Cinnamon twigs (Gui Zhi) Ephedra (Ma Huang) Prepared aconite (Zhi Fu Zi) Anemarrhena rhizomes (Zhi Mu) White peony roots (Bai Shao) Atractylodes rhizomes (Bai Zhu) Saposhnikovia roots (Fang Feng) Fresh ginger (Sheng Jiang)

Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang

Chinese: 桂枝芍药知母汤

Pinyin: Guì Zhī Sháo Yào Zhī Mǔ Tāng

Other names: Cinnamon Twig Peony and Anemarrhena Decoction

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula category: Formulas that dispel Wind-Damp

Conditions for which it may be prescribed: SciaticaCorpulmonareGouty arthritis and six other conditions

  1. Clears Heat and inflammations
  2. Unblocks the flow of Yang Qi and promotes movement (in areas with painful obstruction)
  3. Clears Wind and Damp
  4. Relieves pain

Source date: 220 AD

Source book: Essentials from the Golden Cabinet

Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang is a 9-ingredient Chinese Medicine formula with Cinnamon Twigs (Gui Zhi) as a principal ingredient.

Invented in 220 AD, it belongs to the category of formulas that dispel Wind-Damp. Its main actions are: 1) clears Heat and inflammations and 2) unblocks the flow of Yang Qi and promotes movement (in areas with painful obstruction).

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 Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang is used by TCM practitioners to fight patterns like Painful Obstruction with Wind-Cold-Damp. From a Western Medicine standpoint, such patterns can give rise to a range of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, connective tissue disorders or gouty arthritis for instance.

On this page, after a detailed description of each of the nine ingredients in Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang, we review the patterns and conditions that Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang helps treat.

The nine ingredients in Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang

Gui Zhi is a king ingredient in Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

1. Cinnamon Twigs (Gui Zhi)

Part used: Dried young branches

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): PungentSweet

Meridian affinity: SpleenHeartLung

Category: Warm/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

In general Gui Zhi's main actions are as follows: "Adjusts the nutritive Ying and defensive Wei Qi. Relieves the Exterior through sweating. Warms and disperses Cold. Removes obstruction of Yang. Promotes the circulation of Yang Qi in the chest. Regulates and moves blood."

In the context of Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang, it is used because it warms and unblocks the Channels.

Learn more about Cinnamon Twigs (Gui Zhi)

Ma Huang 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.

2. Ephedra (Ma Huang)

Part used: Dried herbaceous stems

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): BitterPungent

Meridian affinity: BladderLung

Category: Warm/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

Ma Huang strengthens the warming effect of Cinnamon twigs (the key herb here) and relieves relatively superficial swellings.

Learn more about Ephedra (Ma Huang)

Zhi Fu Zi 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.

3. Prepared Aconite (Zhi Fu Zi)

Part used: Processed daughter root

Nature: Hot

Taste(s): PungentSweet

Meridian affinity: SpleenHeartKidney

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

In general Zhi Fu Zi's main actions are as follows: "Raises the collapse of Yang. Warms the meridians and relieves pain caused by Cold. Reduces Damp caused by Deficiency in Yang."

In the context of Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang, it is used because it warms the Channels and relieves pain.

Learn more about Prepared Aconite (Zhi Fu Zi)

Zhi Mu 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.

4. Anemarrhena Rhizomes (Zhi Mu)

Part used: Dried rhizome

Nature: Cold

Taste(s): BitterSweet

Meridian affinity: StomachKidneyLung

Category: Herbs that clear Heat and purge Fire and/or clear Summer Heat

Zhi Mu works together with White peony root (Bai Shao) - another deputy herb here - to clear Heat and prevent injury to the Yin by recurrent painful obstruction. The combination of Cinnamon twigs (the key herb here) and White peony root is a common one that harmonizes the functions of the protective and nutritive Qi. The less common pairing of Anemarrhena rhizome with Cinnamon twigs effectively prevents Heat from stagnating in the joints.

Learn more about Anemarrhena Rhizomes (Zhi Mu)

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.

5. White Peony Roots (Bai Shao)

Part used: Dried root

Nature: Neutral

Taste(s): BitterSour

Meridian affinity: SpleenLiver

Category: Tonic herbs for Blood Deficiency

In general Bai Shao's main actions are as follows: "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."

Learn more about White Peony Roots (Bai Shao)

Bai Zhu is an assistant ingredient in Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

6. Atractylodes Rhizomes (Bai Zhu)

Part used: Dried rhizome

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): BitterSweet

Meridian affinity: SpleenStomach

Category: Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency

Bai Zhu works with Cinnamon twigs (the key herb here) to unblock the flow of Yang Qi and leach out Dampness.

Learn more about Atractylodes Rhizomes (Bai Zhu)

Fang Feng is an assistant ingredient in Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

7. Saposhnikovia Roots (Fang Feng)

Part used: Dried root

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): PungentSweet

Meridian affinity: BladderSpleenLiver

Category: Warm/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

In general Fang Feng's main actions are as follows: "Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Relieves Wind-Damp-Cold painful obstruction. Disperses Wind."

In the context of Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang, it is used because it strengthens the formula's function of expelling Wind and Dampness.

Learn more about Saposhnikovia Roots (Fang Feng)

Sheng Jiang is an envoy ingredient in Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang. This means that it directs the formula towards certain area of the body and/or harmonizes the actions of other ingredients.

8. Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang)

Part used: Fresh root

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): Pungent

Meridian affinity: SpleenStomachLung

Category: Warm/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

In general Sheng Jiang's main actions are as follows: "Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Warms and circulates Qi in the Middle Burner. Calms a restless fetus and treats morning sickness. Treats seafood poisoning."

In the context of Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang, it is used because it strengthens the spreading and mobilizing actions of the other herbs.

Learn more about Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang)

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

9. 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 Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang, it is used because it harmonizes the actions of the other herbs and regulates the functions of the Middle Burner.

Learn more about Liquorice (Gan Cao)

Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang is used to treat Painful Obstruction with Wind-Cold-Damp

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 Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang is mostly used to treat the pattern "Painful Obstruction with Wind-Cold-Damp" which we describe below.

But before we delve into Painful Obstruction with Wind-Cold-Damp here is an overview of the Western conditions it is commonly associated with:

Rheumatoid arthritis Connective tissue disorders Gouty arthritis Psoriatic arthritis Periarthritis of the shoulder Sciatica Deep vein thrombosis Erythema nodosum Corpulmonare

Again it wouldn't be correct to say "Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang treats rheumatoid arthritis" for instance. Rather, Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang is used to treat Painful Obstruction with Wind-Cold-Damp, which is sometimes the root cause behind rheumatoid arthritis.

Now let's look at Painful Obstruction with Wind-Cold-Damp, a pattern that TCM practitioners commonly treat with Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang.

'Cold' as a body pattern in Chinese Medicine is one of the so-called "Eight Principles". Learn more about Cold pattern in Chinese Medicine

Painful Obstruction with Wind-Cold-Damp

Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Painful Obstruction with Wind-Cold-Damp. This pattern leads to symptoms such as swollen and painful joints that are warm to the touch and worsen at night, reduced range of motion in the affected joints, chills without sweating and weight loss. Patients with Painful Obstruction with Wind-Cold-Damp typically exhibit slippery (Hua) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a tongue with thick white coating.

Learn more about Painful Obstruction with Wind-Cold-Damp

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