Doctor Rehmannia

Since returning to the US, I have been pouring over my notes from China, particularly the pages related to my favorite Henan herbalist Dr Mao.  One of Dr Mao’s favorite Old School physicians is a Ming/Qing dynasty herbalist by the name of Zhang Jingyue

Currently, I’m in major geek-out mode because I found an awesome article on a Mr Zhang and feel compelled to share it with the world.

Just take this quote for example:

…[ministerial fire] is the fire within water, it is the dragon and thunder fire. When the dragon and thunder fire is wetted by yin and saturated with rain, its flames blaze up ever more. It may burn houses or decimate forests with a ferocity that cannot be resisted. Only when a ray of sunlight hits it will the fire extinguish itself. This is how water causes fire to blaze and fire causes fire to be extinguished.


Sometimes Chinese medicine transcends the realm of herbs and needles and just goes way, way over the top.  I mean, fire and water, dragons and thunder…It’s like lyrics to a metal song.

Anywho.  Dr Mao is super into an herb that’s called Rehmannia in the West and Shu Di in China.   Shu Di is a special herb because it has to be prepared and refined to unlock its medicinal effects.  Even then, it needs to be cooked with other herbs to make it more digestible and target its actions.  Once unlocked, this herb has a massive, whole body effect.

Good Shu Di is shiny from the processing

Good Shu Di is shiny from the processing

I remember Dr Mao quizzing me on who was the most famous doctor who used Shu Di. “Zhang Jingyue!” he told me.  Apparently Zhang Jingyue used Shu Di so much, people started calling him Zhang Shu Di.

The article I linked earlier does an amazing job fleshing out this connection.  Zhang Jingyue was apparently a part of a school of herbalism that thought using warm tonics was the best treatment approach.  Of course, there are other schools out there.  Schools that like cold herbs, schools that like warm herbs, schools that like movers, schools that like purgatives.  Zhang was a part of a movement that sought to strengthen the body using a specific variety of warm, tonifying herbs.

According to this article, Zhang liked to think of medicine like a battle.  In a battle, you can’t just leave everything behind and throw in all of your troops at once.  There’d be no back-up, no auxiliary support.  In the same way, the body always needs this auxiliary support, this core strength.  Zhang liked to keep the core warm.  While some physicians believed this meant strengthening the digestion, Zhang went deeper.  He went to the Kidneys.

I capitalize Kidneys here because these are a kind of conceptual Kidneys.  Here, the Kidneys are related to reproduction, the endocrine system, urination, and longevity.  They are the deep reserves, the reserves that contain the Essence passed down from mother and father.  In fact, the Kidneys have long been the talking point for esoteric discussions on immortality.

Zhang’s opinions were no doubt influenced by his clinical experience and the herbs that he used.  Here’s what he says about Shu Di:

Rehmannia is needed to guard the yin in cases of deficiency that involve scattering of the spirit; the heaviness of rehmannia is needed to counter the rising fire of yin deficiency; the calming quality of rehmannia is needed for pacifying the agitation of yin deficiency; the mild sweetness of rehmannia is needed for relaxing the impulsive nature of yin deficiency; rehmannia is needed to restrict the flooding of water evil in cases of yin deficiency; rehmannia is needed to retrieve the scattered genuine qi back to its origin in the kidney; in yin deficiency with damage to the essence-blood and extreme emaciation, it is used to thicken the gastro-intestinal tract; the blood nourishing of rehmannia is used with dispersing agents for diaphoresis because sweat is transformed from blood; the yin nourishing of rehmannia is used with warming agents for retrieving yang qi because yang is rooted in yin.

That’s another thing I love about this article.  This emphasis on yin and yang.  If properly studied and integrated into a physician’s outlook, the world becomes a constant play of yin and yang.  Particularly in medicine, the details that confuse both patient and practitioner fade away and the big picture (hot or cold, deficiency or excess) come to light.  It’s at that point that diagnosis becomes clear and simple, effective medicine can be preformed.

Only in studying masters like this Zhang Jingyue can we know what’s still possible from this ancient medicine.

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