Tortoise shells

Chinese: 龟板

Pinyin: Guī Bǎn

Parts used: Carapace and plastron

TCM category: Tonic herbs for Yin Deficiency

TCM nature: Cool

TCM taste(s): SaltySweet

Meridian affinity: HeartKidneyLiver

Scientific name: Chinemys reevesii

Other names: Gui Jia

Use of tortoise shells (Gui Ban) 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 carapace and plastron, boil in order to clearn thoroughly and dry.

Dosage: 9 - 30 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Nourishes the Yin and holds down the Yang. Strengthens the Kidneys and strengthens the bones. Cools the Blood, stops uterine bleeding. Nourishes the Heart. Promotes Healing.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which tortoise shells may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Night sweats Vertigo Tremors Amnesia Hypertension Chronic lower back pain Retarded growth in children Abnormal uterine bleeding Anxiety Insomnia Sores Ulcers

Contraindications*: It is contraindicated during pregnancy and in individuals with Cold and Dampness of the Spleen.

Key TCM concepts behind tortoise shells (Gui Ban)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), tortoise shells are plants that belong to the 'Tonic herbs for Yin Deficiency' category. Tonic herbs are used for patterns of Deficiency, when one lacks one of the 'Four Treasures' (Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang). Yin tonics have a heavy, moist nature. They either nourish the Kidneys and Liver or moisten the Lungs and Stomach. Extreme Yin Deficiency often translates into a 'burn-out', unfortunately more and more common among people today. It is worth mentioning that another great remedy against Yin Deficiency is a lot of rest and sleep; no herb will ever be able to replace this!

Furthermore tortoise shells are plants that are Cool in nature. This means that tortoise shells 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 tortoise shells can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Tortoise shells also taste Salty and Sweet. The so-called "five elements" theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Salty ingredients like tortoise shells tend to have a draining effect in the body because they clear accumulations, remove phlegm and soften hard lumps. On the other hand Sweet ingredients 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 tortoise shells are thought to target the Heart, the Kidney and the Liver. In addition to regulating blood flow, in TCM the Heart is believed to be the store of the "spirit" which basically refers to someone's vitality. 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 Liver is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and body fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on tortoise shells(Gui Ban)

Decoction of turtle shell for anti-fibrosis combined with stronger neo-minophagen C could significantly improve the clinical efficacy and the liver fibrosis indexes and liver function index in chronic hepatitis B.1


1. Zhang L, Chang Y. (2012). Effect of decoction of turtle shell for anti-fibrosis combined with stronger neo-minophagen C on indices of hepatic fibrosis in chronic hepatitis B. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. , 37(2):258-61.