English: Bugbane rhizomes

Chinese: 升麻

Parts used: Dried rhizome

TCM category: Cool/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

TCM nature: Cool

TCM taste(s): PungentSweet

Organ affinity: Large intestine Lung Spleen Stomach

Scientific name: Cimicifuga heracleifolia, Cimicifuga dahurica or Cimicifuga foetida

Other names: Cohosh

Use of Sheng Ma (bugbane rhizomes) 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 and soak in water, slice and dry.

Dosage: 3 - 9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Relieves the Exterior, scatters Wind and clears Heat. Allows the release of toxicity from the skin and clears Heat. Raises the Yang associated with Middle Qi Deficiency. Directs herbs upwards. Cools the Blood.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Sheng Ma may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Headache Toothache Mouth ulcers Sore throat Measles Uterine prolapse Rectal prolapse

Contraindications*: Should not be used by those who have full blown measles or by those with Yin Deficiency. It should also not be used by those with Excess in the upper regions and Deficiency in the lower part of the body.

Common TCM formulas in which Sheng Ma is used*

Qing Wei San

Source date: 1336 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Drains Stomach Fire. Cools the Blood. Nourishes the Yin.

Conditions targeted*: StomatitisPeriodontitis and others

Sheng Ma is a deputy ingredient in Qing Wei San. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Qing Wei San, Sheng Ma raises and disperses the Heat and resolves toxicity.

Discussion of Medicinal Properties, a Chinese medicine classic, lists it as a specific herb for toothache, ulcers, and festering sores in the mouth.

Its synergy with Goldthread rhizome (Huang Lian) , the key herb in this formula, ensures that draining of Fire does not harm the Qi dynamic, and that the ascent of Yang does not further fan the rising Fire.

Read more about Qing Wei San

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

Sheng Ma 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, Sheng Ma helps raise the sunken Yang Qi

Read more about Ju Yuan Jian

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

Sheng Ma is an envoy ingredient in Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang. This means that it directs the formula towards certain area of the body and/or harmonizes the actions of other ingredients.

In Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, Sheng Ma helps raise the sunken Yang Qi, together with Bupleurum root (Chai Hu) - the formula's other envoy.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Key TCM concepts behind Sheng Ma's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Sheng Ma belongs to the 'Cool/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior' category. Herbs that release the Exterior aim to to treat the early stages of diseases that affect the upper respiratory tract, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the throat or the skin. TCM believes that External diseases such as colds or allergies can only invade the body if the External environment overwhelms our Wei Qi (the TCM version of the immune system). In order to counteract this invasion Cool/Acrid herbs aim to induce sweating by dilating our capillary pores so that they release more sweat. The belief is that this will expel the disease from the body and stop it from invading further.

As suggested by its category Sheng Ma is Cool in nature. This means that Sheng Ma tends to help people who have too much 'Heat' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Cold in nature. 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 Sheng Ma can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Sheng Ma also tastes Pungent 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. Pungent ingredients like Sheng Ma tends 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. 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 Sheng Ma is thought to target the Large intestine, the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach. In TCM the Large Intestine receives the "impure" parts of the digested food from the Small Intestine, absorbs the remaining fluids and excrete the remainder as feces. 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. The Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. 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.

Research on Sheng Ma

An investigation of the effects of Cimicifuga heracleifolia (CH) on bone loss in ovariectomized (OVX) mice concluded that CH might be protective against osteoporosis. 1

Cimicifuga heracleifolia ethanol extract and its constituents could be utilized for the treatment and/or prevention of gastric injury.2


1. Ahn, B. , Yang, M. , Jang, H. , Lee, H. J., Moon, C. , Kim, J. , Jung, U. , Jo, S. K., Jang, J. and Kim, S. (2012), B.‐S. AHN ET AL.. Phytother. Res., 26: 663-668. doi:10.1002/ptr.3624

2. Mijeong Kim, In Young Hwang, Je-Hyuk Lee, Kun Ho Son, Choon-Sik Jeong, Joohee Jung (2011). Protective Effect of Cimicifuga heracleifolia Ethanol Extract and Its Constituents against Gastric Injury. Journal of Health Science, 57(3): 289-292. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1248/jhs.57.289