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Bai Zhi: Harnessing the Power of a Traditional Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a wealth of natural remedies and herbs that have been used for centuries to treat different health problems. In this article, we’ll explore the interesting qualities of Bai Zhi, its historical use, and the potential contemporary benefits it offers.

A Journey into the History of Bai Zhi

Bai Zhi, made from the root of the Dahurian Angelica plant, has a long history in TCM and a rich cultural background. It has been added to Chinese herbal soups for thousands of years, aiding in preventing damp accumulation and serving as a food tonic. The classical text called the Shennong Ben Cao Jing (Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica Classic), written during the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), makes the first mention of the medicinal application of this herb.

Bai Zhi is mentioned in many classics, spanning many centuries and dynasties. It is mentioned within the Ming Yi Bie Lu (Wei and Jin Dynasty, 220–420 A.D.); Yao Xing Lun (Tang Dynasty, 618–907 A.D.); Ri Hua Zi Ben Cao (Song Dynasty, 960–1279 A.D.); Dian Nan Ben Cao (滇南本草) (Ming Dynasty, 1,368–1644 A.D.); and Ben Cao Gang Mu (本草纲目) (Ming Dynasty, 1,368–1644 A.D.), demonstrating its long standing as a valued medicinal herb. Throughout history, various cultures have utilized it to treat common colds, headaches, rhinitis, and toothaches, and even found it useful as a sedative [1].

A. dahurica: The Plant

Bai Zhi, also known as Radix Angelicae dahurica (A. dahurica), belongs to the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. This plant family encompasses a large variety of species including cumin, dill, caraway, anise, carrots, parsley, parsnips, celery, and of course, Angelica.

A. dahurica serves as a representative species within the Angelica genus. However, it’s imperative to understand that not all Angelica species are interchangeable. The roots of A. dahurica are the basis for Bai Zhi, which is known for its ability to release exterior conditions. Conversely, the roots of A. sinensis are utilized to create Dong Quai, a herb focused on blood tonic properties. Additionally, A. Pubescentis, or Du Huo in TCM, is recognized for its role in dispelling Wind-Damp.

Various parts of Asia are common sources of A. dahurica (source). There, the plant grows wild in forests, along forest edges, near streams, and in valleys. It is a perennial that grows to an impressive height of 3-8 feet tall. Today, various regions cultivate A. dahurica for its medicinal roots, which constitute Bai Zhi.

The root is “cylindrical with branches”. Its outer layer has a tawny brown color and a strong fragrance. The stem of A. dahurica is hollow; its leaves are oval and have petioles. (Petioles are stalks that join leaves to a stem). Flowers of A. dahurica develop from July to August, forming ovate clusters (umbels) that have rough little hairs. The plant is overall fragrant, but pleasantly so. In fact, its leaves have been used to make incense. It develops fruits that mature from August to September, which are also oval-shaped and have a yellowish-brown color.

Extreme Caution!

The dangers of confusing Angelica with Poison Hemlock underscore the critical importance of accurate plant identification and awareness. Angelica and Poison Hemlock may share certain visual similarities, but their characteristics and effects diverge dramatically. Confusing them can have severe consequences, as Poison Hemlock ranks among the most toxic wild plants.

If you’re curious to learn more about how to tell these two plants apart, feel free to check out the short read I’ve put together here. Alternatively, you can swing by Grow Forage Cook Ferment, where you’ll find a fantastic article that delves deeper into this topic. Your plant knowledge and safety are worth the exploration!

The dangers of misidentifying Angelica and Poison Hemlock emphasize the significance of responsible plant knowledge and awareness. Always prioritize safety and verify plant identities to prevent accidental consumption of toxic species.

Key Properties & Active Compounds of Bai Zhi:

Bai Zhi is a fascinating herb that boasts an impressive collection of active compounds. These include phenols, sterols, coumarins, ferulic acid, polysaccharides, and adenosine. 

“To date, more than 300 chemical constituents have been discovered from A. dahurica. Among these ingredients, coumarins and volatile oils are the major active compounds.”

[1] Zhao, Hui, et al. “The Angelica Dahurica: A Review of Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry and Pharmacology.” Frontiers Media S.A. , vol. 13, 1 July 2022, https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2022.896637. Accessed 2023.

Keep in mind that Bai Zhi is a medicinal herb that undergoes thorough cleansing, removal of the root fibril, and finally sun-drying as part of its preparation. Stir-frying with herbs, immersing in soups, porridges, or charring further alter the active compounds of Bai Zhi. Different preparations of Bai Zhi can significantly modify its constituents, expanding or limiting its range of applications.

Traditional Uses & Benefits of Bai Zhi:

In TCM, practitioners have a long history of using Bai Zhi to address various conditions including sinus congestion, headaches, cold viruses with fever, skin eruptions, and pustular conditions. Its functional category is the same as Ma Huang, ‘herbs that release the exterior (wind-cold)’.

*** This blog provides information only and should not substitute professional medical guidance. Always consult an NCCAOM-certified herbal medicine practitioner for recommendations and use TCM herbal medicinals at your own discretion ***.

Releases the Exterior (Wind-Cold)Warm, Acrid, Bitter, Sl. SweetChannels: Lung, Stomach, Spleen, Large Intestine
Properties of Bai Zhi

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Some of Bai Zhi’s key uses include:

Sinus Congestion and Headache Relief

Bai Zhi’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties effectively relieve sinus congestion, particularly with purulent green discharge. The herb also indicates its effectiveness in treating Yangming-type headaches. It is commonly used for allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, and headaches associated with seasonal allergies, intense emotions, or rhinoviruses. It is an active ingredient within many formulas that address headaches, including:

  • Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan (Ligusticum Tea Pills)
  • Xin Yi Wan (Magnolia Flower Powder)
  • Bi Yan Wan (Nose Inflammation Tablets)
  • Xin Yi Wan (Magnolia Flower Powder)
  • Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Wan (Agastache Powder to Correct the Qi)
  • Xian Fang Huo Ming Yin Wan (Immortals Formula For Sustaining Life)
  • Te Xiao Bi Min Gan Wan (Special Effective Nasal Allergy Pills)

Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao San (CXCTS), a frequently employed formula, showcases the traditional applications of Bai Zhi. Practitioners utilize CXCTS to address ailments such as headaches, fever, and nasal congestion. Specifically, the inclusion of Bai Zhi in CXCTS holds significance in its ability to alleviate wind-related symptoms, alleviate headaches, and relieve nasal congestion.

Skin Disorders

The antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of Bai Zhi make it a valuable herb for treating skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Bai Zhi is an ingredient in Fu Fang Qing Dai Wan, designed to address itching, rashes, and skin irritation. It targets types of irritation that move around or occur intermittently.

Pain and Inflammation

Traditionally, practitioners have used Bai Zhi as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory herb, associating it with conditions such as gum disease, tooth caries, headaches, and muscular injuries or tightness. Its anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing properties can also help skin conditions such as rashes, carbuncles, sores, or pruritus.

Modern Research and Scientific Evidence 

In recent years, scientific studies have started to explore the potential health benefits of Bai Zhi and its active constituents.

A. dahurica also exhibits potent anti-tumor effects in multiple cancers, including colon cancer, breast cancer and melanoma.”

Zhao, Hui, et al. “The Angelica Dahurica: A Review of Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry and Pharmacology.” Frontiers Media S.A. , vol. 13, 1 July 2022, https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2022.896637. Accessed 2023.

Research has shown that the root of A. dahurica and its active components possess a wide range of beneficial effects on the body that include anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antioxidant, pain-relieving, antiviral, antimicrobial, cardiovascular, neuroprotective, and hepatoprotective properties. Additionally, they have shown promising effects in the treatment of various skin conditions. Current research indicates that certain compounds in the plant possess anticancer effects by inhibiting tumor growth and inducing apoptosis in cancer cells.

It’s worth mentioning that Bai Zhi can affect the activity of liver enzymes known as cytochrome P-450. This means that if you take this herb alongside certain medications (like testosterone, tolbutamide, nifedipine, bufuralol, or diazepam), it could potentially increase the levels of those drugs in your bloodstream. Consult your healthcare provider before using Bai Zhi with these medications to ensure safe and appropriate usage.

Conclusion:

Bai Zhi is a remarkable herb that has stood the test of time in TCM. Its rich historical usage and promising modern research highlight its potential as a natural remedy for various ailments. Researchers need to conduct additional studies to comprehensively grasp Bai Zhi’s mechanisms of action and its potential interactions with other medications. As TCM gains recognition and popularity worldwide, herbs like Bai Zhi continue to inspire scientific curiosity and contribute to the evolving landscape of natural medicine.

This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. No product mentioned herein is intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. For educational purposes only.

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