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Cinnabar (Zhu Sha) in Chinese Medicine


Chinese: 硃砂

Pinyin: Zhū Shā

Parts used: The mineral itself

TCM category: Herbs that anchor and calm the Spirit

TCM nature: Cool

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Organ affinity: Heart

Scientific name: Mercury sulfide

Other names: Cinnabarite

Use of cinnabar (Zhu Sha) 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: Crush the mineral into a powder

Dosage: 0.3 - 2 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Calms the spirit and Heart. Stops convulsions. Clears Heat and toxins.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which cinnabar may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Palpitations Insomnia Restlessness Convulsions Fever Epilepsy Boils Carbuncles Sores Snake bites

Contraindications*: This is a toxic mineral that contains mercury, it should not be used in large doses or for extended periods of time. Cinnabar should not be used by those without Heat signs. DO NOT COOK as this will increase its toxicity.

Common TCM formulas in which cinnabar (Zhu Sha) are used*

Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan

Source date: 16th century

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Nutritive tonic: Nourishes Yin, Blood and Vital Essence of the Heart and Kidney. Clears away pathogenic Heat, clears Deficient Heat. Sedative.

Conditions targeted*: Perimenopausal syndromeChronic urticaria and others

Zhu Sha is an envoy ingredient in Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan. This means that it directs the formula towards certain area of the body and/or harmonizes the actions of other ingredients.

In Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan, Zhu Sha anchors the Mind and calms wayward emotions.

Read more about Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan

Niu Huang Qing Xin Wan

Source date: 1568 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat and resolves Toxicity. Calms the Mind. Opens up the Orifices.

Conditions targeted*: Viral encephalitisMeningitis and others

Read more about Niu Huang Qing Xin Wan

Key TCM concepts behind cinnabar (Zhu Sha)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), cinnabar are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that anchor and calm the Spirit' category. These herbs are substances that tranquilize the Mind and treat symptoms such as restlessness, palpitations, anxiety or insomnia. They tend to have sedative properties by weighing the Qi downwards and should generally be used for a limited time only.

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

Cinnabar also taste 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. Sweet ingredients like cinnabar 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 cinnabar are thought to target the Heart. In addition to regulating Blood flow, in TCM the Heart is believed to be the store of the 'Mind' which basically refers to someone's vitality.