Prepared rehmannia (Shu Di Huang) White peony roots (Bai Shao) Dong quai (Dang Gui) Szechuan lovage roots (Chuan Xiong)

Bu Gan Tang

Chinese: 补肝汤

Pinyin: Bǔ Gān Tāng

Other names: Tonify the Liver Decoction

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula category: Formulas that tonify Blood

Mother formula: Si Wu Tang

Conditions for which it may be prescribed: AIDSAnemiaHeadache and twelve other conditions

  1. Tonifies and regulates the Blood
  2. Nourishes the Liver Yin

Source date: 1742 AD

Source book: Golden Mirror of the Medical Tradition

Bu Gan Tang is a 7-ingredient Chinese Medicine formula with Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di huang) and White Peony Roots (Bai Shao) as principal ingredients.

Invented in 1742 AD, it belongs to the category of formulas that tonify Blood. Its main actions are: 1) tonifies and regulates the Blood and 2) nourishes the Liver Yin.

In Chinese Medicine health conditions are thought to arise due to "disharmonies" in the body as a system. These disharmonies are called "patterns" and the very purpose of herbal formulas is to fight them in order to restore the body's harmony.

In this case Bu Gan Tang is used by TCM practitioners to fight patterns like Liver Blood Deficiency, Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Blood Deficiency or Liver Yin Deficiency. From a Western Medicine standpoint, such patterns can give rise to a range of conditions such as photophobia, anemia or headache for instance.

On this page, after a detailed description of each of the seven ingredients in Bu Gan Tang, we review the patterns and conditions that Bu Gan Tang helps treat.

The seven ingredients in Bu Gan Tang

Shu Di huang is a king ingredient in Bu Gan Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

1. Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di huang)

Part used: Prepared dried root tuber

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): Sweet

Meridian affinity: KidneyLiver

Category: Tonic herbs for Blood Deficiency

Shu Di huang has a very strong tonifying effect on the Liver and Kidneys and is said to nourish the Yin of the Blood.

Learn more about Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di huang)

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

2. White Peony Roots (Bai Shao)

Part used: Dried root

Nature: Neutral

Taste(s): BitterSour

Meridian affinity: SpleenLiver

Category: Tonic herbs for Blood Deficiency

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.

Learn more about White Peony Roots (Bai Shao)

Dang Gui is a deputy ingredient in Bu Gan Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

3. Dong Quai (Dang Gui)

Part used: Dried root

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): PungentSweet

Meridian affinity: SpleenHeartLiver

Category: Tonic herbs for Blood Deficiency

In general Dang Gui's main actions are as follows: "Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation."

In the context of Bu Gan Tang, it is used because it enters the Liver and Heart to tonify and invigorate the Blood.

Learn more about Dong Quai (Dang Gui)

Chuan Xiong is a deputy ingredient in Bu Gan Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

4. Szechuan Lovage Roots (Chuan Xiong)

Part used: Dried rhizome

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): Pungent

Meridian affinity: GallbladderLiverPericardium

Category: Herbs that invigorate the Blood

Chuan Xiong invigorates the flow of Blood through the vessels, alleviates symptoms such as headache, dizziness, blurred vision and pain.

Learn more about Szechuan Lovage Roots (Chuan Xiong)

Suan Zao Ren is an assistant ingredient in Bu Gan Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

5. Jujube Seeds (Suan Zao Ren)

Part used: Dried ripe seed

Nature: Neutral

Taste(s): SourSweet

Meridian affinity: GallbladderHeartLiver

Category: Herbs that nourish the Heart and calm the Spirit

In general Suan Zao Ren's main actions are as follows: "Nourishes the Heart Yin and calms the spirit. Contains Fluid leakage."

In the context of Bu Gan Tang, it is used because it nourishes the Heart Yin and calms the Mind.

Learn more about Jujube Seeds (Suan Zao Ren)

Mu Gua is an assistant ingredient in Bu Gan Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

6. Flowering Quince (Mu Gua)

Part used: Dried nearly-ripe fruit

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): Sour

Meridian affinity: SpleenLiver

Category: Herbs that dispel Wind and DampnessHerbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold

In general Mu Gua's main actions are as follows: "Relaxes the sinews by increasing the flow of both Blood and Qi. Assists the function of the Stomach and expels Dampness. Facilitate lactation."

In the context of Bu Gan Tang, it is used because it relaxes the sinews by increasing the flow of both Blood and Qi. .

Learn more about Flowering Quince (Mu Gua)

Gan Cao is an envoy ingredient in Bu Gan Tang. This means that it directs the formula towards certain area of the body and/or harmonizes the actions of other ingredients.

7. Liquorice (Gan Cao)

Part used: Dried root and rhizome

Nature: Neutral

Taste(s): Sweet

Meridian affinity: SpleenStomachHeartLung

Category: Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency

In general Gan Cao's main actions are as follows: "Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs."

In the context of Bu Gan Tang, it is used because it harmonizes the actions of all other ingredients of the formula.

Learn more about Liquorice (Gan Cao)

Conditions and patterns for which Bu Gan Tang may be prescribed

It's important to remember that herbal formulas are meant to treat patterns, not "diseases" as understood in Western Medicine. According to Chinese Medicine patterns, which are disruptions to the body as a system, are the underlying root cause for diseases and conditions.

As such Bu Gan Tang is used by TCM practitioners to treat three different patterns which we describe below.

But before we delve into these patterns here is an overview of the Western conditions they're commonly associated with:

Photophobia Anemia Headache Amenorrhea Late menstruation Paresthesia Parkinson's disease Tinnitus Neurasthenia Scanty menstruation Dandruff Insomnia Neurosis Hypotension AIDS

Again it wouldn't be correct to say "Bu Gan Tang treats photophobia" for instance. Rather, Bu Gan Tang is used to treat patterns that are sometimes the root cause behind photophobia.

Now let's look at the three patterns commonly treated with Bu Gan Tang.

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Liver Blood Deficiency

Bu Gan Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Liver Blood Deficiency. This pattern leads to symptoms such as joint pain, blurred vision, dull-pale complexion and scanty periods. Patients with Liver Blood Deficiency typically exhibit choppy (Se) or fine (Xi) pulses as well as a pale tongue.

This pattern has all the general manifestation of the Blood Deficiency, such as dizziness, pale lips, dull pale face. The Liver stores Blood, that is the reason any Blood Deficiency often involves the Liver. 

This pattern has an impact on areas the Liver relates to, such as the eyes, the sinews,... read more about Liver Blood Deficiency

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Blood Deficiency

Bu Gan Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Blood Deficiency. This pattern leads to symptoms such as headaches, hypertension, dry throat and no period. Patients with Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Blood Deficiency typically exhibit wiry (Xian) or fine (Xi) pulses as well as a pale tongue.

If there is Liver Blood Deficiency, especially if the condition lasts a long time without being treated, the Blood vessels become 'empty' and the space is taken over by Internal Wind. Like an empty building will often get a lot of wind in its corridors, the concept here is the same.

This kind of... read more about Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Blood Deficiency

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Liver Yin Deficiency

Bu Gan Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Liver Yin Deficiency. This pattern leads to symptoms such as menopausal, nervousness, heavy periods and headaches. Patients with Liver Yin Deficiency typically exhibit rapid (Shu), empty (Xu), wiry (Xian) or floating (Fu) pulses as well as a red points on the sides tongue with complete absence of coating.

This is a type of Empty-Heat pattern arising out of Liver Blood Deficiency or Kidney Yin Deficiency. It shares similar symptoms as Liver Blood Deficiency, such as blurred and impaired vision, numbness or tingling of limbs, scanty menstruation or amenorrhoea, dull-pale complexion, muscle pain and... read more about Liver Yin Deficiency

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