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Red peony roots

Chinese: 赤芍

Pinyin: Chì Sháo

Parts used: Dried root

TCM category: Herbs that invigorate the Blood

TCM nature: Cool

TCM taste(s): Bitter

Organ affinity: Liver

Scientific name: Paeonia lactiflora or Paeonia veitchii

Other names: Chinese peony, Common garden peony, Chi Shao Yao

Use of red peony roots (Chi Shao) 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 soak, cut in thick slices and dry

Dosage: 6 - 12 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Moves Blood, relieves pain and reduces swelling. Cools the Blood and the Liver.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which red peony roots may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Hematemesis Nosebleed Conjunctivitis Chest pain Amenorrhea Dysmenorrhea Boils Sores

Contraindications*: Should not be used by those with Blood Deficiency.

Common TCM formulas in which red peony roots (Chi Shao) are used*

Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Promotes Blood and lymphatic circulation, thus eleminates Blood Stagnation. Softens and resolves hard lumps such as cysts and fibroids.

Conditions targeted*: InfertilityDysmenorrhea and others

Chi Shao is a deputy ingredient in Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan, Chi Shao promotes the circulation of Blood to alleviate stagnation. It's also a diuretic, helping drain Dampness which facilitates the action of the key herbs in regulating the Blood.

Read more about Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan

Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Invigorates the Blood. Dispels blood Stagnation. Spreads the Liver Qi. Unblocks the channels.

Conditions targeted*: Coronary artery diseaseRheumatic valvular heart disease and others

Chi Shao is a deputy ingredient in Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, Chi Shao invigorate the Blood. However, its focus more on the lower part of the body.

Read more about Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang

Source date: 650 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Treats severe fevers and Heat in the Blood system. Removes Blood Stagnation.

Conditions targeted*: Acute leukemiaUremia and others

Chi Shao is an assistant ingredient in Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang, Chi Shao cools and moves the Blood. It is important to prevent the Blood Stagnation that may be caused by Heat in the Blood or as a side effect of the other Cold ingredients in this formula. 

Read more about Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang

Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Invigorates Blood. Eliminates Blood Stagnation below the diaphragm. Stops pain. Promotes Qi movement.

Conditions targeted*: AmenorrheaPainful menstruations and others

In Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang, Chi Shao invigorates the Blood and dispels Blood Stagnation

Read more about Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang

Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Expels Cold and warm the menstruation Blood. Stops pain. Invigorates Blood. Dispels Blood stagnation.

In Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang, Chi Shao invigorates the Blood and dispels Blood Stagnation

Read more about Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Zhu Yu Zhi Xue Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Invigorates Blood. Stops bleeding.

In Zhu Yu Zhi Xue Tang, Chi Shao invigorates Blood and removes Stagnation.

Read more about Zhu Yu Zhi Xue Tang

Key TCM concepts behind red peony roots (Chi Shao)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), red peony roots are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that invigorate the Blood' category. Like the name indicates these herbs tend to stimulate the Blood flow. In TCM they're used to help the circulation of Blood in cardiovascular conditions or menstrual irregularities as well as to treat acute pains caused by Blood Stagnation. They can also be used to treat Blood Stagnation when it causes certain tumors, cysts and hardened clots.

Furthermore red peony roots are plants that are Cool in nature. This means that red peony roots tend to help people who have too much 'Heat' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Cold in nature. 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 red peony roots can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Red peony roots 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 red peony roots 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 red peony roots are thought to target the Liver. In TCM the Liver 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.

Research on red peony roots (Chi Shao)

Red peony root decoction is more effective than rhubarb alone for severe acute pancreatitis patients.1

Shufeng Liangxue Decoction (consisting of red peony root) is effective and safe in treating hormone dependence dermatitis, with the efficacy better and relapse rate lower than those of treatment with Western medicine alone.2

A heavy dosage of Paeonia rubra was effective in arresting the development of liver fibrosis, and in promoting the reabsorption of collagen fibres.3

Sources:

1. Zhang M, Zhu DZ, Li ZS, Zhan XB. ( 2008). Red peony root decoction in treatment of severe acute pancreatitis: a randomized controlled trial. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. , 6(6):569-75. doi: 10.3736/jcim20080605.

2. Bai YS, Zhou CY, Wang JQ. (2008). Clinical observation on auxiliary treatment of hormone dependence dermatitis by shufeng liangxue decoction. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. , 28(12):1121-3.

3. Yang DG. (1994). Comparison of pre- and post-treatmental hepatohistology with heavy dosage of Paeonia rubra on chronic active hepatitis caused liver fibrosis. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. , 14(4):207-9, 195.