Cinnamon twigs (Gui Zhi) White peony roots (Bai Shao) Fresh ginger (Sheng Jiang) Jujube dates (Da Zao)

Gui Zhi Tang

Chinese: 桂枝汤

Pinyin: Guì Zhī Tāng

Other names: Cinnamon Twig Decoction, Ramulus Cinnamomi Decoction

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula category: Formulas that clear Wind-Cold

Conditions for which it may be prescribed: AsthmaEczemaInfluenza and five other conditions

  1. Releases pathogens from the muscle layer
  2. Regulates the Nutritive and Protective Qi

Contraindications: Contraindicated in cases with Exterior Cold and Interior Heat, characterized by... Contraindicated in cases with Exterior Cold and Interior Heat, characterized by fever and thirst or sore throat with a rapid pulse. It should not be given to patients with Internal Heat, as nosebleeds may result. It is also contraindicated in patients with internal Damp-Heat. see more

Source date: 220 AD

Source book: Discussion of Cold Damage

Gui Zhi Tang is a 5-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 clear Wind-Cold. Its main actions are: 1) releases pathogens from the muscle layer and 2) regulates the Nutritive and Protective Qi.

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 Tang is used by TCM practitioners to fight patterns like Greater Yang Attack of Wind, Exterior-Cold or Exterior-Empty. From a Western Medicine standpoint, such patterns can give rise to a range of conditions such as common cold, influenza or myocarditis for instance.

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

The five ingredients in Gui Zhi Tang

Gui Zhi is a king ingredient in Gui Zhi 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 Tang, it is used because it releases externally-contracted Wind-Cold from the muscle layer.

Learn more about Cinnamon Twigs (Gui Zhi)

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

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 benefits the Yin and contains the weak nutritive Qi. Together with Gui Zhi it enhances the ability of the Protective Qi to dispel pathogens while strengthening the Nutritive Qi.

Learn more about White Peony Roots (Bai Shao)

Sheng Jiang is an assistant ingredient in Gui Zhi Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

3. Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang)

Part used: Fresh root

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): Pungent

Meridian affinity: SpleenStomachLung

Category: Warm/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

Sheng Jiang helps Gui Zhi release the Exterior while also treating the nausea and vomiting by warming the Middle and directing Qi downward.

Learn more about Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang)

Da Zao is an assistant ingredient in Gui Zhi Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

4. Jujube Dates (Da Zao)

Part used: Dried ripe fruit

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): Sweet

Meridian affinity: SpleenStomach

Category: Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency

In general Da Zao's main actions are as follows: "Tonifies the Spleen and Stomach Qi. Tonifies the Blood. Calms the Shen (spirit). Moderates the actions of other herbs in formula."

In the context of Gui Zhi Tang, it is used because it helps Bai Shao nourish and harmonize the Nutritive Qi and the Blood.

Learn more about Jujube Dates (Da Zao)

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

5. 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 Tang, it is used because it harmonizes the actions of the other ingredients.

Learn more about Liquorice (Gan Cao)

Conditions and patterns for which Gui Zhi 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 Gui Zhi 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:

Common cold Influenza Myocarditis Allergic rhinitis Allergic purpura Asthma Chronic urticaria Eczema

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

Now let's look at the three patterns commonly treated with Gui Zhi Tang.

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

Greater Yang Attack of Wind

Gui Zhi Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Greater Yang Attack of Wind. This pattern leads to symptoms such as slight aversion to cold, aversion to wind, slight fever and slight sweating. Patients with Greater Yang Attack of Wind typically exhibit slow (Chi) or floating (Fu) pulses.

This is one of the four patterns of the Greater Yang stage, the first stage of the Six Stages theory.

As opposed to Attack of Cold, another pattern of the Greater Yang stage, there is an emphasis on Wind rather than Cold.

As far as symptoms are concerned, the aversion to cold is due to the... read more about Greater Yang Attack of Wind

The Exterior in Chinese Medicine is one of the so-called "Eight Principles". Learn more about Exterior in Chinese Medicine

Exterior-Cold

Gui Zhi Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Exterior-Cold. This pattern leads to symptoms such as loose stools, clear urination, aversion to cold and fever. Patients with Exterior-Cold typically exhibit tight (Jin) or floating (Fu) pulses.

This pattern is classified as ‘Exterior’ not because it derived from an external pathogenic factor but because its manifestations are located in the ‘Exterior’ of the body (the skin, muscles and channels). 

'Cold' here is an exterior pathogenic factor. Spontaneous 'Fever' and aversion to cold are... read more about Exterior-Cold

The Exterior in Chinese Medicine is one of the so-called "Eight Principles". Learn more about Exterior in Chinese Medicine

Exterior-Empty

Pulse type(s): Slow (Chi), Floating (Fu)

Symptoms: Fatigue Weakness Sweating Headaches Body aches Aversion to wind Aversion to cold

Gui Zhi Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Exterior-Empty. This pattern leads to symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, headaches and aversion to wind. Patients with Exterior-Empty typically exhibit slow (Chi) or floating (Fu) pulses.

As explained under Exterior-Full, Exterior pattern should be Full by definition as it is characterized by the invasion of an external Pernicious Influence, which then fight with the Body's Defensive Qi.

However, according to a person’s preexisting condition, one can further differentiate an... read more about Exterior-Empty

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