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Herb Profile: Gui Zhi Tang (“Cinnamon Twig Decoction”)

By Clara Wetmore

Gui Zhi Tang is a formula that was developed around the year 220 C.E. and recorded in the Shang Han Lun (“Discussion of Cold Damage”). However, it is just as relevant today—especially in cool climates such as northern New Mexico—and is used for a wide array of conditions ranging from simple colds and flu to psycho-emotional instabilities. In TCM terms, Gui Zhi Tang is primarily used to treat “Wind-Cold invasion with Wei Qi deficiency and disharmony of Ying and Wei Qi,” which presents as sweating, chills and fever that are not relieved by sweating, aversion to wind, headache, stiff neck, nasal congestion, fatigue, and sometimes dry heaves. The tongue presentation is not much different than normal in this condition, but the pulse is floating and weak. This translates as a common cold or influenza in western terms.

However, this formula is also used to treat spontaneous sweating, skin rashes (including those that occur from swimming, eczema, tinea, etc.), postpartum fever, digestive problems such as IBS, palpitations and other heart problems that often present with a feeling of “surging upward in the chest” (such as cardiovascular disease, myocarditis, premature ventricular contractions, and paroxysmal atrial tachycardia), morning sickness (only when carefully monitored), PTSD (especially in cases where boundaries have been transgressed upon such as cases of sexual abuse), allergic disorders (such as rhinitis, food allergies, allergic purpura, and asthma), immunosuppression, and even some autoimmune conditions (also only when carefully monitored, as certain herbs can stimulate the immune system).

The common denominator within these varied conditions is that Gui Zhi Tang treats them all by “harmonizing Ying and Wei Qi,” or regulating the body’s ability to differentiate self from other, internal from external, helping the individual re-establish healthy emotional and physical boundaries. It also has a particular affinity for the heart and digestive system, and it relaxes muscles.

Gui Zhi Tang is a combination of the herbs Gui Zhi (Cinnamomi Ramulus), Bai Shao (Paeoniae Radix), Sheng Jiang (Zingiberis Rhizoma recens), Da Zao (Jujubae Fructus), and Zhi Gan Cao (Glycyrrhizae Radix Praeparata). This formula is contraindicated in cases of interior Heat and Damp-Heat, and should not be taken with alcohol. Caution should be used in cases of pregnancy and autoimmune conditions.