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

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

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

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

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


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