I first heard the name of Bai Zhi, or Angelica Root (angelica dahurica), from my mother. She likes stewing soup for tonifying purpose on regular basis, in particular in autumn and winter. It is one of main ingredients being used so frequently that I knew it well since I was still a little child. She ever said to me that this soup could benefit brain and stop migraine thanks to its wind-dispelling nature. Later much to my surprise, what this herb is capable of doesn’t end here. As one of common Chinese herbs, this amazing herb works well for a series of severe illness as well.
What is Bai Zhi or Angelica Root?
Also known as radix angelicae dahuricae, it actually refers to the roots of Angelica dahurica var. formosana (Boiss.) Yuan et Shan and Angelica dahuricae (Fisch.) Benth. Et Hook. They are collected in next autumn if sowing seed this autumn and about Cold Dew if sowing seed this spring. After dug out, it need to be removed the dirt and fibril, cleaned, and dried in the sun or beside the oven. According to modern nutritional analysis, it contains Byak-angelicin, Byak-angelicol, Oxypencedanin, Phellopterin, Angelic acid, and Angelicotoxin.
Angelica dahurica var. formosana (Boiss.) Yuan et Shan
Commonly known as Hang Bai Zhi in China, it grows mainly in provinces like Zhengjiang, Jiangsu, Anhui, Hunan, and Sicuan. It is in long-conic shape, 10 to 20cm long, and 2 to 2.5cm in diameter. The upper part is almost square, grayish brown in color, with mostly vertical lenticels-like process that lie in 4 lines lengthwise, and the end with depressed stem scars. The texture is solid, a little bit heavier, with white mealiness cross section, and cortex densely covered with oil spots that forming closely square rings. It has an intense penetrating aroma and pungent but slight bitter taste.
Angelica dahuricae (Fisch.) Benth. Et Hook
Commonly known as Qi Bai Zhi in China, it is a perennial tall herb that is mostly produced in Henan and Hebei provinces. It is in conic shape, 7 to 24cm long, 1.5 to 2cm in diameter, grayish yellow or yellowish brown in color, with crosswise lenticels-like process scattered, and rootlets marks. The texture is hard, with grayish white mealiness transverse cross section, and cortex scattered with oil spots that forming brown layered round rings. It has rich aroma and pungent but slight bitter taste.
Medicinally those of sole branch, heavy weight, good mealiness, and rich aroma are considered better quality.
What is it used for?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is acrid, warm, and with ascending and dispersing aroma in nature. It goes to meridians of lung, stomach, and large intestine.
Main functions are to expel pathogenic wind to resolve exterior, expel cold to stop pain, remove dampness to open the orifices, and diminish swelling and discharge pus. Main usage and indications are wind-cold type common cold, headache, supraorbital pain, toothache, lacrimation due to itchy eye, sinus congestion, prolonged diarrhea caused by excessive damp, hematochezia, leucorrhea with white or reddish discharge, sores and ulcers, itch and scab, and snakebite.
Regular dosage is 3 to 10 grams.
Related Chinese herbal formulas
(1). According to Zhu Shi Ji Yan Yi Fang (Classification of Zhu’s experiential prescriptions), the powder, the combination with Wu Tou (Aconite Main Root), is mainly for sore eyes and headache.
(2). Bai Zhi Xi Xin Chui Bi San, from Zhong Fu Tang Gong Xuan Liang Fang (Public Selected Effective Prescriptions from Fortune-Planting Clinic), is mainly for migraine. Other individual herbs are Xi Xin (Chinese Wild Ginger), Shi Gao (Gypsum), Ru Xiang (Frankincense), and Mo Yao (Myrrh).
(3). Documented in Dan Xi Xin Fa (Zhu Danxi’s Central Methods, literally, “heart” methods), the combination with Huang Qin (Scutellaria) treats supraorbital pain, which is caused by wind-heat and phlegm.
Good for healthy skin
Modern researches show that it promotes human cells microcirculation and skin metabolism, which accelerate pigment decomposition and remove or lighten flecks. Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Shen Nong’s Materia Medica) pointed out that this herb helps get healthy skin through whitening and moistening effect so that it is often used as face cream. No wonder both the legendary Mian Zhi Fang, from Bei Ji Qian Jin Yao Fang (Essential Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold for Emergencies), and the palace secret recipe of Yu Rong San, exclusively for Empress Dowager Cixi, chose it as the primary herb. Now more and more medical proof is added that this herb has a special effect on treating acne, blackhead, and pimples too.
As mention earlier, it also has a high therapeutic value even in everyday soup. It is best known for the soup of Chuan Xiong Bai Zhi Yu Tou Tang. Ingredients of this soup are fish head 1, pork 50g, Chuan Xiong (Szechuan Lovage Root) 3g, Angelica Aahurica 5g, Shan Yao (Chinese Yam) 5g, Gou Ji (Chain Fern Rhizome) 5g, and Dang Shen (Codonopsis Root) 5g. Chinese medicine believes that person with full kidney essence presents vigorousness, quick reaction, good memories, black and shiny hair, and strong teeth. And this soup achieves enhancing kidney essence and invigorating brain through ways of tonifying spleen and benefiting vital energy. Forgot to tell you, it is exactly that soup I mentioned in the beginning of this article, which my mom eats on a regular basis.
Possible side effects and contraindications
TCM wise, generally it should not be used in the pattern of blood heat caused by Yin deficiency. Else, according to Ben Cao Jing Shu (Classic Theory of Materia Medica), vomit due to excessive heat or uterine bleeding and vaginal discharge caused by blood heat due to Yin deficiency should avoid this herb as well.