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Smilax glabra roots

Chinese: 土茯苓

Pinyin: Tǔ Fú Líng

Parts used: Dried rhizome and root

TCM category: Herbs that clear Heat and relieve Toxicity

TCM nature: Neutral

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Organ affinity: Stomach Liver

Scientific name: Smilax glabra

Other names: Chinaroot, Sarsaparilla, Glabrous greenbrier

Use of smilax glabra roots (Tu Fu Ling) 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: Wash, soak in water, slice and dry

Dosage: 15 - 60 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Expels Damp-Heat especially from the skin. Clears Heat and dispels Dampness. Dispels toxicity such as Syphilis.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which smilax glabra roots may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Urinary tract infection Dysuria Leukorrhea Carbuncles Lymphadenitis Eczema Syphilis Lyme disease

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Yin Deficiency of the Liver and Kidney.

Common TCM formulas in which smilax glabra roots (Tu Fu Ling) are used*

Key TCM concepts behind smilax glabra roots (Tu Fu Ling)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), smilax glabra roots are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that clear Heat and relieve Toxicity' 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 relieve Toxicity treat the latter while, at the same time, removing infectious toxins from the body. As such they tend to be Cold or Neutral in nature.

As suggested by its category smilax glabra roots are plants that are Neutral in nature. This means that smilax glabra roots typically don't affect the balance in your body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Eating too many "Hot" (Yang) ingredients can lead to an imbalance whereby one has a Yang Excess. The inverse is true as well: too many "Cold" (Yin) ingredients can lead to a Yin Excess. The Neutral nature of smilax glabra roots means that you don't have to worry about that!

Smilax glabra roots also taste 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. Sweet ingredients like smilax glabra roots 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 smilax glabra roots are thought to target the Stomach and the Liver. In TCM 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. 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.

Research on smilax glabra roots (Tu Fu Ling)

The aqueous extract from Rhizoma Smilacis Glabrae (RSG) remarkably inhibited the primary inflammation of adjuvant arthritis (AA) in rats. RSG also exhibits an improvement on AA during the later phase of arthritis. Such characteristics of RSG on AA may be advantageous to the long-term treatment of clinical rheumatoid arthritis.1


1. J Jiang, Q Xu (2003). Immunomodulatory activity of the aqueous extract from rhizome of Smilax glabra in the later phase of adjuvant-induced arthritis in rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 85, Issue 1, Pages 53-59