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Natural indigo

Chinese: 青黛

Pinyin: Qīng Dài

Parts used: Dried powder or mass prepared from the leaf and/or the stem

TCM category: Herbs that clear Heat and relieve Toxicity

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Salty

Organ affinity: Stomach Liver Lung

Scientific name: Baphicacanthus cusia, Polygonum tinctorium or Isatis indigotica

Use of natural indigo (Qing Dai) 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: The indigo is slowly drawn out of the leaves and stems by composting them in alkaline water. The resultant blue water is dried so that only the indigo powder remains.

Dosage: 1.5 - 3 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Clears Heat, resolves Fire toxicity and cools the Blood. Disperses Stagnation and reduces swelling. Drains Liver Fire, dispels Summer-Heat and extinguishes Wind to stop tremors.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which natural indigo may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Nosebleed Skin eruptions Bloody sputum Chest pain Mouth ulcers Mumps Pharyngitis Laryngitis Convulsions

Contraindications*: Use with great care in stomach cold. Do not use if the Heat is due to Yin Deficiency Fire.

Common TCM formulas in which natural indigo (Qing Dai) are used*

Dang Gui Long Hui Wan

Source date: 1172 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Drains Liver and Gallbladder Fire Excess.

Conditions targeted*: VertigoTinnitus and others

Qing Dai is an assistant ingredient in Dang Gui Long Hui Wan. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Dang Gui Long Hui Wan, Qing Dai drains Fire from the Liver.

Read more about Dang Gui Long Hui Wan

Bi Yu San

Source date: 1172 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat, cools Blood and relieves toxicity. Promotes urination. Eliminates Summer-Heat. Stops convulsions.

Conditions targeted*: Heatstroke and others

In Bi Yu San, Qing Dai treats Summer Heat with concurrent Heat accumulated in the Liver and Gallbladder manifesting with red eyes, sore throat or sore mouth and tongue.

Read more about Bi Yu San

Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang

Source date: Qing Dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat and relieves acute conditions of the Gallbladder. Relieves acute Damp-Heat syndromes. Resolves Phlegm. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Conditions targeted*: CholecystitisIcteric hepatitis and others

Read more about Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang

Key TCM concepts behind natural indigo (Qing Dai)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), natural indigo are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that clear Heat and relieve Toxicity' 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 relieve Toxicity treat the latter while, at the same time, removing infectious toxins from the body. As such they tend to be Cold or Neutral in nature.

As suggested by its category natural indigo are plants that are Cold in nature. This means that natural indigo typically help 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 natural indigo can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Natural indigo also taste 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. Salty ingredients like natural indigo 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 natural indigo are thought to target the Stomach, the Liver and the Lung. In TCM the Stomach is responsible for receiving and ripening ingested food and fluids. It is also tasked with descending the digested elements downwards to the Small Intestine. 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. 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.

Research on natural indigo (Qing Dai)

Indigo naturalis is a safe, inexpensive, and effective alternative topical treatment for skin and nail psoriasis.1

Oral Qing-Dai (Naturalis Indigo) is effective for inducing remission in patients with moderate ulcerative colitis activity and can be tolerated.2


1. McDermott L, Madan R, Rupani R, Siegel D. (2016). A Review of Indigo Naturalis as an Alternative Treatment for Nail Psoriasis. J Drugs Dermatol , 15(3):319-23.

2. 張莉、段麗萍、楊衛紅、呂愈敏、林三仁 (2004)。<含青黛成分中藥導致便血的臨床特點及可能致病機制>。胃腸病學和肝病學雜誌,2。