White peony roots

Chinese: 白芍

Pinyin: Bái Sháo

Parts used: Dried root

TCM category: Tonic herbs for Blood Deficiency

TCM nature: Neutral

TCM taste(s): BitterSour

Organ affinity: Spleen Liver

Scientific name: Paeonia lactiflora

Other names: Chinese peony, Common garden peony, Shao Yao, Bai Shao Yao

Use of white peony roots (Bai Shao) 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 head and tail and smaller roots, cook in boiling water, remove skin or peel, dry.

Dosage: 3 - 12 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Tonifies the Blood and preserves the Yin. Nourishes the Liver and assists in the smooth flow of Qi. Regulates the meridians and eases the pain.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which white peony roots may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Headache Abdominal pain Spasmodic pain Anemia Irregular menstruation Night sweats

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with diarrhea and Spleen and Stomach Deficiency.

Common TCM formulas in which white peony roots (Bai Shao) are used*

Si Wu Tang

Source date: 846 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Restores and nourishes Blood. Stimulates Blood circulation.

Conditions targeted*: Menstrual crampsIrregular menstruation and others

Bai Shao is a king ingredient in Si Wu Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Si Wu Tang, Bai Shao helps reduce the muscle spasms caused by Blood-Deficiency and it is particularly well-suited to treat abdominal pain. Together with Prepared rehmannia (Shu Di huang)it has a strong tonifying effect on the Blood.

Read more about Si Wu Tang

Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Pacifies the Liver. Removes Stagnation. Drains Fire. Unblocks the Meridians.

Bai Shao is a king ingredient in Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang, Bai Shao enters the Liver and Spleen. It nourishes the Blood, pacifies the Liver and relieves spasmodic abdominal pain. It is also able to unblock the Blood vessels and promote water metabolism. 

Read more about Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang

Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Nourishes the Heart. Calms the spirit.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaNonhealing ulcers and others

Bai Shao is a king ingredient in Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang, Bai Shao is sour and cooling. It enters the Spleen to nourish the Blood and restrain the Yang.

Read more about Ren Shen Yang Rong 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.

Bai Shao is a king ingredient in Xiao Tiao Jing Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Xiao Tiao Jing Tang, Bai Shao nourishes Blood.

Read more about Xiao Tiao Jing Tang

Jia Wei Xiao Yao San

Source date: Ming dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Liver and Spleen Qi Stagnation. Tonifies Spleen. Clears Deficient Heat. Nourishes the blood.

Conditions targeted*: InfertilityMenorrhagia and others

Bai Shao is a deputy ingredient in Jia Wei Xiao Yao San. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Jia Wei Xiao Yao San, Bai Shao moves Qi and is specific for menstrual problems, especially from emotional stress. 

Read more about Jia Wei Xiao Yao San

Xiao Yao San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen. Relieves Liver Qi stagnation. Nourishes the Blood.

Conditions targeted*: HepatitisCholecystitis and others

Bai Shao is a deputy ingredient in Xiao Yao San. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Xiao Yao San, Bai Shao moves Qi and is specific for menstrual problems, especially from emotional stress. 

Read more about Xiao Yao San

Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat and inflammations. Unblocks the flow of Yang Qi and promotes movement (in areas with painful obstruction). Clears Wind and Damp. Relieves pain.

Conditions targeted*: Rheumatoid arthritisConnective tissue disorders and others

Bai Shao is a deputy ingredient in Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

Read more about Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang

Juan Bi Tang

Source date: 1178 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies and harmonizes the Protective and Nutritive Qi. Dispels Wind. Eliminates Dampness.

Conditions targeted*: Periarthritis of the shoulderRheumatoid arthritis and others

Bai Shao is a deputy ingredient in Juan Bi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

Read more about Juan Bi Tang

Tao Hong Si Wu Tang

Source date: 1291 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Blood and regulates the Liver. Moves Qi and Blood in the lower abdomen. Stops pain.

Conditions targeted*: Scanty menstruationPainful menstruations and others

Bai Shao is a deputy ingredient in Tao Hong Si Wu Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Tao Hong Si Wu Tang, Bai Shao tonifies the blood and preserves the Yin. Its sour and astringent character helps to settle the muscle spasms caused by Blood Deficiency, and it is particularly well-suited to treat abdominal pain. 

Read more about Tao Hong Si Wu Tang

Wen Jing Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Uterus and vessels. Nourishes Blood. Dispels Cold. Dispels Blood Stagnation.

Conditions targeted*: Dysfunctional uterine bleedingUterine hypoplasia and others

Bai Shao is a deputy ingredient in Wen Jing Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Wen Jing Tang, Bai Shao nourishes and invigorates Blood, which is necessary because the obstruction of the Uterus by Cold prevents new Blood from taking its proper place there. It also regulates the menstruation, tonifies the Yin and regulates the Liver.

Read more about Wen Jing Tang

E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang

Source date: the Qing dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Yin. Nourishes Blood. Calms the Liver. Extinguishes Wind.

Conditions targeted*: EncephalitisMeningitis and others

Bai Shao is a deputy ingredient in E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang, Bai Shao calms the Liver to extinguish Wind. The combination of Bai Shao and Gan Cao (Liquorice) is very effective in treating painful spasms.

Read more about E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang

Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang

Source date: the 18th century

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes the Yin. Improves throat. Resolves toxicity. Clears the Lungs.

Conditions targeted*: DiphtheriaTonsillitis and others

Bai Shao is a deputy ingredient in Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang, Bai Shao preserves and protects the YinChuan Bei Mu (Fritillary bulbs), Mu Dan Pi (Mudan peony bark) and Bai Shao (White peony root) together disperse the swelling in the throat and stops the pain.

Read more about Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang

Ba Zhen Tang

Source date: 1326 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies and augments Qi. Tonifies and augments Blood.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaHepatitis and others

Bai Shao is a deputy ingredient in Ba Zhen Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Ba Zhen Tang, Bai Shao nourishes Blood and helps reinforcing the action of the king ingredient Shu Di Huang (Prepared rehmannia).

Read more about Ba Zhen Tang

Wan Dai Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies the Middle Burner. Removes Dampness. Stops vaginal discharge. Strengthens the Spleen.

Conditions targeted*: PreeclampsiaOtitis media and others

Bai Shao is a deputy ingredient in Wan Dai Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Wan Dai Tang, Bai Shao softens the Liver and regulates the Spleen. It allows the Liver Qi to spread in a manner that it strengthens rather than constrains Spleen function.

Read more about Wan Dai Tang

Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Source date: 1602

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Disperses Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood. Alleviates pain. Harmonizes Blood.

Conditions targeted*: HepatitisChronic gastritis and others

Bai Shao is an assistant ingredient in Chai Hu Shu Gan San. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Chai Hu Shu Gan San, Bai Shao acts to nourish the Blood, together with Liquorice another assistant. This softens the Liver (which, according to Chinese medicine, stores the Blood) which helps stop the pain. 

Read more about Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Zhen Wu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies the Yang and Qi of the Spleen and Kidneys. Eliminates Dampness.

Conditions targeted*: Congestive heart failureChronic glomerulonephritis and others

Bai Shao is an assistant ingredient in Zhen Wu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Zhen Wu Tang, Bai Shao preserves the Yin and alleviates pain. It prevents the dry, hot herbs that promote urination from injuring the Yin.

Read more about Zhen Wu Tang

Fu Zi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Meridians. Assists the Yang. Dispels Cold. Transforms Dampness.

Conditions targeted*: MigraineCluster headache and others

Bai Shao is an assistant ingredient in Fu Zi Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Fu Zi Tang, Bai Shao complements the actions of the key herb, Prepared aconite (Zhi Fu Zi) because it is cooling and restrains the Yin. Nourishing the Yin provides a substratum to which the Yang generated by Prepared aconite can attach itself, keeping it in the Interior and preventing it from dissipating to the Exterior.

Read more about Fu Zi Tang

Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang

Source date: 650 AD

Number of ingredients: 15 herbs

Formula key actions: Anti-rheumatic, clears Wind, Cold and Damp Stagnation. Strengthens the function of the Liver and Kidney. Tonifies Qi and Blood.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic lower back painSciatica and others

Bai Shao is an assistant ingredient in Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

Read more about Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang

Xiao Qing Long Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Releases the Exterior. Transforms Phlegm-Fluids. Warms the Lungs. Directs Rebellious Qi downward.

Conditions targeted*: Upper respiratory tract infectionsBronchitis and others

Bai Shao is an assistant ingredient in Xiao Qing Long Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Xiao Qing Long Tang, Bai Shao nourishes the Blood and nutritive Qi.

Read more about Xiao Qing Long Tang

Bai He Gu Jin Tang

Source date: 1573 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Lung and Kidney Yin. Lubricates the Lung and clears phlegm.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic bronchitisChronic pharyngitis and others

In Bai He Gu Jin Tang, Bai Shao , together with Dong quoi, another assistant herb, nourish the Blood to support the Yin. Also they together protect the Lungs from violation thanks to their action of calming the Liver.

Read more about Bai He Gu Jin 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, Bai Shao nourishes and invigorates Blood

Read more about Xia Ru Yong Quan San

Tuo Li Xiao Du San

Source date: 1548 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Draws out toxicity. Expels pus from the interior. Tonifies Qi and Blood.

In Tuo Li Xiao Du San, Bai Shao nourishes and invigorates Blood

Read more about Tuo Li Xiao Du San

Qing Re Tiao Xue Tang

Source date: 1576 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Expel Dampness. Relieve pain. Move Qi and Blood.

In Qing Re Tiao Xue Tang, Bai Shao harmonizes Blood

Read more about Qing Re Tiao Xue Tang

Ba Zhen Yi Mu Tang

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Invigorates the Blood.

Conditions targeted*: Infertility and others

In Ba Zhen Yi Mu Tang, Bai Shao nourishes the Blood and thereby reinforces the action of Prepared rehmannia

Read more about Ba Zhen Yi Mu Tang

Sheng Yu Tang

Source date: 1336 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Preserves the Blood.

In Sheng Yu Tang, Bai Shao preserve Yin from other herbs' harm such as Szechuan lovage root and Dong quai.

Read more about Sheng Yu Tang

Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San

Source date: 2002 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Liver Fire from Stagnant Liver Qi.

In Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San, Bai Shao moves Qi and is specific for menstrual issues, especially from emotional stress. 

Read more about Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San

Tiao Gan Tang

Source date: 1827 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Kidney and Liver Yin.

In Tiao Gan Tang, Bai Shao nourishes and moves Blood

Read more about Tiao Gan Tang

Gui Shao Di Huang Tang

Source date: 1706 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Blood. Nourishes Yin.

In Gui Shao Di Huang Tang, Bai Shao nourishes Blood

Read more about Gui Shao Di Huang Tang

Qing Jing San

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Blood-Heat. Stops bleeding.

In Qing Jing San, Bai Shao calms Blood to stops bleeding

Read more about Qing Jing San

Liang Di Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Yin. Cools Blood. Stop bleeding.

In Liang Di Tang, Bai Shao nourishes Blood, which helps to nourish Yin. It also calms Blood and therefore helps to stop bleeding

Read more about Liang Di Tang

Di Gu Pi Yin

Source date: 1742 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat. Stops bleeding.

In Di Gu Pi Yin, Bai Shao helps reduce the muscle spasms caused by Blood-Deficiency and it is particularly well-suited to treat abdominal pain. Together with Di Huangit has a strong tonifying effect on the Blood.

Read more about Di Gu Pi Yin

Ren Shen Zi Xie Tang

Source date: 1602 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Blood.

In Ren Shen Zi Xie Tang, Bai Shao nourishes Blood

Read more about Ren Shen Zi Xie Tang

Shi Quan Da Bu Tang

Source date: 1180 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies Qi. Warms and tonifies Blood.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaNervous exhaustion and others

In Shi Quan Da Bu Tang, Bai Shao helps reduce the muscle spasms caused by Blood-Deficiency and it is particularly well-suited to treat abdominal pain. Together with Prepared rehmannia (Shu Di huang)it has a strong tonifying effect on the Blood.

Read more about Shi Quan Da Bu Tang

Ren Shen Dang Gui Tang

Source date: 1742 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Nourishes Yin.

In Ren Shen Dang Gui Tang, Bai Shao nourishes Blood.

Read more about Ren Shen Dang Gui Tang

Key TCM concepts behind white peony roots (Bai Shao)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), white peony roots are plants that belong to the 'Tonic herbs for Blood Deficiency' category. Tonic herbs are used for patterns of Deficiency, when one lacks one of the 'Four Treasures' (Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang). Blood tonics tend to be bitter-sweet with either a Warm or neutral nature. Because the Liver stores Blood, all Blood tonics enter that Organ's Channel.

As suggested by its category white peony roots are plants that are Neutral in nature. This means that white peony 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 white peony roots means that you don't have to worry about that!

White peony roots also taste Bitter and Sour. 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 white peony roots tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. On the other hand Sour ingredients help with digestion and restrain abnormal discharges of Fluids from the body, such as diarrhea or heavy sweating.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such white peony roots are thought to target the Spleen and the Liver. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. 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 white peony roots (Bai Shao)

Paeoniflorin and 8-debenzoylpaeoniflorin isolated from the dried root of Paeonia lactiflora produced a significant blood sugar lowering effect in streptozotocin-treated rats. It could therefore have similar effects in human and help treat diabetes.1

The root of Paeonia lactiflora has antipyretic and anti-inflammatory effects in that it can improve IgE-induced anaphylaxis and scratching behaviors. That may be due to the effect of its constituents, paeoniflorin and paeonol.2

Sources:

1. FL Hsu, CW Lai, JT Cheng (1997). Antihyperglycemic Effects of Paeoniflorin and 8-Debenzoylpaeoniflorin, Glucosides from the Root of Paeonia lactiflora. Planta Med, 63(4): 323-325. DOI: 10.1055/s-2006-957692.

2. Lee, B., Shin, YW., Bae, EA. et al. Arch. Pharm. Res. (2008) 31: 445. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12272-001-1177-6