Shi Gao

English: Gypsum

Chinese: 石膏

Parts used: The mineral itself

TCM category: Herbs that clear Heat and purge Fire and/or clear Summer Heat

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): PungentSweet

Organ affinity: Lung Stomach

Scientific name: Sulfate mineral composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate, with the chemical formula CaSO4·2H2O

Use of Shi Gao (gypsum) 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: Boil alone before use, for up to 2 or 3 hours.

Dosage: 10 - 50 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Clears Heat and drains Fire. Clears Lung Heat. Relieves thirst and restlessness. Clears Stomach Heat.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Shi Gao may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Fever Dry mouth Asthma Coughing Headache Toothache Phlegm Gingivitis

Contraindications*: Because this is a heavy substance, do not use for those with a weak Stomach or without true Heat.

Common TCM formulas in which Shi Gao is used*

Yu Nu Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Drains Heat from the Stomach. Nourishes Yin.

Conditions targeted*: StomatitisGlossitis and others

Shi Gao is a king ingredient in Yu Nu Jian. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Yu Nu Jian, Shi Gao clears Fire from the Stomach and thereby relieves the fever, irritability, and thirst. It is an important herb for treating toothache due to Stomach Fire.

Read more about Yu Nu Jian

Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Invigorates Lung Qi. Clears Heat. Calms wheezing by directing rebellious Qi downward.

Shi Gao is a king ingredient in Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang, Shi Gao removes the Lung Heat and balances the Heat of Ephedra, which is also a key herb of the formula. 

These two ingredients' dosage must be adapted based on specific patient's condition. For example, when the Lung Heat is severe with profuse sweating, Ephedra's dosage should be reduced, while Gypsum's should be increased. If Pernicious Evils haven't left the Exterior completely, Ephedra's dosage should be increased while the Gypsum's should be decrease. 

Gypsum also clears Stomach Heat so as to ease thirst. It also removes muscles Heat to relieve fever and spontaneous sweating. 

Read more about Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang

Bai Hu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Qi-level Heat. Drains Stomach Fire. Generates fluids. Alleviates thirst.

Conditions targeted*: MeningitisScarlet fever and others

Shi Gao is a king ingredient in Bai Hu Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Bai Hu Tang, Shi Gao clears Heat from the Interior, vents Pathogenic Heat to the Exterior and release Heat stagnating in the muscle layer and skin. It also moistens and enriches the Yin to support the generation of Body Fluids.

Read more about Bai Hu Tang

Da Qing Long Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Promotes sweating. Releases the Exterior. Clears Interior Heat.

Conditions targeted*: Upper respiratory tract infectionsInfluenza and others

Shi Gao is a deputy ingredient in Da Qing Long Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Da Qing Long Tang, Shi Gao clears Internal Heat without inhibiting the dispersing action of the diaphoretics or further damaging the Yin Fluids.

Read more about Da Qing Long Tang

Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang

Source date: 1658 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears dryness. Moistens the Lungs.

Conditions targeted*: InfluenzaAcute bronchitis and others

Shi Gao is a deputy ingredient in Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang, Shi Gao clears Heat from the Lung and Stomach Channels so as to relieve thirst. It is used to counterbalance the spreading action of the key herb. 

Read more about Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang

Key TCM concepts behind Shi Gao's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shi Gao belongs to the 'Herbs that clear Heat and purge Fire and/or clear Summer Heat' category. Herbs in this category are used to clear inflammatory and infectious conditions, referred to as 'Internal Heat' in TCM. This is why most of the herbs in this category will have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. In TCM one has too much 'Internal Heat' in their body as a result of a deficiency of 'Yin' (which is Cold in nature, see our explanation on Yin and Yang) or, more commonly, an Excess of Yang (Hot in nature). Herbs that clear Heat and purge Fire treat the latter and as such tend to be Cold or Neutral in nature.

As suggested by its category Shi Gao is Cold in nature. This means that Shi Gao typically helps people who have too much 'Heat' in their body. 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 Shi Gao can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Shi Gao 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 Shi Gao 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 Shi Gao is thought to target the Lung and the Stomach. 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 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.