Sophora roots (Ku Shen) Cnidium Seeds (She Chuang Zi) Honeysuckle flowers (Jin Yin Hua) Chrysanthemum flowers (Ju Hua) Phellodendron bark (Huang Bo) Angelica roots (Bai Zhi) Kochia fruits (Di Fu Zi) Sweetflag rhizomes (Shi Chang Pu)

Chinese: 苦参汤

Pinyin: Kǔ Cān Tāng

Other names: Sophora Root Wash

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula category: External formulas for External disorders

Conditions for which it may be prescribed: ScabiesLeprosyLichen planus and three other conditions

  1. Dispels Wind
  2. Dries Dampness
  3. Kills parasites
  4. Relieves itching

Source date: 1806 AD

Source book: Collected Experiences on Treating Sores

Ku Shen Tang is a 8-ingredient Chinese Medicine formula with Sophora Roots (Ku Shen) as a principal ingredient.

Invented in 1806 AD, it belongs to the category of external formulas for External disorders. Its main actions are: 1) dispels Wind and 2) dries Dampness.

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 Ku Shen Tang is used by TCM practitioners to fight patterns like Damp-Wind. From a Western Medicine standpoint, such patterns can give rise to a range of conditions such as atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis or scabies for instance.

On this page, after a detailed description of each of the eight ingredients in Ku Shen Tang, we review the patterns and conditions that Ku Shen Tang helps treat.

The eight ingredients in Ku Shen Tang

Ku Shen is a king ingredient in Ku Shen Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

1. Sophora Roots (Ku Shen)

Part used: Dried root

Nature: Cold

Taste(s): Bitter

Meridian affinity: BladderHeartLarge intestineLiverStomach

Category: Herbs that clear Heat and dry Dampness

Ku Shen disperses Wind, kills parasites and stops itching topically. It is effective in treating general itching or vaginitis due to trichomonas infection, together with Phellodendron bark and Cnidium Seed.

Learn more about Sophora Roots (Ku Shen)

She Chuang Zi is a deputy ingredient in Ku Shen Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

2. Cnidium Seeds (She Chuang Zi)

Part used: Seeds

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): BitterPungent

Meridian affinity: SpleenKidney

Category: Herbs for external application

In general She Chuang Zi's main actions are as follows: "Applied topically it clears Damp-Heat on the skin and kills parasites. Tonifies Kidney Yang. Warms and dries Wind-Damp-Cold. "

In the context of Ku Shen Tang, it is used because it dries Dampness, kills parasites and stop itching when applied topically.

Learn more about Cnidium Seeds (She Chuang Zi)

Jin Yin Hua is a deputy ingredient in Ku Shen Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

3. Honeysuckle Flowers (Jin Yin Hua)

Part used: Dried flower bud

Nature: Cold

Taste(s): Sweet

Meridian affinity: HeartLungStomach

Category: Herbs that clear Heat and relieve Toxicity

In general Jin Yin Hua's main actions are as follows: "Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Dispels Wind-Heat derived from an External pathogen. Expels Damp-Heat from the Lower Burner. Relieves Carbuncles."

In the context of Ku Shen Tang, it is used because it clears Toxic-Heat.

Learn more about Honeysuckle Flowers (Jin Yin Hua)

Ju Hua is a deputy ingredient in Ku Shen Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

4. Chrysanthemum Flowers (Ju Hua)

Part used: Dried capitulum

Nature: Cool

Taste(s): BitterSweet

Meridian affinity: LiverLung

Category: Cool/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

Ju Hua disperses Wind and clears Toxic-Heat. disperses Wind, kills parasites and stops itching topically. It is effective in treating general itching or vaginitis due to trichomonas infection, together with Phellodendron bark and Sophora root.

Learn more about Chrysanthemum Flowers (Ju Hua)

Huang Bo is a deputy ingredient in Ku Shen Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

5. Phellodendron Bark (Huang Bo)

Part used: Dried bark

Nature: Cold

Taste(s): Bitter

Meridian affinity: BladderKidneyLarge intestine

Category: Herbs that clear Heat and dry Dampness

Huang Bo treats general itching or vaginitis due to trichomonas infection, together with Sophora root and Cnidium Seed.  It clears Fire and relives Toxin.

Learn more about Phellodendron Bark (Huang Bo)

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

6. Angelica Roots (Bai Zhi)

Part used: Dried root

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): Pungent

Meridian affinity: SpleenStomachLung

Category: Warm/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

In general Bai Zhi's main actions are as follows: "Relieves the Exterior and disperses Wind. Disperses Wind and Cold from the Yang Brightness channels. Relieves Wind-Damp Cold painful obstruction. Dries Dampness and pus and reduces swelling. Opens the nasal passages."

In the context of Ku Shen Tang, it is used because it reduces swelling, clears toxin and disperses pus.

Learn more about Angelica Roots (Bai Zhi)

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

7. Kochia Fruits (Di Fu Zi)

Part used: The seeds or fruits

Nature: Cold

Taste(s): BitterSweet

Meridian affinity: BladderKidney

Category: Herbs that drain Dampness

In general Di Fu Zi's main actions are as follows: "Encourages urination and dispels Damp-Heat. Drains Dampness and stop itching."

In the context of Ku Shen Tang, it is used because it expels Dampness and stop itching.

Learn more about Kochia Fruits (Di Fu Zi)

Shi Chang Pu is an assistant ingredient in Ku Shen Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

8. Sweetflag Rhizomes (Shi Chang Pu)

Part used: Dried rhizome

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): Bitter

Meridian affinity: StomachHeartLiver

Category: Herbs that open the Orifices

Shi Chang Pu invigorates Blood, reduces swelling and relieves sores. It also relieves Painful Obstruction Syndrome due to Wind-Damp when used internally or topically.

Learn more about Sweetflag Rhizomes (Shi Chang Pu)

Ku Shen Tang is used to treat Damp-Wind

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 Ku Shen Tang is mostly used to treat the pattern "Damp-Wind" which we describe below.

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

Atopic dermatitis Seborrheic dermatitis Scabies Lichen planus Leprosy Fungal infection

Again it wouldn't be correct to say "Ku Shen Tang treats atopic dermatitis" for instance. Rather, Ku Shen Tang is used to treat Damp-Wind, which is sometimes the root cause behind atopic dermatitis.

Now let's look at Damp-Wind, a pattern that TCM practitioners commonly treat with Ku Shen Tang.

Wind is one of the pathogenic factors in Chinese Medicine. Learn more about Wind in Chinese Medicine

Damp-Wind

Ku Shen Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Damp-Wind. This pattern leads to symptoms such as aversion to cold, fever, swollen neck glands and nausea. Patients with Damp-Wind typically exhibit slippery (Hua) or floating (Fu) pulses.

This pattern indicates the early stage of Exterior Wind and Dampness invasion. When there is Dampness obstructing the Connecting channels, it gives rise to swollen glands in the neck. When it obstructs the joints, it leads to pain there. It can also cause muscle ache and feeling of heaviness if the... read more about Damp-Wind

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