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Phellodendron bark

Chinese: 黃柏

Pinyin: Huáng Bò

Parts used: Dried bark

TCM category: Herbs that clear Heat and dry Dampness

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Bitter

Organ affinity: Bladder Kidney Large intestine

Scientific name: Phellodendron chinense

Other names: Huang Bai

Use of phellodendron bark (Huang Bo) 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 the bark from the tree, cut into sections and let it dry under the sun

Dosage: 3 - 9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Expels Damp-Heat in the Lower Burner. Clears Kidney Yin Deficient Heat. Applied externally or toxic Fire, especially associated with Dampness.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which phellodendron bark may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Dysentery Jaundice Leukorrhea Urinary tract infection Weakness and edema of legs Fever Night sweats Seminal emission Sores Skin eruptions Eczema Swellings

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Spleen or Stomach Deficiency with or without diarrhea.

Common TCM formulas in which phellodendron bark (Huang Bo) are used*

Er Miao San

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 2 herbs

Formula key actions: Expels Dampness from the Lower Burner. Drains Heat from the Lower Burner.

Conditions targeted*: OsteoarthritisGout and others

Huang Bo is a king ingredient in Er Miao San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Er Miao San, Huang Bo directly enters into the Lower Burner to eliminate Heat and dry Dampness. The cooling nature of Phellodendron bark prevents the warmth of Black atractylodes rhizome from further aggravating pathogenic Heat, even as each herb supports the other in drying Dampness.

Read more about Er Miao San

Zhi Bo Di Huang Wan

Source date: 1584 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Yin. Drains Fire.

Huang Bo is a king ingredient in Zhi Bo Di Huang Wan. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Zhi Bo Di Huang Wan, Huang Bo is bitter and cooling. It removes excess Heat from the body.

Read more about Zhi Bo Di Huang Wan

Wu Mei Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Organs. Drains Heat. Calms roundworms. Drains the Liver. Calms the Stomach.

Conditions targeted*: AscariasisBiliary ascariasis and others

Huang Bo is a deputy ingredient in Wu Mei Wan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Wu Mei Wan, Huang Bo makes the worms move downward.

Read more about Wu Mei Wan

Da Bu Yin Wan

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Enriches the Yin. Directs fire downward.

Conditions targeted*: TuberculosisBronchiectasis and others

Huang Bo is a deputy ingredient in Da Bu Yin Wan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Da Bu Yin Wan, Huang Bo quells Kidney Fire

Read more about Da Bu Yin Wan

Er Xian Tang

Source date: 1950 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Yin and tonifies Yang of the Kidneys. Clears Empty Heat. Regulates the Directing and Penetrating Vessels.

Conditions targeted*: Perimenopausal syndromeEssential hypertension and others

Huang Bo is an assistant ingredient in Er Xian Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Er Xian Tang, Huang Bo works together with Anemarrhena rhizome (Zhi Mu), another assistant in this formula, to drain ascending Fire at the gate of vitality. 

Read more about Er Xian Tang

Yi Huang Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Strengthens the Spleen. Dries Dampness. Clears Heat. Stops vaginal discharge.

Conditions targeted*: CervicitisCervical erosion and others

Huang Bo is an assistant ingredient in Yi Huang Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Yi Huang Tang, Huang Bo is bitter and cooling. It enters the Kidneys and drains excessive Damp-Heat in the Lower Burner

Read more about Yi Huang Tang

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

Huang Bo 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.

Read more about Dang Gui Long Hui Wan

Huang Lian Jie Du Tang

Source date: 752 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Drains Fire. Resolves Toxin.

Conditions targeted*: SepticemiaPyemia and others

Huang Bo is an assistant ingredient in Huang Lian Jie Du Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Huang Lian Jie Du Tang, Huang Bo clears Heat from the Lower Burner.

Read more about Huang Lian Jie Du Tang

He Che Da Zao Wan

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies the Kidneys. Strengthens the Directing and Penetrating Vessels. Regulates the periods.

In He Che Da Zao Wan, Huang Bo resolves Dampness

Read more about He Che Da Zao Wan

Qing Jing San

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Blood-Heat. Stops bleeding.

In Qing Jing San, Huang Bo drains Dampness

Read more about Qing Jing San

Key TCM concepts behind phellodendron bark (Huang Bo)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), phellodendron bark are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that clear Heat and dry Dampness' 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 dry Dampness treat the latter while, at the same time, relieving the body of excess Dampness. As such they tend to be Cold or Neutral in nature.

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

Phellodendron bark also taste 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 phellodendron bark tend 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 phellodendron bark are thought to target the Bladder, the Kidney and the Large intestine. 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. 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.