English: Tetrapanax piths

Chinese: 通草

Parts used: Dried stem pith

TCM category: Herbs that drain Dampness

TCM nature: Cool

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Organ affinity: Stomach Lung

Scientific name: Tetrapanax papyriferus

Other names: Rice-paper plant pith

Use of Tong Cao (tetrapanax piths) 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, remove the outer wood so as to only leave the pith and cut into thick slices.

Dosage: 3 - 5g

Main actions according to TCM*: Removes heat, induces urination and stimulates lactation

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Tong Cao may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Edema Oliguria Clogged milk ducts Low milk supply Urinary difficulties

Contraindications*: Use with caution during pregnancy

Common TCM formulas in which Tong Cao is used*

San Ren Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Damp-Heat. Disseminates the Qi. Facilitates the Qi mechanisms.

Conditions targeted*: TyphoidPyelonephritis and others

Tong Cao is a deputy ingredient in San Ren Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In San Ren Tang, Tong Cao resolves Dampness by promoting urination and it clears Heat. It also assists in opening and directing Lung Qi downward.

Read more about San Ren Tang

Xia Ru Yong Quan San

Source date: 1840 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Blood. Increases breast milk supply.

In Xia Ru Yong Quan San, Tong Cao removes Stagnation from the breast connecting Meridians.

Read more about Xia Ru Yong Quan San

Key TCM concepts behind Tong Cao's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Tong Cao belongs to the 'Herbs that drain Dampness' category. These herbs are typically diuretics, meaning that they promotes the increased production of urine in order to remove Dampness that has accumulated in the body. According to TCM Dampness accumulates first in the lower limbs, causing edema and impaired movement. From there, if unchecked, it can move upward and impair digestion and eventually the respiratory system.

Furthermore Tong Cao is Cool in nature. This means that Tong Cao tends 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 Tong Cao can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Tong Cao also tastes 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 Tong Cao tends 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 Tong Cao is thought to target the Stomach and the Lung. 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 performing respiration, the Lungs are thought in TCM to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the Body Fluids that nourish the body.