A commonly used tonic herb in Chinese herbal treatments, Ba Ji Tian, or morinda root in English, is so popular probably because of its special relationship with kidney, an organ linking so closely to libido in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theory. Kidney is more than just a common organ in this level and herbalists tend to believe that this important Zu-Fu is intimately related to impotence, infertility and other reproductive health matters. For better understanding of how this herb functions, the concept of kidney in TCM will be the first problem to work out.
Kidney in TCM theory
Before going further, it is a good idea to explore the notion of kidney at the Traditional Chinese Medicine level now.
Kidney, in the shape of a bean, is one of internal organs of the urinary system in Western medicine, which flanks L1 to L3 lumbar vertebrae. It is in charge of secreting and excreting urine and regulate body fluid metabolism. If there is something wrong with kidney, normally organic lesions is involved, such as glomerulonephritis, pyelonephritis, kidney stone, and renal tuberculosis, etc.
Kidney in TCM, however, is quite different. The understanding of kidney pathophysiology is beyond itself from this angle. It is more and broader. For instance, the pyelonephritis may present different patterns in TCM’s eye, which could be kidney Yin or Yang, and kidney excess or deficiency. Based on the different presentations, different herbal remedies might be applied.
Given the above reason, practitioners believe that kidney functions on a few vital jobs like storing the essence, controlling bone, promoting urination and bowel movements, supervising the growth and development, and managing sexual reproduction besides of regulating body fluid metabolism.
What is Ba Ji Tian?
In the West it refers to the root of Morinda Officinalis, which grows in Fujian, Sicuan, Guangdong, Hainan and Guangxi provinces in south China. It belongs to the family of Rubiaceae and the plant can be spotted mostly in river sides, mountains, and forests etc. And now most of them are grown for medicinal purpose in China.
As one of lianoid shrubs, it has succulent cylindrical tubers, normally in irregular shape. The stem is with small vertical ridge, hirsute when young. The size of oval leaves is from 3 to 13cm long and 1.5 to 5cm wide. It is capitate, 2 to 10 flowered, fleshy corolla white, and up to 7mm long sometimes. The drupe is subglobose, 6 to 11mm in diameter, 3-to-6 locular, and red when mature.
What is it used for?
It is acrid, sweet and warm in nature and goes to liver and kidney meridians.
Main clinical use and indications are impotence, spermatorrhea, and premature ejaculation due to deficiency of the kidney, lower abdominal cold pain, urinary incontinence, female infertility due to cold uterus, pain and numbness because of wind-cold, soreness and weakness of low back and knee, and rheumatism etc.
The usual dosage is from 8 to 12 grams.
Related Chinese herbal formulas
There are many traditional formulas featuring this tonic herb, among them the following three are most frequently used.
Ba Ji Wan, from “Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang” (Imperial Grace Formulary of the Tai Ping Era), is designed mainly for prolonged womb cold, irregular menses, and abnormal leucorrhea. Other herbs in this recipe include Gao Liang Jiang (Galangal Root), Zi Teng (Wisteria), Qing Yan, Rou Gui (Cinnamon Bark), and Wu Zhu Yu (Evodia Fruit).
Ba Ji Wan, from “Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang” (The Great Peace Sagacious Benevolence Formulary), is especially for hip and low back pain, which even makes people barely walk. Other herbal ingredients include Niu Xi (Cyathula Root), Qiang Huo (Notopterygium Root), Gui Xin (Cinnamomi Cortex), Wu Jia Pi (Acanthopanax Root Bark), Du Zhong (Eucommia ulmoides bark), and Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger Root).
Ba Ji Tang, from “Qi Xiao Liang Fang” (Wonderful Well-Tried Prescriptions), is made for rheumatism due to the pileup of cold and dampness in legs and knees. Others herbs in this prescription are Zhi Fu Zi (Prepared Aconite Root), Wu Jia Pi (Acanthopanax Root Bark), Niu Xi (Cyathula Root), Shi Hu (Dendrobium Stem), Gan Cao (Licorice Root), Bi Xie (Tokoro Yam Rhizome), Fu Ling (White Poria), and Fang Feng (Siler Root).
Experience on using this herb
Tonifying kidneys and strengthening yang are its two most talked-about clinical usages. In ancient medical literature, there was no clear indication which sex it should be used for. From the record of Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica), seemingly it prefers male. However, there are two recipes of Ba Ji Wan in Ben Cao Gang Mu, one for male and the other for female, which hints that this tonic herb is good for both sexes. Now Pharmacological studies also indicate that this herb mainly promotes the estrogen level. In other words, it gives more priority to females. Proof from applying Er Xian Tang for menopause confirms this verdict too – in this recipe it not only enhances estrogen level but also lowers hypertension.
According to a certain proportion, estrogen and androgen co-exist in human body, regardless of gender. Androgen dominates man body and instead estrogen controls woman body. This fits well with the principle of Yinyang balance. In TCM theory, estrogen is Yin and androgen is Yang. They are source of each other and constantly transform into each other at a balance level, which means when one is more the opposite would be less. This gives us ideas of what to do in practice. As you might know, Ying Yang Huo (Horny Goat Weed), Xian Mao (Golden Eye Grass Rhizome), and Ba Ji Tian (Morinda Root) all impact on hormones level. But the former two mainly act on androgen and the latter on estrogen. The combination of these three would increase both androgen and estrogen. So, what is the optimal proportion? This is a good question but it varies from person to person. To the best of my knowledge, normally man prefers Ying Yang Huo and woman is more suitable for Ba Ji Tian.
Possible side effects and contraindications
After feeding on the decoction at density of 250g/kg, there is no death caused in animal experiments. In addition, no appreciable effect on SOS response system of escherichia coli also shows that it has no mutagenic genetic effects.
From the point of view of TCM, it is nontoxic and there are no side effects in long-term users if it is being taken in regular dose. However, warnings are still there for patients with excessive heat due to Yin deficiency, flush in menopause, and low level hormone. Besides, there is an unconfirmed saying that Ba Ji Tian (Morinda Root) and Dan Shen (Salvia Root) are incompatible to each other. So, please take it with a pinch of salt.