English: Ningpo figwort roots

Chinese: 玄参

Parts used: Dried rhizome

TCM category: Herbs that cool the Blood

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Bitter

Organ affinity: Large intestine Liver Stomach

Scientific name: Scrophularia ningpoensis

Other names: Chinese figwort, Hu Huang Lian

Use of Xuan Shen (ningpo figwort 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 impurities, wash and dry.

Dosage: 9 - 30 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Expels true or Internal Heat and cools the Blood. Tonifies the Yin. Reduces inflammations and drains Fire toxicity. Reduces hard nodules, especially associated with the lymph.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Xuan Shen may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Dysentery Jaundice Hemorrhoids Fever Insomnia Constipation Sore throat Boils Carbuncles Goiter

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Spleen or Stomach Deficiency or Dampness especially when there is diarrhea.

Common TCM formulas in which Xuan Shen is used*

Zeng Ye Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Yin and Essence. Lubricates Dryness.

Conditions targeted*: ConstipationIrritable bowel syndrome and others

Xuan Shen is a king ingredient in Zeng Ye Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Zeng Ye Tang, Xuan Shen nourishes the Yin and generates Fluids, while moistening what is dried and softening what is hard.

Read more about Zeng Ye Tang

Zeng Ye Cheng Qi Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Generates Body Fluids. Nourishes the Yin. Unblocks the bowels. Drains Heat.

Conditions targeted*: Acute infectious diseasesHigh fever and others

Xuan Shen is a king ingredient in Zeng Ye Cheng Qi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Zeng Ye Cheng Qi Tang, Xuan Shen removes hot and cold accumulations in the abdomen.

The combination of Dwarf lilyturf root and Ningpo figwort root helps in nourishing the Yin, generate Body Fluids and promote bowel movement.

Read more about Zeng Ye Cheng Qi Tang

Qing Gong Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat in the Heart. Nourishes the Yin Fluids .

Conditions targeted*: MeningitisEncephalitis B and others

Xuan Shen is a king ingredient in Qing Gong Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Qing Gong Tang, Xuan Shen is bitter in taste and moist in nature. It is able to control and calm the Heart, which is associated with Yang, Fire, and activity.

It is especially suited for clearing Heart Fire by means of tonifying its Yin Fluids.

Read more about Qing Gong Tang

Bai He Gu Jin Tang

Source date: 1573 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Lung and Kidney Yin. Lubricates the Lung and clears phlegm.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic bronchitisChronic pharyngitis and others

Xuan Shen is a deputy ingredient in Bai He Gu Jin Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Bai He Gu Jin Tang, Xuan Shen helps the Kidney water ascend to the Lungs and is very efficient at clearing Fire from Deficiency and treating steaming bone condition.

Read more about Bai He Gu Jin Tang

Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan

Source date: 16th century

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Nutritive tonic: Nourishes Yin, Blood and Vital Essence of the Heart and Kidney. Clears away pathogenic Heat, clears Deficient Heat. Sedative.

Conditions targeted*: Perimenopausal syndromeChronic urticaria and others

Xuan Shen is a deputy ingredient in Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

Read more about Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan

Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang

Source date: the 18th century

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes the Yin. Improves throat. Resolves toxicity. Clears the Lungs.

Conditions targeted*: DiphtheriaTonsillitis and others

Xuan Shen is a deputy ingredient in Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang, Xuan Shen is salty and cooling. It helps the key herb Di Huang (Unprepared Rehmannia) enrich the Yin, directs Heat or Fire downward, resolves toxicity, and improves throat condition. It is routinely used in the treatment of sores due to Yin Deficiency, particularly of the throat area. Together with Mai Dong (Dwarf lilyturf root), it nourishes the upper and lower sources of Body Fluids

Read more about Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang

Qing Ying Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears the Nutritive level Heat. Relieves Fire Toxin. Removes Heat. Nourishes Yin.

Conditions targeted*: Encephalitis BMeningitis and others

Xuan Shen is a deputy ingredient in Qing Ying Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Qing Ying Tang, Xuan Shen tonifies Yin and relieves Fire Toxin by directing it downwards. 

Read more about Qing Ying Tang

Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin

Source date: 1202 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Toxic-Heat. Clears Wind-Heat .

Conditions targeted*: FurunclesCarbuncles and others

Xuan Shen is a deputy ingredient in Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin, Xuan Shen clear Heat from the throat and relieve the Toxic-Fire there.

Read more about Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin

Hua Ban Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Qi-level Heat. Cools the Blood.

Conditions targeted*: Macular rash and others

Xuan Shen is a deputy ingredient in Hua Ban Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Hua Ban Tang, Xuan Shen resolves Toxic-Heat in the Blood Level and nourish the Yin Fluids, thereby helping to push the pathogen back to the Qi level.

Read more about Hua Ban Tang

Sheng Tie Luo Yin

Source date: 1732 AD

Number of ingredients: 15 herbs

Formula key actions: Sedates the Heart . Clears Phlegm. Clears Fire. Calms the Mind.

Conditions targeted*: EpilepsyBi-Polar disorder and others

Xuan Shen is a deputy ingredient in Sheng Tie Luo Yin. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Sheng Tie Luo Yin, Xuan Shen is bitter, sweet, salty, and cooling. It enters the Kidneys and clears floating Heat

It treats mania characterized by extreme confusion and the inability to recognize people. 

Read more about Sheng Tie Luo Yin

Zi Xue Dan

Source date: 752 AD

Number of ingredients: 17 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat. Opens the sensory orifices. Controls spasms and convulsions. Extinguishes Wind.

Conditions targeted*: Acute encephalitisAcute meningitis and others

Xuan Shen is a deputy ingredient in Zi Xue Dan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Zi Xue Dan, Xuan Shen is sweet, bitter, and slightly cold. It conducts Fire downward, enriches the Yin, and cools the Blood

Read more about Zi Xue Dan

Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang

Source date: 1918 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Sedates the Liver. Axtinguishes Wind. Nourishes the Yin. Anchors the yang.

Conditions targeted*: HypertensionRenal hypertension and others

Xuan Shen is an assistant ingredient in Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang, Xuan Shen clears Heat, nourishes the Yin, and enriches the Fluids. This treats the ascendant Liver Yang at the root, which indirectly extinguishes the Wind.

Read more about Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang

Zhu Ye Cheng Liu Tang

Source date: 1613 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Releases the Exterior. Vents rashes. Clears. Generates Body Fluids.

Conditions targeted*: MeaslesChickenpox and others

Xuan Shen is an assistant ingredient in Zhu Ye Cheng Liu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Zhu Ye Cheng Liu Tang, Xuan Shen drains Heat from the Interior, generates Body Fluids, and thereby facilitate the venting of Toxin from the Nutritive and Protective Qi aspects.

Read more about Zhu Ye Cheng Liu Tang

Qing Xin Li Ge Tang

Source date: 1602 AD

Number of ingredients: 13 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Toxic-Heat. Unblocks the stool. Benefits the throat .

Conditions targeted*: TonsillitisPeritonsillar abscess and others

Xuan Shen is an assistant ingredient in Qing Xin Li Ge Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Qing Xin Li Ge Tang, Xuan Shen work with Wild mint to resolve Toxicity and disperse clumps, and to clear the throat. 

Read more about Qing Xin Li Ge Tang

Liang Di Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Yin. Cools Blood. Stop bleeding.

In Liang Di Tang, Xuan Shen nourishes Yin, cools Blood and therefore stops bleeding

Read more about Liang Di Tang

Qing Wen Bai Du Yin

Source date: 1794 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Drains Fire. Resolves Toxicity. Dries Dampness.

Conditions targeted*: MeningitisEncephalitis B and others

In Qing Wen Bai Du Yin, Xuan Shen clears Heat from the blood level according to the Four Levels Theory

Read more about Qing Wen Bai Du Yin

Key TCM concepts behind Xuan Shen's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Xuan Shen belongs to the 'Herbs that cool the Blood' 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 cool the Blood treat the latter and as such tend to be Cold or Neutral in nature.

As suggested by its category Xuan Shen is Cold in nature. This means that Xuan Shen 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 Xuan Shen can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Xuan Shen also tastes Bitter. 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 Xuan Shen tends to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Xuan Shen is thought to target the Large intestine, the Liver and the Stomach. In TCM the Large Intestine receives the "impure" parts of the digested food from the Small Intestine, absorbs the remaining fluids and excrete the remainder as feces. 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. 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.

Research on Xuan Shen

Extracts of the rhizomes of Picrorhiza scrophulariiflora Pennell (Scrophulariaceae) showed potent inhibitory activity towards the classical pathway of the complement system, the respiratory burst of activated polymorphonuclear leukocytes, and mitogen-induced proliferation of T-lymphocytes. Furthermore, such extracts showed anti-inflammatory activity towards carrageenan-induced paw edema.1

Sources:

1. HF Smit, BH Kroes, AJJ Van den Berg et al. (2000). Immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory activity of Picrorhiza scrophulariiflora. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 73(1–2), p. 101-109, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0378-8741(00)00268-3