Introduction to basic concepts in Single Herbs

These are an expanded version of the bullet points from the Single Herbs page.
You might also find this handout really helpful.

Release the Exterior

Are you familiar with the Four Stages of Disease? This category of herbs deals with the initial invasion of a pathogen, the Wei stage.


Exterior invasions are external pathogens brought into the body by wind. That explains why my mom told me not to sit in cold drafts. Go mom. Now I look around in every public place I enter in Texas for the inevitable airconditioning vents. It’s hot here, so the stupid A/C blows almost year round.

Part 1
Part 2
Slides 1 of 2 – I made slides for the instructor to use for extra credit. My grades thanked me for that later.
Slides 2 of 2


Mom never told me not to sit in hot drafts. Hmmm. Thanks a lot, mom.

Part 1 – starts on page 4 of the class notes.
Part 2

Clear Heat Herbs

This is a huge category and refers to internal excess heat (more about deficient heat later). Excess heat appears at the Qi stage of a warm disease (see the Four Stages of Disease or the Wen Bing model for describing disease). It also applies with the Yangming level of the Six Stages of Disease.

Drain Fire

Basically, lots of heat – high fever without chills, scanty urine, irritability, high thirst drive, and (eventually), delirium. The warm from the Wei stage has progressed to deeper heat that is burning off body fluids.

Shi gao, zhi mu, lu gen, tian hua fen, dan zhu ye, zhi zi, xia ku cao, jue ming zi, qing xiang zi, and xiong dan (don’t use it – it’s derived by extremely cruel means!).

Cool Blood

These are used for the Ying and Xue stages of the Four Levels of Disease (Wen Bing). It’s all about heat in the blood. Since the blood is the root/home of the Shen, heat in the blood leads to Shen disturbance. Heat in the blood also makes the blood flow recklessly, so you will see a lot of bleeding symptoms here too.

Xi jiao (rhino horn…don’t use that either), sheng di huang, xuan shen, mu dan pi, chi shao, zi cao.

Dry Damp

Every herb in this category is bitter and cold. Oh, so bitter! SO bitter. I decided at one point in my herb studies I would taste every single herb I studied. That didn’t last long. Xi Xin made my tongue go numb. These made me gag. But don’t let me stop you. Go ahead and taste them!

Huang qin, huang lian, huang bai, long dan cao, ku shen, qin pi.

Relieve Toxicity

Heat invading the system starts with warmth. Sounds so innocuous: “a warm invasion.” But then it progresses to heat, then fire, then toxicity. That’s where you are now. Toxicity relieving herbs.

Jin yin hua, lian qiao, pu gong ying, zi hua di ding, chuan xin lian, da qing ye, qing dai, ban lan gen, ye ju hua, yu xing cao, bai hua she she cao, bai tou weng, hong teng, bai jian cao, bai xian pi, tu fu ling, shan dou gen, she gan, ma bo, ya dan zi, bai zhi lian, ban bian lian.

Clear Deficient Heat

Deficient heat comes from a deficiency in the body, not from an exterior source. Deficient heat refers to a deficiency of yin. Note that these herbs do clear the deficient heat associated with a yin deficiency, but that’s not all they do.

Qing hao, di gu pi, bai wei, yin chai hu, hu huang lian.

Summer Heat Clearing Herbs

Summer heat is technically a heat (usually damp/heat) invasion that occurs between Summer Solstice and Autumnal Equinox. But I live in Texas where summer lasts about 8 months. No, I’m not kidding. It’s hot and humid here for much of the year. If you live in Australia, you know that June through September or so is cold. Adjust your climate as needed.

Lu dou (mung beans, folks – good for clearing damp and heat regardless of whether you eat the sprouts or the beans), xi gua, he ye

Downward Draining Herbs

These start on page 2 on the PDF link above. They are broken into 3 small categories: purgatives, laxatives, and harsh expellants. Due to legal reasons in most countries, we don’t use harsh expellants much, but they do have their uses.


Da huang, mang xiao (epsom salt, basically), fan xie ye.


Huo ma ren (marijuana seeds…no kidding), yu li ren.

Harsh expellants

Pages 1 and 2 of this PDF file. Read the cautions and uses in this file.
Gan sui, da ji, yuan hua, ba dou.

 Drain Damp

Notes start on page 3 of the PDF file linked above. These mostly refer to draining damp through the urine. You will see damp expressed three ways in regards to this category: edema, damp heat in the bladder, and jaundice. The first expression is edema – accumulations of fluid at different places in the body.

Edema refers to accumulations of fluid at different places in the body. Teethmarks on the tongue are one expression of edema, but so is pitting edema on the lower legs. It can show in more than these places though.

Damp heat in the bladder is also called Lin Syndrome or PUD. This applies to UTI’s, but also to what acts like a UTI, but tests negative for bacteria. There are several kinds of Lin Syndrome in Chinese medicine.

Jaundice is dampness in the Liver or Gallbladder channel that doesn’t stay in the biliary tract. Jaundice generally affects the eyes, skin, and urine. The urine gets very very dark – darker than the damp heat kind seen in the urine with a UTI – this is as dark as a black tea when you first steep it. You treat jaundice differently depending on the type. You dry damp heat, detox the body, or promote urination, all of which will get the excess bilirubin out of the system. The set you see below all promote urination.

Promote Urination/Relieve Edema

Fu ling, zhu ling, ze xie, yi yi ren, dong gua pi

Promote Urination/Relieve PUD (Lin Syndrome)

Bian xu, qu mai, che xian zi.
Continued this set in this file. Mu tong, tong cao, hua shi, di fu zi, shi wei, bei xie, hai jin sha, deng xin cao, dong kui zi.

Drain Damp to Relieve Jaundice

Starts on page 7 of the PDF linked above. Yin chen hao, jin qian cao, hua zhang