English: Gastrodia rhizomes

Chinese: 天麻

Parts used: Dried tuber

TCM category: Herbs that pacify Internal Liver Wind and stop Tremors

TCM nature: Neutral

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Organ affinity: Liver

Scientific name: Gastrodia elata

Use of Tian Ma (gastrodia 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, soak in water, cut in thick slices and dry.

Dosage: 3- 9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Calms Liver Wind. Sedates Liver Yang and relieves convulsions. Relieves Wind and stops pain.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Tian Ma may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Convulsions Headache Dizziness Numbness of limbs Epilepsy Tetanus

Contraindications*: This herb should not be taken in large doses or for extended periods of time.

Common TCM formulas in which Tian Ma is used*

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

Tian Ma is a king ingredient in Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang, Tian Ma enters the Liver Channel to nourish the Yin Fluids, calm the Liver, and extinguish Wind. It is a good complement to Crow-dipper rhizome (Ban Xia) because, without it, its pungent nature could easily stir up even more Wind. This doesn't happen thanks to the moistening character of Gastrodia rhizome which helps extinguish Wind.

As the 13th-century physician Li Dong-Yuan wrote in Discussion of the Spleen and Stomach: "Headache due to Phlegm rebelling in the leg greater Yin [Meridian and Organ] cannot be treated without Crow-dipper rhizome (Ban Xia); spots before the eyes and vertigo are due to internal movement of Wind from Deficiency and cannot be eliminated without Gastrodia rhizome (Tian Ma)."

Read more about Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang

Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin

Source date: 1958 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Calms the Liver. Extinguishes wind. Invigorates the blood. Clears heat. Tonifies the Liver and Kidneys.

Conditions targeted*: InsomniaHeadache and others

Tian Ma is a king ingredient in Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin, Tian Ma is sweet and balanced. It is frequently used to treat Internal Wind. Its calming and cooling action is supplement by the heavy and salty Shi Jue Ming (Abalone shells)

Read more about Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin

Hui Chun Dan

Source date: Late 18th century

Number of ingredients: 19 herbs

Formula key actions: Opens the sensory orifices. Arrests spasms and convulsions. Clears Heat and transforms Phlegm.

Conditions targeted*: Acute encephalitisAcute meningitis and others

Tian Ma is a deputy ingredient in Hui Chun Dan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Hui Chun Dan, Tian Ma extinguishes Wind and controlling spasms and convulsions.

It also harmonizes the Stomach, transform Phlegm, direct Rebellious Qi downward, and stop vomiting.

Read more about Hui Chun Dan

Key TCM concepts behind Tian Ma's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Tian Ma belongs to the 'Herbs that pacify Internal Liver Wind and stop Tremors' category. These herbs are used to treat so-called 'hyperactive Liver Yang'. Concretely this translates into high blood pressure as well as seizures, spasms, convulsions, dizziness and vertigo. These herbs often seem to have a powerful antispasmodic effect on the nervous system.

Furthermore Tian Ma is Neutral in nature. This means that Tian Ma typically doesn't affect the balance in your body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Eating too many "Hot" (Yang) ingredients can lead to an imbalance whereby one has a Yang Excess. The inverse is true as well: too many "Cold" (Yin) ingredients can lead to a Yin Excess. The Neutral nature of Tian Ma means that you don't have to worry about that!

Tian Ma also tastes 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 Tian Ma tends 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 Tian Ma is thought to target the Liver. In TCM 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.

Research on Tian Ma

Gastrodia root has been shown to exert novel pain relief and inflammatory-mediating activities, as well as in vivo and in vitro inhibitory activity on nitric oxide (NO) production.1

Gastrodin, an active component of tall gastrodia tuber, promotes the secretion of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, contributes to the recovery of neurological function, and protects neural cells against injury.2

Ethanol extract of Gastrodiae rhizoma induced proliferation and neuronal differentiation of neural stem cells, suggesting its potential benefits on neural stem cell-based therapies and neuroregeneration in various neurodegenerative diseases and brain injuries.3


1. Jim English (2010). "Traditional Chinese Herbs for Arthritis". Nutrition Review. 5 (2)

2. Song C, Fang S, Lv G, Mei X. (2013). Gastrodin promotes the secretion of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the injured spinal cord. Neural Regen Res , 8(15):1383-9. doi: 10.3969/j.issn.1673-5374.2013.15.005.

3. Baral S, Pariyar R, Yoon CS, Kim DC, Yun JM, Jang SO, Kim SY, Oh H, Kim YC, Seo J. (2015). Effects of Gastrodiae rhizoma on proliferation and differentiation of human embryonic neural stem cells. Asian Pac J Trop Med. , 8(10):792-7. doi: 10.1016/j.apjtm.2015.09.004.

Use of Tian Ma as food

Tian Ma is also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Double-boiled Chicken Soup with Ginseng and Gastrodia Root.