English: Sulfur

Chinese: 硫黄

Parts used: The mineral

TCM category: Herbs for external application

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): Pungent

Organ affinity: Spleen Kidney Large intestine Pericardium

Scientific name: Sulfur

Other names: Sulphur

Use of Liu Huang (sulfur) 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: After excavation, sulfur is heated and melted to remove impurities.

Dosage: 1- 3 grams if used internally

Main actions according to TCM*: Externally applied for the treatment of scabies, tinea infections (fungus infections). Internally it warms Kidney and Spleen Yang, treats impotence, frequent urination, chronic diarrhea and constipation caused by Coldness

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Liu Huang may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Scabies Tinea Impotence Urinary incontinence Constipation Chronic diarrhoea Chronic lower back pain Knee weakness Asthma

Contraindications*: Sulfur is mildly toxic. It is contraindicated during pregnancy and not to be used for symptoms of Yin Deficiency or Excess Yang.

Common TCM formulas in which Liu Huang is used*

Ban Liu Wan

Source date: 1107

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Formula key actions: Fortifies the Fire at the Gate of Vitality. Expels Cold. Unblocks the Yang. Drains Turbidity.

Conditions targeted*: Constipation in the elderlyChronic diarrhea and others

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

In Ban Liu Wan, Liu Huang strongly fortifies the Fire at the Gate of Vitality and activates Yang Qi

Furthermore, its sour taste protects the Yin, keeping Body Fluids in the Intestines to facilitate bowel movement.

Warm herbs mostly cause constipation. Sulphur is the only one that is gentle and is able to promote bowel movement. 

Read more about Ban Liu Wan

Key TCM concepts behind Liu Huang's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Liu Huang belongs to the 'Herbs for external application' category. Like the name indicates, this category of herbs is used mostly for external application in the form of powders, pastes or ointments. As such they are used to treat trauma, inflammation, swelling, bruises, bleeding, pain and so forth.

Furthermore Liu Huang is Warm in nature. This means that Liu Huang tends 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 Liu Huang can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Liu Huang also tastes 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. Pungent ingredients like Liu Huang tends 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 Liu Huang is thought to target the Spleen, the Kidney, the Large intestine and the Pericardium. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. 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. The Pericardium is also called the "heart protector". It is the first line of defence for the Heart against external pathogenic influences