English: Garden Balsam Stems

Chinese: 透骨草

Parts used: The whole plant

TCM category: Herbs that dispel Wind and Dampness

TCM nature: Cool

TCM taste(s): BitterPungent

Organ affinity: Spleen Kidney Liver

Scientific name: Speranskia tuberculata

Use of Tou Gu Cao (garden balsam stems) 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: Collect the plant, remove impurities and dry

Dosage: 9-20g

Main actions according to TCM*: Invigorates Blood and removes Blood Stagnation. Clear Toxic-Heat, cools the Blood and relieves pain. Drains Damp-Heat. Dispels Wind-Damp and relaxes the muscle and sinews.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Tou Gu Cao may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Trauma Bruising Swellings Inflammation Sores Burns Carbuncles Acute jaundice Hepatitis Arthritis Arthralgia Muscle contracture Bone contracture Beriberi Tinea

Contraindications*: Should not be used during pregnancy.

Common TCM formulas in which Tou Gu Cao is used*

Hai Tong Pi Tang

Source date: 1742 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Invigorates the Blood. Disperses swelling. Dispels Wind, Dampness and Cold. Removes Stagnation and relieves pain.

Conditions targeted*: Trauma and others

Tou Gu Cao is a deputy ingredient in Hai Tong Pi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Hai Tong Pi Tang, Tou Gu Cao unblocks the Channels, invigorates the collaterals, dispel Dampness, and relieves pain. 

Erythrinae bark, Garden Balsam, Clematis root, Angelica root, Saposhnikovia root and Sichuan pepper shares similar functions. 

Read more about Hai Tong Pi Tang

Key TCM concepts behind Tou Gu Cao's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Tou Gu Cao belongs to the 'Herbs that dispel Wind and Dampness' category. These herbs typically help treat what's called 'bi pain' (i.e. painful obstruction) in TCM. This roughly corresponds to arthritic and rheumatic conditions with pain, stiffness and numbness of the bones, joints and muscles.

Furthermore Tou Gu Cao is Cool in nature. This means that Tou Gu Cao 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 Tou Gu Cao can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Tou Gu Cao also tastes 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 Tou Gu Cao tends 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 Tou Gu Cao is thought to target the Spleen, the Kidney and the Liver. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. 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. The Liver is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and the Body Fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.