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Sweetflag rhizomes

Chinese: 石菖蒲

Pinyin: Shí Chāng Pú

Parts used: Dried rhizome

TCM category: Herbs that open the Orifices

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): Bitter

Organ affinity: Stomach Heart Liver

Scientific name: Acorus gramineus or Acorus tatarinowii

Other names: Sweet flag

Use of sweetflag rhizomes (Shi Chang Pu) 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: Extract the rhizome, clean it thoroughly and dry it under the sun

Dosage: 3 - 9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Opens the Orifices, awakens the Mind (Shen) and expels Wind-Damp Phlegm. Harmonizes the Earth element and dispels Damp. Applied internally or externally for Wind-Cold-Damp painful obstruction.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which sweetflag rhizomes may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Seizures Restlessness Loss of appetite Dysentery Anorexia Epilepsy Impaired hearing Forgetfulness

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Yin Deficiency with Heat signs and should be used with caution by those with excessive sweating or spermatorrhea

Common TCM formulas in which sweetflag rhizomes (Shi Chang Pu) are used*

Lian Po Yin

Source date: 1862 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat. Transforms Dampness. Regulates Qi. Harmonizes the Middle Burner.

Conditions targeted*: GastroenteritisTyphoid and others

Shi Chang Pu is a deputy ingredient in Lian Po Yin. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Lian Po Yin, Shi Chang Pu transforms Dampness and revives the Spleen

Read more about Lian Po Yin

Sang Piao Xiao San

Source date: 1116 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Regulates and tonifies the Heart and Kidneys. Stabilizes the Essence. Stops leakage.

Conditions targeted*: Pediatric enuresisDiabetes and others

Shi Chang Pu is an assistant ingredient in Sang Piao Xiao San. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

Read more about Sang Piao Xiao San

Bi Xie Fen Qing Yin

Source date: 1732 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat. Warms the Kidneys. Drains Dampness. Separates the clear from the turbid.

Conditions targeted*: Vaginal dischargeCloudy urine and others

Shi Chang Pu is an assistant ingredient in Bi Xie Fen Qing Yin. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Bi Xie Fen Qing Yin, Shi Chang Pu is warm and acrid. It transforms turbidity as well as removes Dampness and Cold from the Bladder.

Read more about Bi Xie Fen Qing Yin

Di Tan Tang

Source date: 1470 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Removes Phlegm. Opens the sensory orifices. Tonifies Qi.

Shi Chang Pu is an assistant ingredient in Di Tan Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Di Tan Tang, Shi Chang Pu not only transforms Phlegm due to Dampness, but also aromatically opens up the orifices, directing the formula into the Heart Channel. 

Read more about Di Tan Tang

Xiao Tiao Jing Tang

Source date: 1742 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Remove Blood Stagnation. Nourishes Blood. Calms the Mind.

In Xiao Tiao Jing Tang, Shi Chang Pu opens the Mind's orifices.

Read more about Xiao Tiao Jing Tang

Key TCM concepts behind sweetflag rhizomes (Shi Chang Pu)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), sweetflag rhizomes are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that open the Orifices' category. The functions of these herbs are much more platonic than the name implies. They're used to help treat conditions associated with central nervous system collapse, including strokes and coma.

Furthermore sweetflag rhizomes are plants that are Warm in nature. This means that sweetflag rhizomes tend 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 sweetflag rhizomes can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Sweetflag rhizomes 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 sweetflag rhizomes 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 sweetflag rhizomes are thought to target the Stomach, the Heart 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. In addition to regulating Blood flow, the Heart is believed to be the store of the 'Mind' which basically refers to someone's vitality. 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 sweetflag rhizomes (Shi Chang Pu)

β-Asarone of Chinese herb Rhizoma Acori Tatarinowii effectively inhibits the proliferation of human gastric cancer cells, induces their apoptosis and decreased the invasive, migratory and adhesive abilities.1

Sources:

1. Wu J, Zhang XX, Sun QM, Chen M, Liu SL, Zhang X, Zhou JY, Zou X. (2015). β-Asarone inhibits gastric cancer cell proliferation. Oncol Rep , 34(6):3043-50.