Guizhi tang 桂枝湯, Shanghan lun line 12 & Chinese herb study

There is no use mentioning what has come before – the Dragon energy that has come my way through the yijing, through conversations, through my own presence as Dragon born, through the energy of this coming year – demands a focus on what is coming up and what is flourishing.

Today starts a practice that I know will bring value to all of us who gather to learn as deeply as possible. It will populate this blog for years to come. But, it starts here, at the birth of the year of the Dragon.

Shanghan lun line 12 – part 1


Tài yáng zhòng fēng, yáng fú ér yīn ruò, yáng fú zhě, rè zì fā, yīn ruò zhě, hàn zì chū , sè sè wù hán, xī xī wù fēng, xì xì fā rè, bí míng gān ǒu zhě, guì zhī tāng zhǔ zhī .

Mitchell-Ye-Wiseman translation (p60):  “In Taiyang wind strike with floating yang and weak yin, floating yang is spontaneous heat effusion, and weak yin is spontaneous issue of sweat.  If [there is] huddled aversion to cold, wetted aversion to wind, feather-warm heat effusion, noisy nose, and dry retching, Guizhi tang governs.”

After this brief statement, the ingredients of the formula and how to make it are listed. Because there are multiple modifications listed, I will save that discussion for another day.  It’s worth digging into.

In the common way of my personal study of Chinese herbs and herbal formulas, I have added this line to digital flashcards, my Personal Brain, my private wiki and my Devonthink database. If nothing else, this means that I will always have access to the line and its translation and that I will have written it down many times — a proven memory aid.  All of these study/memorization methods will be discussed in upcoming posts, as well as in a resource I am creating to bring all my work in that field together.

Also as part of my study flow, I have found information online that relates to this Shanghan lun line, as well as pulled together my private lineage notes from courses I’ve taken with my teachers that relate to this line. Now it is on me to commit the line to memory and to associate everything that I can with it for future reference.  That’s the way this works.

I can’t share all of that with you, but my hope is to take this (and all future lines) – bring together all this information, and say whatever interesting things come forward.

This statement is one of those that is talked about in classical Chinese herb circles quite often. I think it’s about as far as most people make it into studying the Shanghan lun. There are a few symptoms listed here, and they are familiar to most of us.

  1. The sensation of heat, or “fever” as we commonly call it – later qualified to refer to a rather light fever, nothing too intense
  2. Sweating, though probably not a ton
  3. Intense aversion to cold, making the patient cower & huddle away from cold
  4. Aversion to wind, as though the patient were wet (think of how you feel when wet and waiting for the bus – a common Portland phenomenon)

One problem emerges immediately.

If a patient  walks into a Chinese medicine clinic with the above signs, the text suggests we should give them Guizhi tang, yes? But does the information provided by this line alone help us to prescribe Guizhi tang to our patients? No. I should note that the listing of ingredients with modifications based on clinical situations helps us a lot, and will be revisited in blog posts to come.

Looking at a line in isolation is often misleading.

Understanding this line at the deepest level seems to require an understanding of the whole text, but understanding the whole text would seem to require that one comprehends this line. A classic paradox.

However, we have no recourse except to continue – to keep track of results – and to return to the parts once we have some grasp of the whole and vice versa.  It’s the flow of information processing that takes us into new territory as well as keeping us grounded.  An ability to do that is something all our patients will surely be happy about.

One way to proceed even now, aside from memorizing and researching with this information in mind is to deconstruct the formula discussed in the line and, in so doing, come to understand the line more deeply as well as understanding that part of the text more deeply. As already mentioned, we will turn to this task before long.

Guizhi tang is a particularly interesting formula because of its ubiquity.

It is something everybody has learned about, though many fail to use it. It is featured in many other places in the text, for one thing. In a quick check, I identified nearly two dozen lines with different pathologies where guizhi tang was listed as a possible formula to consider.

It is also the core upon which many other formulas are built.

There are the obvious ones – Guizhi jia gui tang (Guizhi tang with extra Guizhi) and Guizhi jia Longgu Muli tang (Guizhi tang with longgu and muli added) and many other formulas which are basically Guizhi tang with additions or subtractions. But, there are also formulas that seem at first glance to be unrelated to Guizhi tang, yet contain it – the most obvious of which is Xiao jian zhong tang – which is guizhi tang with double Baishao and Yitang added.

This, among other reasons, is why I’m so bewildered when Chinese medicine practitioners dismiss Guizhi tang as a formula for clinical use. It’s possible to build an entire clinical practice on understanding this formula alone, in my opinion.  It appears that Zhang Zhongjing agrees.

On the blog, I will explore this line & its implications until I feel done (and until I’ve memorized it) and then we’ll move on to other lines.  We’ll do this until we’ve gone through the text, then move on to the Jin gui yao lue.  Along the way, as we break down formulas, we’ll make frequent and intense forays into Shennong ben cao jing territory.  It  will probably take a while, but it will be fun.

I find that working with texts and formulas produces all kinds of interesting insights.

This obviously includes stuff about medicine – formulas, pathology, preparation – but also cultural and language based information, insight into clinical practice, even business!  I hope you will enjoy the process, and contribute when you feel called to do so.

Speaking of your contribution…

What is one surprising use you’ve found for Guizhi tang. If you don’t have one, why not just mention something this blog post has taught you?



About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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