April 19, 2020

Zhāng Zhì-Cōng on Bái Zhú

Bái Zhú from Zhāng Zhì-Cōng’s Běn Cǎo Chóng Yuán (本草崇原)[1]

The qi and flavor of Bái Zhú are sweet[2], warm, and non-toxic. [It] treats wind, cold, damp impediment, dead flesh, tetany, jaundice; stops sweating, expels heat, and disperses food. Make into fried cakes. Long-term consumption lightens the body, extends the years, and relieves hunger.

Bái Zhú’s qi and flavor is sweet and warm, and is abundant in fat and fluids. It is a medicinal for harmonizing and regulating spleen-earth. A major medicinal for treating wind, cold, damp impediment, Sù Wèn chapter 43 [‘discussion on impediment’] says “When the qi of wind, cold and damp all arrive together, they merge and result in impediment.” The taste of Bái Zhú is sweet and its nature is warm, for it supplements and boosts spleen earth; when earth qi moves, then the qi of the flesh moves externally to the skin and internally to the channels and vessels, therefore, impediment due to wind, cold and damp can be treated. The spleen governs the flesh, and (Bái Zhú) treats dead flesh, by moving spleen qi. In addition, the spleen governs the four extremities, and in tetany, the four extremities are strong but in disharmony. The color of the spleen is yellow; in jaundice the body and the eyes are yellow and the earth is deficient. Bái Zhú supplements the spleen therefore both tetany and jaundice can be treated. Stopping sweating (is achieved) through (the medicinals effect in assisting) the earth in overcoming dampness. Expelling heat refers to the expelling of deficient heat of spleen-earth. For dispersing food, (Bái Zhú) helps spleen-earth transport and transform. Fried cakes are made as it is said that Bái Zhú is rich in fats and can therefore treat dryness of spleen-earth. When made into cakes the flavor is sweet, warm and its nature is to enrich and moisten, thereby harmonizing and settling earth qi. As a result, the body is lightened, the years are extended and hunger is relieved.

Cāng Zhú (addendum)   

Bái Zhú is superior to Cāng Zhú. When one desires to supplement the spleen then use Bái Zhú. If one desires to move the spleen, then Cāng Zhú is used. If both these functions are desired, then both can be used in combination. So for example, ‘to supplement more and move less, use Bái Zhú more and Cāng Zhú less’, while to ‘move more and supplement less, use Cāng Zhú more and Bái Zhú less.’[3]
The Běn Jīng does not differentiate between Cāng or Bái (Zhú). Master Zhāng (Zhòng-Jǐng) in his Shāng Hán Lùn always used Bái Zhú, while in his Jìn Guì Yào Lüè used Chì (Red) Zhú[4]. It is only when arriving at Táo Hóng-Jǐng’s Míng Yī Bié Lù (Additional Records of Famous Physicians) that the two are differentiated, with key information on both Chì and Bái Zhú. Chì Zhú is Cāng Zhú, and its function and use is slightly similar to Bái Zhú, as it relates to the main treatments in the Běn Jīng. However, Bái Zhú is sweet and Cāng Zhú is bitter; Bái Zhú stops sweating while Cāng Zhú promotes sweating, therefore the reference to stopping sweating in the original text should be removed and not recorded! Later commentators say that Cāng Zhú is bitter, but in actual fact it is sweet and slightly bitter.

[1] Note that the original text contains more information on the identification, harvesting and processing of the herbs, however, I have opted to merely translate the clinically relevant information from the text, so this translation is by no means a compete rendering of the original work.
[2] It’s interesting here that Zhāng went ahead and changed the entry from the Shén Nóng Běn Cǎo Jīng referring to Bái Zhú as sweet, where the original text considered the medicinal bitter. He does go onto to say “The Běn Jīng refers to this medicinal as bitter, Táo Hóng-Jǐng calls it sweet, Zhēn Quán considers it sweet and acrid, while Zhāng Gǎo refers to it as bitter and sweet. If collected in the summer, the plant is more acrid and less sweet; if collected in the winter, it is more sweet and less acrid, while more bitter if collected any other time.” It is clear from this passage that Zhāng sides with Táo on this one.
[3] Rhythmic mnemonics have been a major feature of Chinese medicine to aid in increasing memorization and therefore the recall of long passages or complex bits of information. The nature of the Chinese language is as such that one can contain an enormous amount of information in just a few characters.
[4] Chi Zhu (赤术) is an alternate name for Atractylodes root, and in this text refers specifically to Cang Zhu.