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7. What are the tendencies of action of the herbs in the body and what are the applications?

The tendency of action of a substance refers to the direction of movement of that substance in the body (e.g. upwards, downwards, outwards or inwards). This feature of a herb depends on several of its properties.

First of all, the temperature and the taste of a herb determine its tendency. The warm, hot, pungent and aromatic herbs tend to move upwards and outwards; the cold, cool, bitter, bland and salty herbs tend to move downwards; the sour and astringent herbs move inwards and the sweet herbs stay in their original place.

The tendency of action is also decided by the functions of the herbs. Generally speaking, herbs which tend to move upwards and outwards can be found in relation to functions such as releasing the Exterior, inducing vomiting, expelling Wind and Cold, dispersing Fire and Dampness, spreading the constraint of Qi, opening the orifices, unblocking the meridians and lifting the clear Yang.

Herbs that tend to move downwards can be found in relation with functions such as clearing Fire, promoting bowel movement, promoting urination, directing the Liver-Yang or the Lung-Qi to descend, soothing the Stomach-Qi and calming the Spirit, as well as eliminating Phlegm, Blood stasis, food stagnation and parasites.

Another factor that decides the tendency of action is the nature of the herb. Generally speaking, flowers are light and tend to move upwards, whereas mineral substances are heavy and tend to move downwards.

There are some exceptions, however; for instance, Xuan Fu Hua (Inulae flos) can direct the Lung-Qi to descend and eliminate Phlegm, and Shi Gao (Gypsum) can direct the Lung-Qi to descend and disperse Heat from the Lung.In addition, processing can change action tendencies.

Generally speaking, herbs processed by alcohol move upwards, those processed by ginger juice move outwards, those processed by vinegar move inwards and those processed by salt move downwards.

There are also herbs that move generally about the whole body without a special direction. For instance, Chuan Xiong (Chuanxiong rhizoma) can invigorate the Blood and promote Blood circulation; it moves in the four directions mentioned above.

Xiang Fu (Cyperi rhizoma) can spread the Liver-Qi and also moves about the whole body.

The tendency of action of herbs is widely used in treatment to regulate Qi movement, Blood circulation and water metabolism, as well as that to eliminate accumulations of Qi, Blood, food, Phlegm and water.

Furthermore, the tendency of action of herbs is used to strengthen the functions of the internal organs and their cooperation. This tendency is especially important in the strategy of herbal combination as demonstrated by the following examples.

7.1 Regulating the Lung-Qi, eliminating Phlegm, reducing Fire, and regulating Qi in the Chest

Ma Huang (Ephedrae herba) disperses and lifts the Lung-Qi; Xing Ren (Armeniacae semen) directs the Lung-Qi to descend and transforms Phlegm. They are used together to regulate the Lung-Qi. Sang Ye (Mori folium) disperses Wind-Heat; Sang Bai Pi (Mori cortex) clears Heat and directs the Qi of the Lung to descend.

They are used together to expel Wind-Heat from the Lung, bring down the Lung-Qi and relieve wheezing. Jie Geng (Platycodi radix) lifts the Lung-Qi and Xing Ren (Armeniacae semen) directs the Lung-Qi to descend; both can eliminate Phlegm and stop cough. They are used together to regulate the function of the Lung and remove Phlegm. Xi Xin (Asari herba) disperses the Lung-Qi and Wu Wei Zi (Schisandrae fructus) stabilizes the Lung-Qi. They are used together to relieve Coldtype wheezing.

Ma Huang (Ephedrae herba) disperses Lung-Qi and disperses Heat from the Lung and Shi Gao (Gypsum) directs the Lung-Qi to descend and clears Heat from the Lung. They are used together to relieve Heat-type wheezing.

Zhi Zi (Gardeniae fructus) descends Heat in the chest and Dan Dou Chi (Sojae semen praeparatum) disperses Heat in the chest. They are used together to treat irritability due to constraint of Qi and Heat in the chest.

7.2 Regulating the Qi in the Middle Jiao and promoting digestion

Bai Zhu (Atractylodis macrocephalae rhizoma) strengthens the Spleen-Qi and promotes transportation and transformation of the Spleen in the Middle Jiao; Zhi Shi (Aurantii fructus immaturus) directs the Qi to descend in the intestines and removes the accumulation of food, Phlegm and Qi. They are used together to promote digestion.

Huang Lian (Coptidis rhizoma) descends Stomach-Fire and Sheng Ma (Cimicifugae rhizoma) disperses Stomach-Fire. They are often used together to treat toothache.

Ban Xia (Pinelliae rhizoma) disperses stagnation of Stomach-Qi and accumulation of Phlegm; Huang Qin (Scutellariae radix) clears Heat that is caused by the accumulation in the Stomach. They are used together to regulate the Stomach and effectively treat nausea and poor appetite, especially under stress.

Zhi Ke (Aurantii fructus) enters the Lung and Stomach meridians, disperses the Qi and opens the chest; Zhi Shi (Aurantii fructus immaturus) directs the Qi to descend in the intestines. They are used together to treat distension in the chest and abdomen.

7.3 Regulating the intestines and promoting bowel movement

Da Huang (Rhei rhizoma) reduces Heat and purges accumulation in the intestines and Hou Po (Magnoliae cortex) disperses the Qi and directs it to descend.

They are used together to treat constipation. Da Huang (Rhei rhizoma) descends the Qi in the intestines and moves stools, and Jie Geng (Platycodi radix) ascends the Lung-Qi to accelerate the Qi’s downward movement in the Large Intestine. They are used together to treat constipation and distension in the abdomen.

7.4 Associating the Heart and Kidney

Huang Lian (Coptidis rhizoma) reduces Excessive-Heat from the Heart; Rou Gui (Cinnamomi cassia cortex) strengthens the Kidney-Yang and warms the vital Fire. They are used together to treat insomnia due to the disharmony of the Heart and Kidney according to the Five Elements theory.

7.5 Lifting the Yang and strengthening the Exterior

Huang Qi (Astragali radix) strengthens and stabilizes the Defensive Qi; Fang Feng (Saposhnikoviae radix) disperses Wind from the Exterior. They are used together to regulate the opening and closing of the pores, strengthen the body resistance and prevent cold infections.

7.6 Regulating the Liver-Qi

Chai Hu (Bupleuri radix) lifts and disperses the Liver-Qi; Bai Shao Yao (Paeoniae radix lactiflora) directs Heat downward and stabilizes the Yin of the Liver. They are used together to treat Liver-Qi stagnation.

Dang Gui (Angelicae sinensis radix) tonifies the Blood and promotes the Blood circulation of the Liver; Bai Shao Yao (Paeoniae radix lactiflora) nourishes the Blood and stabilizes the Yin of the Liver.

They are used together to soften the Liver and treat Liver-Qi stagnation caused by Blood deficiency.

7.7 Dispersing and descending the constraint of Qi and Fire

Chai Hu (Bupleuri radix) lifts and disperses Liver-Qi; Xiang Fu (Cyperi rhizoma) promotes Liver-Qi movement. They are used together to treat Liver-Qi stagnation. Chai Hu (Bupleuri radix) lifts and disperses Liver-Qi; Zhi Ke (Aurantii fructus) broadens the chest. They are used together to reduce tight sensations in the chest.

Long Dan Cao (Gentianae radix) strongly descends Heat and drains Fire from the Liver; Chai Hu (Bupleuri radix) lifts and disperses constrained Fire and Qi in the Liver. They are used for Excessive-Fire in the Liver.

Huang Lian (Coptidis rhizoma) directs Fire downwards from the Stomach; Sheng Ma (Cimicifugae rhizoma) lifts and disperses constrained Qi and Fire in the Stomach. They are used together to treat Excessive-Heat in the Stomach. Shi Gao (Gypsum) descends Fire from the Spleen and Stomach; Fang Feng (Saposhnikoviae radix) disperses constrained Heat and Qi. They are used for eliminating hidden Fire in the Spleen.

 

7.8 Subduing the Liver-Yang

 Dai Zhe Shi (Haematitum) and Shi Jue Ming (Haliotidis concha) direct the Liver-Yang to descend; Qing Hao (Artemisiae annuae herba) and Mai Ya (Hordei fructus germinatus) lift constrained Qi from the Middle Jiao. They are used together to harmonize Qi movement in the process of bringing down the Liver-Yang.

7.9 Calming the Spirit

Long Gu (Mastodi fossilium ossis) calms the Heart and Liver; Chai Hu (Bupleuri radix) lifts the Liver-Qi. They are used together to treat restlessness and insomnia.

Ren Shen (Ginseng radix) tonifies the Heart-Qi and Wu Wei Zi (Schisandrae fructus) stabilizes it. They are used together to treat restlessness and palpitations caused by Heart-Qi deficiency.

7.10 Harmonizing the Qi and Blood and treating disorders in certain regions of the body

Gui Zhi (Cinnamomi cassiae ramulus) disperses the Defensive Qi and Bai Shao Yao (Paeoniae radix lactiflora) nourishes the Nutritive Qi. They are used together to harmonize the Nutritive and Defensive levels.

Qiang Huo (Notopterygii rhizoma) tends to expel Wind-Damp-Cold from the upper body; Du Huo (Angelicae pubescentis radix) tends to expel Wind-Damp-Cold from the lower body. They are used together to treat Bi syndrome in the entire body.

There are also situations where special attention should be paid towards the tendency of action. For instance, herbs which move upwards are not suitable for use alone in cases of Liver-Yang rising, such as in hypertension, hot flushes in menopause or in patients with constipation; equally, downward moving herbs are not suitable for use alone in diarrhea, heavy menstruation and pregnancy.

The tendency of action of herbs can also be used to reduce the side-effects of some herbs. For instance, the sweet Shu Di Huang (Rehmanniae radix praeparata) is too sticky to be digested, so the pungent Sha Ren (Amomi xanthioidis fructus) is often used at the same time to remove the stagnation; the hot Fu Zi (Aconiti radix lateralis preparata) and the cold Da Huang (Rhei rhizoma) move too quickly, but the sweet Zhi Gan Cao (honey-fried Glycyrrhizae radix preparata) can moderate their harsh nature and reduce the speed.

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