English: Lindera roots

Chinese: 乌药

Parts used: Dried root tuber

TCM category: Herbs that regulate Qi

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): Pungent

Organ affinity: Bladder Kidney Lung Spleen

Scientific name: Lindera aggregata

Other names: Spicebush

Use of Wu Yao (lindera roots) 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 the smaller roots, soak in water, slice and dry

Dosage: 3 - 9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Warms and stimulates the flow of Qi and relieves pain. Disperses Cold and Warms the Kidneys.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Wu Yao may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Dyspnea Chest pain Abdominal pain Enuresis Hernial pain Dysmenorrhea

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Qi Deficiency or Interior Heat.

Common TCM formulas in which Wu Yao is used*

Wu Yao Tang

Source date: 1336 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Pacifies the Liver. Moves Qi. Stops pain. Nourishes Liver Blood. Eliminates Stagnation.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic pelvic inflammatory disease and others

Wu Yao is a king ingredient in Wu Yao Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Wu Yao Tang, Wu Yao smoothes the flow of Qi, disperses Cold, and alleviates pain. It directs rebellious Qi downward to help relieve Excess symptoms in the chest, disperses Cold to address the cause of the Stagnation, and alleviates pain to treat the symptoms. If Wu Yao is better at directing the Qi downward, Xiang Fu is better at raising and lifting the Qi. If the former is better at eliminating Cold, the latter is better at resolving constraint due to emotional factors. Their combination thus addresses the blockage of Qi within both the Qi and Blood levels, releases constraint from both the Liver and Gallbladder, directs rebellious Qi in the chest and abdomen downward, and warms the flow of Qi, which has been slowed by pathogenic Cold.

Read more about Wu Yao Tang

Si Mo Tang

Source date: 1253 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Promotes the movement of Qi. Directs rebellious Qi downward. Expands the chest and dissipates clumping.

Conditions targeted*: Bronchial asthmaEmphysema and others

Wu Yao is a king ingredient in Si Mo Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Si Mo Tang, Wu Yao enter all twelve Channels where it promotes both the ascent and descent of Qi

Read more about Si Mo Tang

Nuan Gan Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Liver and Kidneys. Promotes the movement of Qi. Alleviates pain.

Conditions targeted*: VaricoceleHydrocele and others

Wu Yao is a deputy ingredient in Nuan Gan Jian. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Nuan Gan Jian, Wu Yao enhances the actions of the key herbs by promoting the movement of Qi and alleviating pain, especially in the lower abdomen.

Read more about Nuan Gan Jian

Suo Quan Wan

Source date: 1227 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Kidneys. Dispels cold. Reduces urinary frequency. Stops leakage.

Conditions targeted*: Urinary incontinencePostpartum incontinence and others

Wu Yao is a deputy ingredient in Suo Quan Wan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Suo Quan Wan, Wu Yao disperses Cold (whether it is Excess or Deficient) in the Lower Burner and thereby helps transform the Bladder Qi and restrain urination. It is particularly effective in dispersing Cold Qi between the Kidneys and Bladder.

Read more about Suo Quan Wan

Bi Xie Fen Qing Yin

Source date: 1732 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat. Warms the Kidneys. Drains Dampness. Separates the clear from the turbid.

Conditions targeted*: Vaginal dischargeCloudy urine and others

Wu Yao is an assistant ingredient in Bi Xie Fen Qing Yin. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Bi Xie Fen Qing Yin, Wu Yao warms the Kidneys as well as supports Qi movement and water transformation. 

Read more about Bi Xie Fen Qing Yin

Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Invigorates Blood. Eliminates Blood Stagnation below the diaphragm. Stops pain. Promotes Qi movement.

Conditions targeted*: AmenorrheaPainful menstruations and others

In Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang, Wu Yao invigorates Blood below the diaphragm

Read more about Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang

Key TCM concepts behind Wu Yao's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Wu Yao belongs to the 'Herbs that regulate Qi' category. Herbs in this category typically treat a TCM condition called 'Qi Stagnation'. Concretely it means that Qi is blocked in the body's Organs and Meridians, most typically the Stomach, Liver, and to a lesser extent, the Lungs. In modern medicine terms, Qi Stagnation often translates into psychological consequences such as depression, irritability or mood swings. It's also frequently associated with conditions such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopausal symptoms, the development of breast swellings as well as various digestive disorders.

Furthermore Wu Yao is Warm in nature. This means that Wu Yao tends to help people who have too much 'Cold' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Cold in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess (because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition Wu Yao can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Wu Yao also tastes 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. Pungent ingredients like Wu Yao 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.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Wu Yao is thought to target the Bladder, the Kidney, the Lung and the Spleen. 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 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. 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 Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body.

Research on Wu Yao

Lindera aggregata contains a compound that has cytoprotective action against ethanol-induced gastric injury in mice and might thus have the same effect in humans.1.

Sources:

1. Zhu, M.; Luk, C. T.; Lew, T. H. (1998). "Cytoprotective Effect of Lindera aggregata Roots Against Ethanol-Induced Acute Gastric Injury". Pharmaceutical Biology. 36 (3): 222–226. doi:10.1076/phbi.36.3.222.6349