Ephedra (Ma Huang) Gypsum (Shi Gao) Apricot seeds (Xing Ren) Liquorice (Gan Cao)

Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang

Chinese: 麻杏石甘汤

Pinyin: Má Xìng Shí Gān Tāng

Other names: Ephedra Apricot Kernel Gypsum and Licorice Decoction, Ephedra Apricot Kernel Licorice and Gypsum Decoction,

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula category: Formulas that clear Heat from the Organs

  1. Invigorates Lung Qi
  2. Clears Heat
  3. Calms wheezing by directing rebellious Qi downward

Contraindications: Contraindicated for wheezing due to Cold invasion. Also contraindicated for... Contraindicated for wheezing due to Cold invasion. Also contraindicated for whose condition lingers a long time because of normal Qi Deficiency. see more

Source date: 220 AD

Source book: Discussion of Cold Damage

Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang is a 4-ingredient Chinese Medicine formula with Ephedra (Ma Huang) and Gypsum (Shi Gao) as principal ingredients.

Invented in 220 AD, it belongs to the category of formulas that clear Heat from the Organs. Its main actions are: 1) invigorates Lung Qi and 2) clears Heat.

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

The four ingredients in Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang

Ma Huang is a king ingredient in Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

1. 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 invigorates Lung Qi so as to ease wheezing. Due to its warm nature, it must be balanced by the cold herb Gypsum, which is also a key herb of the formula.  These two ingredients' dosage must be adapted based on specific patient's condition. For example, when the Lung Heat is severe with profuse sweating, Ephedra's dosage should be reduced, while Gypsum's should be increased. If Pernicious Evils haven't left the Exterior completely, Ephedra's dosage should be increased while the Gypsum's should be decrease.

Learn more about Ephedra (Ma Huang)

Shi Gao is a king ingredient in Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

2. Gypsum (Shi Gao)

Part used: The mineral itself

Nature: Cold

Taste(s): PungentSweet

Meridian affinity: StomachLung

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

Shi Gao removes the Lung Heat and balances the Heat of Ephedra, which is also a key herb of the formula. 

These two ingredients' dosage must be adapted based on specific patient's condition. For example, when the Lung Heat is severe with profuse sweating, Ephedra's dosage should be reduced, while Gypsum's should be increased. If Pernicious Evils haven't left the Exterior completely, Ephedra's dosage should be increased while the Gypsum's should be decrease.  Gypsum also clears Stomach Heat so as to ease thirst. It also removes muscles Heat to relieve fever and spontaneous sweating.

Learn more about Gypsum (Shi Gao)

Xing Ren is a deputy ingredient in Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

3. Apricot Seeds (Xing Ren)

Part used: Dried ripe seeds

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): BitterSweet

Meridian affinity: Large intestineLung

Category: Herbs that relieve coughing and wheezing

Xing Ren helps the key ingredient Ephedra in invigorating Lung Qi. The combination of these two are very powerful in directing the rebellious Lung Qi downward so as to stop wheezing.

Learn more about Apricot Seeds (Xing Ren)

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

4. 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 Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang, it is used because it harmonizes the actions of the other ingredients. It also moistens the Lungs and stops coughing.

Learn more about Liquorice (Gan Cao)

Conditions and patterns for which Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang may be prescribed

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

Lung Heat

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua)

Symptoms: Thirst Sweating High fever Feeling of heat Shortness of breath Cough with thin yellow sputum

Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Lung Heat. This pattern leads to symptoms such as feeling of heat, thirst, high fever and cough with thin yellow sputum. Patients with Lung Heat typically exhibit rapid (Shu) or slippery (Hua) pulses.

Lung Heat can be acute or chronic.

When acute, it is one of the five patterns of the Qi level, the second level of the Four Levels theory. In that case, it is caused by external invasion of the Lungs by Wind-Heat. The patients usually suffer from flaring of nostrils because the Lungs open to the... read more about Lung Heat

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

Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs

Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs. This pattern leads to symptoms such as asthma, chest fullness, chest pain and fever. Patients with Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs typically exhibit rapid (Shu) or slippery (Hua) pulses.

This pattern is similar to Damp-Phlegm in the Lungs, but with additional Heat features, such as feeling of heat, thirst and profuse sticky yellow or green sputum. The typical manifestations of Phlegm are the coughing, short of breath, Phlegm in the throat and chest oppression. The Phlegm can also... read more about Phlegm-Heat in the Lungs

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