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Rhizoma Atractylodis (Cang Zhu)

Close up of Rhizoma Atractylodis (Cang Zhu)

What is Rhizoma Atractylodis (Cang Zhu)?

Rhizoma Atractylodis (cang zhu, 苍术), also known as Atractylodes Rhizome, was first recorded in the Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica (Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, 神农本草经). In the records, there is no clear distinction between the White Atractylodes (Bai Zhu, 白术) and the Red Atractylodes Lancea (Cang Zhu, 苍术). These two herbs were later subdivided by Zhang Zhongjing (张仲景), one of the most regarded ancient herbal doctors in China, according to the delicate difference in their healing properties.

The plant is commonly found in Korea, Russia and China. In China, Rhizoma Atractylodis is often used in weight loss programs due to its functions that support the digestive system and balance appetite. It is also said that the herb can strengthen the legs and muscles. According to ancient texts, Rhizoma Atractylodis is also believed to fight off evil spirits and promote longevity.

Cang Zhu is usually harvested in the spring and autumn from the wild. As it is considered one of the best tonic herbs to treat Qi Deficiency and conditions caused by accumulation of Dampness, Rhizoma Atractylodis is also called ‘the first herb of invigorating qi and strengthening the Spleen’.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Rhizoma Atractylodis falls under the category of ‘Aromatic herbs that transform Dampness’. Such herbs can treat a TCM condition called ‘Cold Damp Stagnation’. This condition often translates into symptoms such as distended chest and abdomen, lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting.

Warm in nature, Rhizoma Atractylodis can help individuals who have too much Cold in their body, such as those experiencing a Yin Excess or a Yang Deficiency, to restore a harmonious yinyang balance. Bitter and pungent in taste, Rhizoma Atractylodis tends to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. The herb can also promote the circulations of qi and body fluids. In particular, the herb targets the Spleen and the stomach.

Functions and Benefits of Rhizoma Atractylodis (Cang Zhu)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that Rhizoma Atractylodis has the following health benefits.

Rhizoma Atractylodis can treat Dampness obstruction in the middle energizer by drying Dampness and harmonizing the Spleen and stomach. It is especially suitable in treating the dysfunction of Spleen in transformation and transportation due to Dampness obstruction in the middle energizer, usually manifested as abdominal distention and fullness, nausea, indigestion, poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue or white and greasy tongue coating.

Also, Rhizoma Atractylodis can treat Wind-Damp arthralgia. As it is good at dispelling Dampness, it can help to treat arthralgia with excess Dampness.  In addition, the herb can treat Exterior syndromes caused by wind-Cold and complicated by Dampness. This is because Rhizoma Atractylodis can induce sweating to disperse the exogenous wind-Cold from the body and remove Dampness.

It is believed that Rhizoma Atractylodis can clear Dampness from the Lower Jiao, which is usually manifested as forms of atrophy disorders, abnormal vaginal discharge and swollen, sore joints. Also, Rhizoma Atractylodis can help to address pelvic inflammatory disease caused by Dampness. as well as ovarian cysts caused by the accumulation of Phlegm-Dampness.

Other than the above Rhizoma Atractylodis benefits, Rhizoma Atractylodis is also used to brighten one’s eyes, treat symptoms such as night blindness, blurred vision and eye dryness.

Modern studies have shown that Rhizoma Atractylodis may have effects in regulating gastric and intestinal movements. It may possess anti-peptic properties, inhibit digestive secretions, regulate blood sugar and blood pressure levels, promote potassium and sodium discharges, protect the Liver, facilitate gall-bladder secretions, and inhibit bacteria.

Rhizoma Atractylodis (Cang Zhu) on a brown plate
Rhizoma Atractylodis (Cang Zhu) is effective in relieving common flu.

How to Use Rhizoma Atractylodis (Cang Zhu)

The recommended daily dosage of Rhizoma Atractylodis is 5 – 10g, when used as a decoction or in powder and pill preparations. The maximum dosage can go up to 15g if necessary.

Patients consuming Rhizoma Atractylodis are often recommended to mix it in congee for consumption. This is to counteract the herb’s drying effects. This herb is also often processed with rice water and wheat bran to prevent side effects of excess dryness.

Rhizoma Atractylodis can be combined with other herbs such as Magnolia Bark, Dried Tangerine Peel and Licorice Root to enhance its effects in drying Dampness. A representative herbal formula that contains Rhizoma Atractylodis is the ‘Calm the Stomach Powder’ (Ping Wei San). 

Cautions and Side Effects of Rhizoma Atractylodis (Cang Zhu)

Rhizoma Atractylodis should not be used by individuals experiencing Qi Deficiency or Yin Deficiency with Heat, or those with symptoms such as night sweating, hot flushes, or those who perspire excessively.

Older sources state that Rhizoma Atractylodis should not be mixed with peach, watermelon, honeydew melon or pheasant meat.

Also, Rhizoma Atractylodis should be used with caution if you are also consuming insulin, sulfonylureas or other antidiabetics. Concurrent usage of the herb with diuretics such as chlorothiazide or hydrochlorothiazide may cause dehydration.

Some common side effects of using Rhizoma Atractylodis include discomforts such as extreme mouth dryness and constipation.

We strongly encourage you to consult a healthcare provider before deciding to add Rhizoma Atractylodis to your healthcare routine!

Summary

Here is a summary for Rhizoma Atractylodis (Cang Zhu):

  • Herb name (Chinese): 苍术
  • Herb name (Pin Yin): cāng zhú
  • Herb name (English): Atractylodes Rhizome
  • Herb name (Botanical): Rhizoma Atractylodis
  • Origin of species: Atractylodes lancea (Thunb.) DC.; Atractylodes chinensis (DC.) Koidz.
  • Part(s) of herb used: Rhizome
  • Geo-specific habitat(s): Jiangsu, Hubei, Henan, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Liaoning
  • Taste(s) & Properties: Pungent, bitter; Warm; Administrates the Spleen, Stomach and Liver Meridians
  • Actions: Eases symptoms related to the gastrointestinal system, such as abdominal pain, nausea, lack of appetite; Relieves rheumatic pain; Relieves common flu; Aids in eyesight

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