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Notopterygium roots

Chinese: 羌活

Pinyin: Qiāng Huó

Parts used: Dried rhizome and root

TCM category: Warm/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): BitterPungent

Organ affinity: Bladder Kidney

Scientific name: Notopterygium incisum or Notopterygium forbesii

Use of notopterygium roots (Qiang Huo) 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: Removes impurities, soak in water, cut into sections and dry

Dosage: 6 - 12 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold and Dampness. Relieves Wind-Damp-Cold painful obstruction. Directs Qi to the Greater Yang (Tai Yang) channel and the Governing Vessel.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which notopterygium roots may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Common cold Headache Rheumatism Arthralgia Rheumatoid arthritis Back pain

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Yin or Blood Deficiency conditions or arthritis caused by Blood Stagnation.

Common TCM formulas in which notopterygium roots (Qiang Huo) are used*

Juan Bi Tang

Source date: 1178 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies and harmonizes the Protective and Nutritive Qi. Dispels Wind. Eliminates Dampness.

Conditions targeted*: Periarthritis of the shoulderRheumatoid arthritis and others

Qiang Huo is a king ingredient in Juan Bi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Juan Bi Tang, Qiang Huo is known to be the best herb in the Chinese Materia Medica for dispelling Wind-Dampness from the upper body.

Read more about Juan Bi Tang

Ren Shen Bai Du San

Source date: 1119 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Releases the Exterior. Dispels Wind and Dampness. Augments Qi.

Conditions targeted*: Common coldInfluenza and others

Qiang Huo is a king ingredient in Ren Shen Bai Du San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ren Shen Bai Du San, Qiang Huo dispels Wind Cold from the Exterior, dispels Dampness and alleviates
pain. It treat the symptoms of fever and chills without sweating, headache, and common pain and soreness.

Read more about Ren Shen Bai Du San

Jing Fang Bai Du San

Source date: 1550 AD

Number of ingredients: 13 herbs

Formula key actions: Releases the Exterior. Dispels Wind and Dampness. Augments Qi.

Conditions targeted*: Common coldInfluenza and others

Qiang Huo is a king ingredient in Jing Fang Bai Du San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Jing Fang Bai Du San, Qiang Huo dispels Wind Cold from the Exterior, dispels Dampness and alleviates
pain. It treat the symptoms of fever and chills without sweating, headache, and common pain and soreness.

Read more about Jing Fang Bai Du San

Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang

Source date: 1247 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Expels wind and dampness.

Conditions targeted*: Rheumatic feverUpper respiratory tract infections and others

Qiang Huo is a king ingredient in Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang, Qiang Huo expels Wind Damp from the upper reaches of the Greater Yang Channel. The combination of the two key herbs are very effective in treating general Wind Damp patterns. 

Read more about Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang

Da Fang Feng Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Expel Wind Damp. Relieve pain. Tonify the Liver and the Kidneys. Tonify the Blood and Qi.

Conditions targeted*: ArthralgiaCommon cold and others

Qiang Huo is a deputy ingredient in Da Fang Feng Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Da Fang Feng Tang, Qiang Huo works with the key herb in expelling the Wind Damp, unblocking the Channels and stopping obstruction pain in the joints. 

Read more about Da Fang Feng Tang

Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Invigorates Blood. Unblocks painful obstruction. Relieves pain. Invigorate Qi. Dispels Blood Stagnation. Unblock Channels.

Conditions targeted*: Muscle crampsArthralgia and others

Qiang Huo is a deputy ingredient in Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang, Qiang Huo expels Wind Damp

Read more about Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang

Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang

Source date: 1587 AD

Number of ingredients: 16 herbs

Formula key actions: Expels Wind Damp from the Channels. Invigorates Blood. Unblocks the channels.

Conditions targeted*: ArthralgiaBell's palsy and others

Qiang Huo is an assistant ingredient in Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang, Qiang Huo releases Cold and Damp from the Exterior and relieves obstruction pain

Read more about Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang

Key TCM concepts behind notopterygium roots (Qiang Huo)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), notopterygium roots are plants that belong to the 'Warm/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior' category. Herbs that release the Exterior aim to to treat the early stages of diseases that affect the upper respiratory tract, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the throat or the skin. TCM believes that External diseases such as colds or allergies can only invade the body if the External environment overwhelms our Wei Qi (the TCM version of the immune system). In order to counteract this invasion Warm/Acrid herbs aim to induce sweating by increasing the flow of sweat to our capillary pores. The belief is that this will expel the disease from the body and stop it from invading further.

As suggested by its category notopterygium roots are plants that are Warm in nature. This means that notopterygium roots tend 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 notopterygium roots can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Notopterygium roots also taste Bitter and 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. Bitter ingredients like notopterygium roots tend 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 Pungent ingredients tend 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 notopterygium roots are thought to target the Bladder and the Kidney. 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.

Research on notopterygium roots (Qiang Huo)

Notopterygium roots contain phenethyl ferulate, which is a cyclooxygenase inhibitor in vitro and therefore provides relief from the symptoms of inflammation and pain.1

Notopterygium roots contain furanocoumarins such as notopterol which have anti-proliferative (anti-cell growth), and apoptotic (cell death) effects on certain cancer cells in vitro.2

Sources:

1. Zschocke, S; Lehner, M; Bauer, R (1997). "5-Lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase inhibitory active constituents from Qianghuo (Notopterygium incisum)". Planta Medica. 63 (3): 203–6. doi:10.1055/s-2006-957653

2. Wu, SB; Pang, F; Wen, Y; Zhang, HF; Zhao, Z; Hu, JF (2010). "Antiproliferative and apoptotic activities of linear furocoumarins from Notopterygium incisum on cancer cell lines". Planta Medica. 76 (1): 82–5. doi:10.1055/s-0029-1185971.