Is the Art of Preparation of Chinese Herbs lost in Translation?

September 21, 2012 Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a long history in Australia. The first Chinese migrants searching for gold in the middle of the nineteenth century brought their culture and medicine with them. In the 1980’s many complementary medicine modalities developed and since around 1990, Australian universities offer degrees in Traditional Chinese medicine. Many Western subjects are required in a 4 year Bachelor degree course and sadly many classical subjects such as the art of the preparation of Chinese medicinals (Pao Zhi) have been lost in translation.

4 years, when Safflower first started its operation, we had almost 70 Pao Zhi substances on our shelfs but quickly discovered that only a small number of practitioners were using them. Three years down the track, we had to destroy a large amount of Pao Zhi substances and nowadays only use a small range of herbs.

Each herbalist would differentiate between Sheng Di Huang (Rehmanniae, Radix) und Shu Di Huang (Rehmanniae Praeparata, Radix). In a situation with blood heat, you would use Sheng Di Huang for its cooling action rather than Shu Di Huang which is slightly warmer. It’s the same plant but a different focus. Only the type of preparation is different. The steamed Sheng Di Huang becomes Shu Di Huang and is more warming and better used for cool constitutions and blood deficiency.

Let’s have a look at a commonly used formula: Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang. It’s a classical formula (Shang Han Lun, Line 149: If there is a palpable blockage under the Heart (CV 14), subjective fullness but no pain, Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang governs). According to TCM standards it’s used to harmonise the stomach, direct rebellious Qi downward, disperse clumping and eliminate focal distension. All herbs in this formula except Zhi Gan Cao are in their Sheng form and hence unprepared.

We have adopted the Pao Zhi principles and used certain herbs in this formula in a prepared form which resulted in the following:

Jiang Ban Xia

Pinelliae Praeparatum, Rhizoma

Warms the middle, transforms phlegm, dries dampness, re-directs rebellious Stomach Qi and stops vomiting.
Gan Jiang

Zingiberis, Rhizoma

Warms the middle and leads out coldness, warms the lungs and transforms phlegm, restores Yang leads out internal cold.
Chao Jiao Huang Qin

Scutellariae Chao Jiao, Radix

Clears heat and transforms dampness, downbears rebellious Qi.
Jiang Zhi Huang Lian –

Coptidis Jiang Zhi, Rhizoma

Is bitter, slightly pungent and cool. Clears heat and eliminates dampness, harmonises the stomach and stops vomiting.
Mi Chao Dang Shen

Codonopsis Mi Chao, Radix

Tonifies the Spleen Qi and stops diarrhea.
Da Zao

Jujubae, Fructus

Tonifies Spleen and Stomach.
Zhi Gan Cao

Glycyrrhizae Mi Zhi, Radix et Rhizoma

Warms and supports the middle, tonifies the Qi and stops pain.


With the above modifications, this formula accurately addresses the heat/cold pathology in the middle burner that clumps with sticky liquids (dampness and phlegm) and re-directs the Qi downward to establish healthy Qi dynamics.

What do you think?

If more practitioners start using Pao Zhi substances again, we can be more appropriate with our formula composition and help our patients better!

(Photo: courtesy of

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