dries Dampness.

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang

Liu Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach. Clears Phlegm and mucus. Promotes appetite.

Conditions targeted*: AnorexiaPeptic ulcers and others

Bai Zhu is a deputy ingredient in Liu Jun Zi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Liu Jun Zi Tang, Bai Zhu strengthens the Spleen and dries Dampness.

Read more about Liu Jun Zi Tang

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Source date: 1247

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner). Raises the Yang. Detoxifies. Lifts what has sunken.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic hepatitisArrhythmia and others

Bai Zhu is a deputy ingredient in Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, Bai Zhu is sweet and warm and tonify the Qi of the Middle Burner.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Fang Ji Huang Qi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Diuretic, clears Excess fluid and removes edema. Tonifies the Spleen Qi. Calms External Wind.

Conditions targeted*: AscitesEdema and others

Bai Zhu is a deputy ingredient in Fang Ji Huang Qi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Fang Ji Huang Qi Tang, Bai Zhu strengthens the Spleen and resolves Dampness. It assists Milkvetch root (Huang Qi) in stabilizing the Exterior (Protective Qi) and Stephania root (Han Fang Ji) in resolving the Dampness.

Read more about Fang Ji Huang Qi Tang

Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang

Source date: 1732 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Dries and dissolves Phlegm. Strengthens the Spleen. Smoothes the Liver and calms Liver Wind (antispasmodic).

Conditions targeted*: Meniere's diseaseHypertension and others

Bai Zhu is a deputy ingredient in Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang, Bai Zhu reinforces the actions of the main ingredients in treating Phlegm.

Its sweet warmth tonifies the Spleen, its bitterness dries Dampness, and its aromatic quality supports the transportive and transformative functions of the Spleen.

It promotes water metabolism, yet also generates Body Fluids and thereby addresses the Fluids disharmony that is at the heart of the pattern treated by this formula.

Read more about Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang

Zhen Wu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies the Yang and Qi of the Spleen and Kidneys. Eliminates Dampness.

Conditions targeted*: Congestive heart failureChronic glomerulonephritis and others

Bai Zhu is a deputy ingredient in Zhen Wu Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Zhen Wu Tang, Bai Zhu works together with Poria-Cocos mushroom (Fu Ling), another deputy herb here, to strengthen the Spleen and promote urination. 

Read more about Zhen Wu Tang

Fu Zi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Meridians. Assists the Yang. Dispels Cold. Transforms Dampness.

Conditions targeted*: MigraineCluster headache and others

Bai Zhu is a deputy ingredient in Fu Zi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Fu Zi Tang, Bai Zhu works together with Poria (Fu Ling), the other deputy herb here, to strengthen the Spleen, promote urination, and provide a route for the Dampness to exit the body.

Read more about Fu Zi Tang

Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Nourishes the Heart. Calms the spirit.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaNonhealing ulcers and others

Bai Zhu is a deputy ingredient in Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang, Bai Zhu helps Ginseng tonify the Qi

Read more about Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang

Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1675 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Spleen and Stomach Qi. Removes Dampness. Moves Qi. Alleviates pain.

Bai Zhu is a deputy ingredient in Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang, Bai Zhu tonifies Spleen Qi and Stomach Qi and resolves Dampness

Read more about Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang

Ba Zhen Tang

Source date: 1326 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies and augments Qi. Tonifies and augments Blood.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaHepatitis and others

Bai Zhu is a deputy ingredient in Ba Zhen Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Ba Zhen Tang, Bai Zhu strengthens the Spleen and dry Dampness. Therefore it helps the main ingredient Ren Shen (Ginseng) in fortifying the Spleen and Lungs Qi

Read more about Ba Zhen Tang

Ju Yuan Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood.

Conditions targeted*: Heavy menstruationMetrorrhagia and others

Bai Zhu is a deputy ingredient in Ju Yuan Jian. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Ju Yuan Jian, Bai Zhu is sweet and warm and tonify the Qi of the Middle Burner.

Read more about Ju Yuan Jian

Xiao Yao San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen. Relieves Liver Qi stagnation. Nourishes the Blood.

Conditions targeted*: HepatitisCholecystitis and others

Bai Zhu is an assistant ingredient in Xiao Yao San. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Xiao Yao San, Bai Zhu works together with Poria mushrooms to strengthen the Spleen. Indeed, as described in the famous TCM treaty Essentials from the Golden Cabinet: "When one sees a Liver disorder, one knows that the Liver will transmit it to the Spleen. Therefore, one should first treat the Spleen." Strengthening the Spleen, since it 'rules transformation and transportation', has a direct positive impact on Blood Deficiency.

Read more about Xiao Yao San

Wu Ling San

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Promotes urination,. Warms the Yang. Strengthens the Spleen. Promotes Qi transformation function. Drains Dampness. Clears edema.

Conditions targeted*: EdemaGlomerulonephritis and others

Bai Zhu is an assistant ingredient in Wu Ling San. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Wu Ling San, Bai Zhu strengthens the Spleen Qi, thereby helping it transform and transport Fluids (one of its key roles) and thus helping resolve Dampness.

Read more about Wu Ling San

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

Bai Zhu is an assistant ingredient in Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang, Bai Zhu works with Cinnamon twigs (the key herb here) to unblock the flow of Yang Qi and leach out Dampness.

Read more about Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang

Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and transforms Phlegm-Fluids. Strengthens the Spleen. Resolves Dampness.

Conditions targeted*: Meniere's diseaseBasilar insufficiency and others

Bai Zhu is an assistant ingredient in Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang, Bai Zhu strengthens the transforming and transporting functions of the Spleen and dries Dampness. Together with Gui Zhi (Cinnamon twigs), it tonifies the Spleen Yang more strongly so that the excessive Dampness is resolved more easily. 

Read more about Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang

Jia Wei Xiao Yao San

Source date: Ming dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Liver and Spleen Qi Stagnation. Tonifies Spleen. Clears Deficient Heat. Nourishes the blood.

Conditions targeted*: InfertilityMenorrhagia and others

In Jia Wei Xiao Yao San, Bai Zhu works together with Poria mushrooms (Fu Ling) to strengthen the Spleen. Indeed, as described in the famous TCM treaty Essentials from the Golden Cabinet: "When one sees a Liver disorder, one knows that the Liver will transmit it to the Spleen. Therefore, one should first treat the Spleen." Strengthening the Spleen, since it "rules transformation and transportation", has a direct positive impact on Blood-Deficiency.

Read more about Jia Wei Xiao Yao San

Tuo Li Xiao Du San

Source date: 1548 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Draws out toxicity. Expels pus from the interior. Tonifies Qi and Blood.

In Tuo Li Xiao Du San, Bai Zhu fortifies the Spleen and tonifies Qi to expel toxins and remove pus.

Read more about Tuo Li Xiao Du San

Ba Zhen Yi Mu Tang

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Invigorates the Blood.

Conditions targeted*: Infertility and others

In Ba Zhen Yi Mu Tang, Bai Zhu strengthens the Spleen and dry Dampness. Therefore it assists Ginseng in strengthening the Qi of the Spleen and Lungs.

Read more about Ba Zhen Yi Mu Tang

Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San

Source date: 2002 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Liver Fire from Stagnant Liver Qi.

In Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San, Bai Zhu works together with Poria mushrooms (Fu Ling) to strengthen the Spleen, which rules transformation and transportation. It has a direct positive impact on Blood Deficiency.

Read more about Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San

Shi Quan Da Bu Tang

Source date: 1180 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies Qi. Warms and tonifies Blood.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaNervous exhaustion and others

In Shi Quan Da Bu Tang, Bai Zhu strengthens the Spleen and dries Dampness.

Read more about Shi Quan Da Bu Tang

Key TCM concepts behind atractylodes rhizomes (Bai Zhu)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), atractylodes rhizomes are plants that belong to the 'Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency' category. Tonic herbs are used for patterns of Deficiency, when one lacks one of the 'Four Treasures' (Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang). Qi tonics are typically sweet and they tend to enter the Spleen and Lungs because these Organs are most involved with the production of Qi.

Furthermore atractylodes rhizomes are plants that are Warm in nature. This means that atractylodes rhizomes tend 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 atractylodes rhizomes can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Atractylodes 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 atractylodes 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 atractylodes rhizomes are thought to target the Spleen and the Stomach. 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.

Research on atractylodes rhizomes (Bai Zhu)

Xiaozhang Recipe (consisting of large head atractylodes rhizome) in combination of lamivudine could improve the liver function of chronic viral hepatitis B patients with compensated liver cirrhosis and hepatitis B virus deoxyribonucleic acid.1

Sources:

1. Zhou ZH, Li M, Huang LY. (2011). Study of xiaozhang recipe combined with lamivudine in treatment of 84 chronic viral hepatitis B patients with compensated liver cirrhosis. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi, 31(9):1220-3.