On Gé Gēn 葛根

Gé Gēn (Radix Puerariae)

《神农本草经》: 味⽢,平。主消渴,⾝⼤热,呕吐,诸痹,起阴⽓,解诸毒。
[Shén Nóng Běn Cǎo Jīng]: Sweet flavour, and neutral Qi. Governs dispersion thirst, major body heat, vomiting, and various kinds of impediment. It raises the Yīn Qì and resolves all toxins.

[Míng Yī Bié Lù (Táo Hǒngjǐng – 456-536)]: “[It] has no toxicity. It governs the treatment of cold damage and wind strike headache; [it] releases the muscles, effuses the surface and promotes sweating; [it] opens the interstices, heals metal sores, stops pain and [treats] subcostal wind pain.”

Lǐ Dōngyuán (1180-1251) said: “Gé Gēn is sweet, neutral and warm; common people, at the onset of a taiyang disease pattern, give Gegen Shengma Tang, this is incorrect.”

(Wáng) Hǎogǔ (1200-1264) said: “It’s qi is neutral and flavour sweet, [for it] ascends, and is yang. Gé Gēn is a medicinal which moves the Yangming channel.”

Zhāng Zhìcōng (1616-1674): “sweet and acrid, white when powdered, therefore enters Yangming; the skin is black and flower red, and so unites with Taiyang. Therefore, Gé Gēn is able to diffuse and outthrust the qi of yangming center earth, and unite the taiyang channel on the exterior.”

[Essentials of the Materia Medica (Wáng Āng 1664)]: “[Gé Gēn] Lightly effuses and resolves the muscles, ascends yang, and scatters fire.”

(唐宗海 : “根深能引⽔⽓上达苗叶,故兼能升津液也.”
Táng Zōnghǎi (1846-1897): “[The] Deep roots [of Gé Gēn] are able to carry water qi upwards into the sprouts and leaves, [and is] therefore able to ascend fluids.”

According to Professor Huáng Huáng, patients that respond well to Gé Gēn formulas have the following characteristics.

  • Big, strong patients with thick, strong muscles
  • Slightly overweight
  • Heavy, cumbersome bodies
  • Coarse, thick skin
  • Hairy
  • Lazy appearance
  • Sallow, dark complexion

These patients have the following propensities:

  • Stiff neck and back due to tight muscles (tension in traps, levator scapula, sub-occipitals, etc.)
  • Headaches (Taiyang – Yangming)
  • Heavy Head (cloudy, foggy, etc.)
  • Dizziness
  • Loose Stools
  • Heavy and Cumbersome body

To learn more about Ge Gen and its various formulas, click here to check out my Gé Gēn class

A Cháihú jiā lónggǔ mǔlì tāng case – Huáng Huáng

Wang, 58-year-old male, 186cm/64kg. 

Initial consultation on June 11, 2019. 

History: Patient had a history of stomach disease for over 30 years, accompanied by an inability to eat much food, stomach distention following meals, poor appetite, no desire to eat, coldness in the lower abdomen, a fear of cold, constipation, difficulty falling asleep, and a shallow, dream-disturbed sleep.  

Lab results: Gastroscopy on May 2, 2019, which revealed intermediate chronic atrophic gastritis with intestinal metaplasia in the lesser curvature of the gastric antrum and mild chronic atrophic gastritis with intestinal metaplasia in the greater curvature of the gastric antrum.  

Signs: Sallow complexion, distinct abdominal pulsations, a long face, indifferent expression, slightly thin build, red tip of the nose, and a thin-slippery pulse. 


Bupleuri Radix (chái hú) 15g, Scutellariae Radix (huáng qín) 10g, ginger-fried Pinelliae Rhizoma praeparatum (jiāng bàn xià) 10g, Codonopsis Radix (dǎng shēn) 15g, Cinnamomi Ramulus (guì zhī) 10g, Poria (fú líng) 15g, prepared Rhei Radix et Rhizoma (zhì dà huáng) 5g, Fossilia Ossis Mastodi (lóng gǔ) 15g, Ostreae Concha (mǔ lì) 15g, Zingiberis Rhizoma (gān jiāng) 5g, Jujubae Fructus (dà zǎo) 20g; 10 packets, 1 packet for 2 days. Taken right before bed. 

Second consultation on July 2, 2019: Patient now had a desire to eat, daily bowel movements, and decreased coldness in his lower abdomen. If he overate then he experienced abdominal distention, still had a fear of cold, woke easily due to a dream-disturbed sleep, and was fatigued. 

Prescription 1: Same formula; 1 packet to be taken over 2 days. 

Prescription 2: Bupleuri Radix (chái hú) 15g, Paeoniae Radix alba (bái sháo) 15g, Aurantii Fructus (zhǐ ké) 15g, Glycyrrhizae Radix (gān cǎo) 5g, dried Lilii Bulbus (bǎi hé gān) 30g; 10 packets of each, to be taken on an alternating basis. 

What is a Formula Presentation 方证?

The formula presentation is a theoretical model of herbal formula application that lies between the herbs and formulas on one hand, and the disease pattern on the other. It is the arrow aiming for the target in relation to disease treatment. The formula presentation is the guiding principle behind how a formula is selected. ‘Zheng’(证) refers to evidence, proof, results or efficacy (证验), and also symptoms (症状). Therefore, when all these definitions are taken together, the formula presentation refers to a formula’s key presentation, or instance where a formula displays its main efficacy or results.

Currently in China, many consider the earliest recording of this concept to be found in the Wu Shi Er Bing Fang (五十二病方, Prescriptions for Fifty-Two Diseases), yet many scholars believe that it wasn’t until Zhang Zhongjing’s (张仲景) writings that the concept really took hold, only to be further developed by later generations of physicians. The idea of a formula correspondence (方证相应) is seen in the postscript for line 317 of the Shang Han Lun (伤寒论, Treatise on Cold Damage) which states:

[Only when] the disease corresponds to the formula [can the formula] be taken.


This line offers the most succinct explanation and definition of a formula presentation and implies that all diseases have a corresponding formula, a ‘formula presentation.’ The Shang Han Lun also refers to specific ‘herb presentations’ (药证) such as a ‘Chai Hu (Bupleuri Radix) presentation’ (柴胡证), or a ‘Gui Zhi (Cinnamomi Ramulus) presentation’ (桂枝证). In addition, line 16 of the Shang Han Lun states: 

Observe the pulse and signs, know what error [you] have committed, [and then] treat according to the signs. 


The Shang Han Za Bing Lun (伤寒杂病论, Treatise on Cold Damage and Miscellaneous Diseases) was arguably the first text to suggest not just the concept of a formula presentation, but also the principle that became known as ‘determining treatment by patterns identified’ (辨证论治), which lays importance on not just simply knowing which formula treats specific signs, but also on having a clear understanding of the underlying pathomechanism involved. Once the pattern is clearly understood, the choice of the correct formula can be made. According to Professor Huang Huang (黄煌教授), once a formula presentation is clearly identified, not only will the formula be safe to use, but the treatment will also be effective. Following Zhang Zhongjing, physicians such as Sun Simiao (孙思邈), Zhu Gong (朱肱), Xu Lingtai (徐灵胎), Ke Qin (柯琴) and Yu Jiayan (喻嘉言) were highly influential in the ‘school of formula types’ (方类证派), adhering to the concept of ‘formula presentations with similar clauses’ (方证同条).  Song dynasty Zhu Gong referred to a formula presentation simply as a ‘herb presentation.’ The Japanese physician Todo Yoshimasu (吉益东洞) was a strict adherent to the model laid out by Zhang Zhongjing, and was a major contributor to the Japanese Classical Formula School (日本古方派). Although many of these physicians adhered to the formula presentation model, there are some differences in their overall approach and in the method with which they arrived at the presentation. For example, Ke Qin wrote: “Patterns are differentiated from the conformations, therefore the pattern is named after the formula” (证从经分,以方名证), referring to the six conformations (六经), while Xu Lingtai wrote: “In order to [determine] the formula presentation type, [one must] not differentiate according to the conformations” (以方类证,方不分经). While both used the formula presentation model as their method to choose a formula, Ke Qin recorded signs and symptoms exactly as they appear in the Shang Han Lun’s six conformations, while Xu Lingtai worked with general signs and symptoms.  Essentially, a formula presentation is experience: the experienced usage of herbs and formulas over thousands of years. 

Huáng Huáng’s Use of Guì Zhī Fú Líng Wán in Respiratory Conditions

Cinnamon Twig and Poria Pill (guì zhī fú líng wán)

Indications: Bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary arterial hypertension, pleurisy, pleural effusion, interstitial pneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis, and recurrent pulmonary infections typically manifesting with a dark-red complexion, a stifling sensation and pain in the chest, purple lips and a dark tongue. This formula has a blood invigorating, stasis transforming effect, which can improve the blood supply of the heart and lungs.

Usage & Modifications:

1. Patients for whom this formula is suitable tend to have a red or purple-red complexion, abdominal fullness, resistance to pressure in the lower left abdomen with possible tenderness, headaches, dizziness, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, stirring palpitations, and a dark tongue body with possible purple spots.

2. For patients that experience diarrhea after taking the formula, have them take in after meals or decrease the dosage.

3. Use with caution in pregnancy.

4. Modifications:

  • If there is a stifling sensation and pain in the chest, a chronic cough, and a wan and sallow complexion, add Angelicae sinensis Radix (dāng guī) 15g, Chuanxiong Rhizoma (chuān xiōng) 15g, and Salviae miltiorrhizae Radix (dān shēn) 15g
  • If there is a stifling sensation in the chest, abdominal distention, and an oily complexion, add Citri reticulatae Pericarpium (chén pí) 20g, Aurantii Fructus (zhǐ ké) 20g, and Zingiberis Rhizoma recens (shēng jiāng) 20g
  • If there is a stifling sensation in the chest  and constipation, add Aurantii Fructus (zhǐ ké) 20g, Allii macrostemi Bulbus (xiè bái) 20g, and Trichosanthis Fructus (quán guā lóu) 30g.

Representative Case History:

Yu, 74-year-old male, 160cm/70kg.

Initial consultation on June 5, 2018

Chief complaint: Recurrent cough and wheezing for 9 years, with dyspnea, an inability to climb stairs quickly, and abdominal distention following meals.

History: In April 2018 during a hospital visit, he was diagnosed with an acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation, cardiac insufficiency, heart valve disease, and a fatty liver.

Signs: average build, dark, red and oily complexion, obvious bags under the eyes, purple-dark lips and tongue, stasis marks under the tongue, abdominal fullness, and resistance to pressure in the lower costal arch (flanks).

Prescription: Cinnamomi Ramulus (guì zhī) 10g, Cinnamomi Cortex (ròu guì) 10g, Poria (fú líng) 20g, Paeoniae Radix rubra (chì sháo) 20g, Moutan Cortex (mǔ dān pí) 15g, Persicae Semen (táo rén) 15g, Angelicae sinensis Radix (dāng guī) 15g, Chuanxiong Rhizoma (chuān xiōng) 15g, Salviae miltiorrhizae Radix (dān shēn) 15g, Aurantii Fructus (zhǐ ké) 30g, Citri reticulatae Pericarpium (chén pí) 30g, Zingiberis Rhizoma (gān jiāng) 10g; 15 packets.

Second consultation on June 25, 2018: After taking the herbs, his breathing was smooth and easy, however cough and wheezing were still present, but he was still able to play mah-jong. The same formula was continued.

Third consultation on August 20, 2018: No labored breathing when walking and he was able to climb 3 floors. The stasis marks under his tongue had improved.

Huáng Huáng – A Bàn Xià Hòu Pò Tāng Case

Huang, 65-year-old male, 171cm/75kg. 

Initial consultation on January 29, 2019.

History: Superficial gastritis with ulceration for over 10 years. Patient reported that he often experienced abdominal pain after taking western medications as well as abdominal discomfort after eating fruit. He felt a sticky sensation in his umbilicus, and also experienced abdominal distention, belching, poor appetite, difficulty falling asleep, and had no issues with his bowel movements. He was worried that his digestive disease will develop into cancer, and therefore, his mood was quite poor. 

Signs: Robust build, double eyelids, frowning eyebrows, lively facial expressions, a red face, and dusky red lips. In addition, he procrastinated when he spoke. His abdomen was soft, there were purple stasis marks below his tongue, his throat was red, tongue coating slightly greasy, and his pulse was slippery. 

Prescription: jiangbanxia 15g, houpo 15g, fuling 15g, sugeng 15g, zhike 15g, zhizi 15g, lianqiao 30g, huangqin 10g; 9 packets; 3 days on, 2 days off. 

Second consultation on February 26, 2019: After taking the formula, his symptoms had improved. However, once stopping them, the symptoms returned, yet this time there was no abdominal pain, and only a feeling of discomfort, plus the location of the pain had now changed. He was also belching, had subcostal distention, and his sleep was reduced. 9 packets of the same formula with chenpi 20g was given; 3 days on, 2 days off. 

Huáng Lián assists sleep- A case by Huáng Huáng (黄煌)

One early morning last week as I had just turned on my cell phone, I received information about a patient from northern Jiāng Sū province that had suffered with insomnia. He had been here nine months previously for a formula and had taken seven packages. He recently returned, and after taking one package had completely recovered. This was quite remarkable!!

Now that he had finished his formula, he was asking how this was dealt with. 

He was a forty year old male that was suffering with severe insomnia which started last year in December. He found it difficult to sleep for the entire night, and had repeatedly taken western medications all to no avail. 

The formula he was given consisted of the following; 

Huáng Lián 5g, Ròu Guì 10g, Zhì Fù Zǐ 10g, Gān Jiāng 10g, Shēng Gān Cǎo 5g. 

This is Jiāo Tài Wán combined with Sì Nì Tāng. Now why would, these formulas be considered for this case? Let’s take a look at this patient. The man had a strong, robust physique; his skin was a dark color, he had no trouble eating, and his stools lacked shape. Now although he felt cold on the inside, he suffered from agitation and insomnia. This is what the ancients called ‘non-interaction of the heart and kidneys’, which is the ‘tried and true’ Jiāo Tài Wán formula pattern. Sì Nì Tāng harmonizes the body, and Huáng Lián and Ròu Guì treat the disease. 

Huáng Lián is beneficial for insomnia. The Huáng Lián in Huáng Lián Ē Jiāo Tāng is used to treat “vexation in the heart, with an inability to sleep”. Huáng Lián Tāng uses equal parts Huáng Lián and Ròu Guì along with (Rén) Shēn, (Bàn) Xià, (Shēng) Jiāng, (Dà) Zǎo, and (Gān) Cǎo to treat “heat in the chest, evil qi in the stomach, abdominal pain, and a desire to vomit”. The heat in the chest is commonly expressed as heart vexation with an inability to sleep. Jiāo Tài Wán only contains two medicinals, Huáng Lián and Ròu Guì and is originally from the Míng dynasties ‘Comprehensive Medicine According to Master Han’ (韩氏医通, Hán Shì Yī Tōng). The author Hán Fēi-Xiá said;

“brew numerous times, add honey, take on an empty stomach, and this will instantly bring forth the interaction between the heart and kidneys”.

Yú Tīng-Hóng (余听鸿) had written about a patient from Zhè Jiāng County that had suffered with an inability to sleep the entire night for many years. He had taken over two hundred spirit calming, blood nourishing formulas which offered him no relief. The famous Mèng Hé physician Mǎ Shěng-Sān (马省三) prescribed; 

Huáng Lián 8 fēn, Shān Zhī 3 qián, Zhū Dǎn Zhī 1 qián (mix fried), decocted. That night he slept soundly. 

In the past, I have given patients equal parts powdered Huáng Lián and Ròu Guì infused in boiling water, and taken prior to going to sleep. This has indeed helped with sleep difficulties. 

However, Huáng Lián is bitter and cold, and many people are unable to take it. Huáng Lián’s strength by itself is quite weak, and it is incapable of treating all stubborn cases of insomnia. Nevertheless, we always want to select the corresponding formula according to the body constitution. For example, with a red, oily facial complexion, heat vexation, headaches, and constipation, we can use Sān Huáng Xiè Xīn Tāng. With pale skin, red lips, red tongue, and heart vexation, me may use Huáng Lián Ē Jiāo Tāng. In a thin patient with dark lips, abdominal pain and insomnia, Huáng Lián Tāng may be used. With dry retching, epigastric focal distension, and mouth ulcers, we use Bàn Xià Xiè Xīn Tāng. With strong pain in the back and nape, diarrhea, chest oppression, vexation, palpitations, and insomnia, use Gé Gēn Qín Lián Tāng. 

Originally, because Huáng Lián and Ròu Guì were combined with Sì Nì Tāng, we know that it is applicable in cases of a cold body with a hot disease. This is commonly seen in strong, robust men with a yellowish-dark skin color, and insomnia. After taking these medicinals, not only will insomnia improve, but enduring cases of abdominal pain and diarrhea, can be ameliorated.