Niu Huang (Ox gallstones) in Chinese Medicine

English: Ox gallstones

Chinese: 牛黃

Parts used: Gallstones (hardened deposits of bile that form in the ox's gallbladder)

TCM category: Herbs that cool the Blood

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): BitterSweet

Organ affinity: Heart Liver

Scientific name: Calculus Bovis

Use of Niu Huang (ox gallstones) 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: Dry the gallstone after removal

Dosage: 0.15 to 0.3 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Clears Heat and Detoxifies. Calms Liver-Wind. As an aromatic it opens the cavities to expel phlegm.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Niu Huang may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Delirium Convulsions Fever Abcesses

Contraindications*: This substance should not be used by pregnant women or those with Spleen and Stomach Coldness and Deficiency.

Common TCM formulas in which Niu Huang is used*

Niu Huang Qing Xin Wan

Source date: 1568 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat and resolves Toxicity. Calms the Mind. Opens up the Orifices.

Conditions targeted*: Viral encephalitisMeningitis and others

Niu Huang is a king ingredient in Niu Huang Qing Xin Wan. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Niu Huang Qing Xin Wan, Niu Huang excels at clearing intense Heat from the Heart and Liver while also removing pathogens from the Pericardium. At the same time, this ingredient is very adapted to dislodge Phlegm, to open the orifices, to extinguish Wind, and to stop tremors.

Read more about Niu Huang Qing Xin Wan

Hui Chun Dan

Source date: Late 18th century

Number of ingredients: 19 herbs

Formula key actions: Opens the sensory orifices. Arrests spasms and convulsions. Clears Heat and transforms Phlegm.

Conditions targeted*: Acute encephalitisAcute meningitis and others

Niu Huang is a king ingredient in Hui Chun Dan. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Hui Chun Dan, Niu Huang is bitter, cool, and aromatic.

It enters the Heart and Liver Channels. It clears Heat, resolves toxicity, clears Phlegm, opens the sensory orifices, extinguishes Wind, and controls spasms and convulsions.

It thereby addresses all of the major aspects of this disorder. 

Read more about Hui Chun Dan

Zhi Bao Dan

Source date: 1075

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat. Opens the sensory orifices. Resolves toxicity. Transforms Phlegm .

Conditions targeted*: Acute encephalitisAcute meningitis and others

Niu Huang is a deputy ingredient in Zhi Bao Dan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Zhi Bao Dan, Niu Huang assists Bubali Water buffalo horn by entering the Heart and Liver Channels to sedate the Heart, calm the Mind, clear heat, resolve toxicity, extinguish Wind, and settle spasms and convulsions. 

It also clears Phlegm and opening the sensory orifices.

Traditional this formula also includes Hawksbill Turtle Shell (Dai Mao), which serves the same purpose as Ox Gallstone. However, this ingredient is no longer available due to the restriction in hunting Hawksbill Turtle. 

Therefore, the dosage of Ox Gallstone should be increased to replace Hawksbill Turtle Shell. 

Read more about Zhi Bao Dan

Key TCM concepts behind Niu Huang's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Niu Huang 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 Niu Huang is Cold in nature. This means that Niu Huang 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 Niu Huang can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Niu Huang also tastes Bitter and Sweet. 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 Niu Huang tends 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 Sweet ingredients tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Niu Huang is thought to target the Heart and the Liver. In addition to regulating Blood flow, in TCM the Heart is believed to be the store of the 'Mind' which basically refers to someone's vitality. 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.