The Invigorating Power of Bai Zhu

By Barry Eitel /

The Invigorating Power of Bai Zhu

A member of the sunflower family, bai zhu (Atractylodes macrocephala) grows naturally in the southeastern provinces of China. For thousands of years, it is highly respected by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – it is often referred to as “The First Herb of Invigorating Qi and Strengthening Spleen.” A key ingredient in many TCM formulas including our Immunity Support, the root of the bai zhu has garnered a powerful reputation over many centuries.  

An Equal of Ginseng
Harvested when the temperature cools slightly in its native habitat, the lightly sweet, lightly bitter bai zhu root is grown in the Zhejiang, Hubei and Hunan provinces. The bai zhu grown in warm, forested climate around Lin'an City in Zhejiang province is especially prized in TCM. Bai zhu ranks high in the pantheon of TCM herbs and is actually considered by some to be an equal of ginseng, or ren shen, easily the most famous TCM herb in the Western world. An old TCM aphorism states “ren shen in the north and bai zhu in the south,” showcasing how important both are viewed.

The Power of the Spleen
TCM practitioners (and Chinese medicine theory) believe bai zhu is useful for strengthening the spleen, but this definition of “spleen” differs from the actual spleen in the human body that regulates the production of red blood cells. Instead, in TCM, spleen refers to, in broad terms, the digestive system. Also in TCM, digesting does not just apply to food – a person “digests” all information provided by the senses, too. When TCM theory says bai zhu is thought to strengthen the spleen, it means the root is thought to help alleviate symptoms related to indigestion.   

Xiao Yao Powder
One of the most popular TCM formulas that utilizes bai zhu is called xiao yao powder, which is used to reduce stress according to TCM theory. In fact, the term “xiao yao” is related to ideas of wandering or rambling – activities that seem like a beacon of calm in our often overstimulated and stressful world.

“Known as Xiao Yao Powder in Chinese, this formula has a uniquely evocative name that means to wander freely, to ramble, to move unimpeded and unfettered,” Dr. Eric Karchmer, a doctor of TCM with Dao Labs, which produces a formula inspired by the classic xiao yao powder.

Invigorating Qi

TCM theory strongly links bai zhu with its consistent ability to invigorate a person’s “qi”, a crucial element of TCM that is often loosely translated to “energy” in English but really encapsulates a whole lot more.

“Qi is more properly a way for speaking about the constant movement and motion that constitutes life,” Dr. Karchmer continues. “If that movement is impeded, then one’s flow of Qi is constrained, leading to a wide range of symptoms.”

A stifled qi can manifest itself in emotional volatility, according to TCM thought, meaning that emotions can be exaggerated or unexpectedly unstable. Combined with other herbs in xiao yao powder, bai zhu is thought to help calm these frayed nerves by letting the qi loose.   

Barry Eitel is a San Francisco-based writer and frequent contributor to The Way, focussing on health, science and technology.  When not writing or contributing to The Way, Barry enjoys hiking, cooking and staring at the Pacific Ocean, harnessing the power of his inner Qi.  

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to treat, mitigate or cure any disease or symptom.

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