English: Leeches

Chinese: 水蛭

Parts used: The dried worm body

TCM category: Herbs that invigorate the Blood

TCM nature: Neutral

TCM taste(s): BitterSalty

Organ affinity: Bladder Liver

Scientific name: Whitmania pigra, Hirudo mipponica or Whitmania acranulata

Other names: Hirudo

Use of Shui Zhi (leeches) 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 leeches, boil and dry.

Dosage: 1-3g of the powder

Main actions according to TCM*: Breaks up Stagnant Blood, immobile masses, tumors and Congealed Blood caused by injuries. Promotes menstruation that is caused by Blood Stagnation.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Shui Zhi may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Swellings Cysts Tumors Fibroids Amenorrhea

Contraindications*: Not suitable for condition that is not for Blood Stagnation. Forbidden to be used during pregnancy.

Common TCM formulas in which Shui Zhi is used*

Di Dang Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Breaks up and dispels Blood Stagnation .

Conditions targeted*: Acute pelvic inflammatoryLeiomyoma and others

Shui Zhi is a king ingredient in Di Dang Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Di Dang Tang, Shui Zhi is salty, bitter, neutral, and slightly toxic. It enters the Liver Channel and expels Blood Stagnation

It has the special characteristic of entering only the Blood aspect, allowing it to expel Stagnant Blood without damaging the Qi.  

Read more about Di Dang Tang

Da Huang Zhe Chong Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Breaks up and dispels Blood Stagnation. Generates new Blood .

Conditions targeted*: Chronic hepatitisAlcoholic liver disease and others

Shui Zhi is a deputy ingredient in Da Huang Zhe Chong Wan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Da Huang Zhe Chong Wan, Shui Zhi assists the key ingredients by invigorating the Blood,
unblocking the Channels, and breaking up Blood Stagnation, thereby reducing the fixed abdominal masses.

Read more about Da Huang Zhe Chong Wan

Key TCM concepts behind Shui Zhi's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shui Zhi belongs to the 'Herbs that invigorate the Blood' category. Like the name indicates these herbs tend to stimulate the Blood flow. In TCM they're used to help the circulation of Blood in cardiovascular conditions or menstrual irregularities as well as to treat acute pains caused by Blood Stagnation. They can also be used to treat Blood Stagnation when it causes certain tumors, cysts and hardened clots.

Furthermore Shui Zhi is Neutral in nature. This means that Shui Zhi 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 Shui Zhi means that you don't have to worry about that!

Shui Zhi also tastes Bitter and Salty. 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 Shui Zhi 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 Salty ingredients tend to have a draining effect in the body because they clear accumulations, remove Phlegm and soften hard lumps.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Shui Zhi is thought to target the Bladder and the Liver. In TCM the impure water collected by the Kidneys that cannot be used by the body is sent to the Bladder for storage and excretion as urine. The Liver on the other hand 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.