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Black atractylodes rhizomes

Chinese: 苍术

Pinyin: Cāng Zhú

Parts used: The dried rhizome

TCM category: Aromatic herbs that transform Dampness

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): BitterPungent

Organ affinity: Spleen Stomach

Scientific name: Atractylodes lancea or Atractylodes chinensis

Use of black atractylodes rhizomes (Cang 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, wash, moisturize, cut into thick slices and dry.

Dosage: 3 - 9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Dries Damp and tonifies the Spleen. Relieves the Exterior for invasion of Wind-Cold-Damp. Relieves Wind-Damp painful obstruction. Dries Damp for either Damp-Cold or Damp-Heat when combined with the correct herbs. Clears the eyes and improves sight.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which black atractylodes rhizomes may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Rheumatic athralgia Edema Loss of appetite Abdominal distention Diarrhea Beriberi Poor eyesight Joint pain Impaired vision Blurred vision

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

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

Cang Fu Dao Tan Wan

Source date: 1817 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Resolves Dampness and Phlegm.

Cang Zhu is a king ingredient in Cang Fu Dao Tan Wan. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Cang Fu Dao Tan Wan, Cang Zhu resolves Dampness and Phlegm

Read more about Cang Fu Dao Tan Wan

Ping Wei San

Source date: 1051 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Dries Dampness. Improves the Spleen's transportive function. Promotes the movement of Qi. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Conditions targeted*: Peptic ulcersChronic gastritis and others

Cang Zhu is a king ingredient in Ping Wei San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ping Wei San, Cang Zhu is perhaps the best Chinese herb for dispelling Dampness and strengthening the transportive function of the Spleen.

Read more about Ping Wei San

Wei Ling Tang

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Promotes urination. Warms the Yang. Strengthens the Spleen. Drains Dampness. Promotes the movement of Qi. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Conditions targeted*: EdemaGastritis and others

Cang Zhu is a king ingredient in Wei Ling Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Wei Ling Tang, Cang Zhu is perhaps the best Chinese herb for dispelling Dampness and strengthening the transportive function of the Spleen.

Read more about Wei Ling 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

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

In Wan Dai Tang, Cang Zhu is very effective in removing Dampness.

Read more about Wan Dai Tang

Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang

Source date: 1587 AD

Number of ingredients: 16 herbs

Formula key actions: Expels Wind Damp from the Channels. Invigorates Blood. Unblocks the channels.

Conditions targeted*: ArthralgiaBell's palsy and others

Cang Zhu is an assistant ingredient in Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang, Cang Zhu releases Wind Cold Damp from the Exterior and relieves Wind Damp obstruction pain. 

Read more about Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang

Er Miao San

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 2 herbs

Formula key actions: Expels Dampness from the Lower Burner. Drains Heat from the Lower Burner.

Conditions targeted*: OsteoarthritisGout and others

In Er Miao San, Cang Zhu resolves Damp Heat from the Middle Burner such as the Spleen. Its acrid and warming nature supports the Spleen's transformation and transportation function. It also moderates the bitter, cooling, and downward-directing aspect of Phellodendron bark.  

Read more about Er Miao San

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

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), black atractylodes rhizomes are plants that belong to the 'Aromatic herbs that transform Dampness' category. This category of herbs resolves a TCM condition called 'Cold Damp Stagnation', especially as it affects the Stomach and Spleen. In modern medicine this often translates into symptoms such as distended chest and abdomen, lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting

As suggested by its category black atractylodes rhizomes are plants that are Warm in nature. This means that black 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 black atractylodes rhizomes can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Black atractylodes rhizomes also taste 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 black 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 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 black 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.