Perspectives: On Gui Zhi Tang…

By Georgette Young

Gui Zhi Tang (GZT) is one of the most popular formulas found in many TCM practitioner’s clinics.  In fact, if you could only stock 10 classical formulas, this would be a #1 choice.   It has often been thought to be the major leader of all other formulas.  In Chinese medical school, GZT is presented first and taught in the study of the Shang Han Lun (SHL) from two different applications – narrow and broad.  If you understand the design of this formula, then you will then understand the construction of all other formulas within the parameter of the 6 levels: Tai Yang, Shao Yang, Yang Ming, Tai Yin, Jue Yin, and Shao Yin.

The Shang Han Lun is often described as the manual for directional prescriptions.  What do we mean by ‘directional’?  The path of Chinese Medicine is about restoration and creating balance and harmony.  And one way we achieve restoration, balance, and harmony is by supporting natural cycles of the ascending action of Yang and the descending action of Yin. 

From the narrow perspective, it is widely prescribed for diseases due to external invasion of Cold.  Wind is the mother of 100 diseases.  This is true!  However, upon further investigation, we can also learn that GZT has a much broader use and application.  By broad, we mean it can treat diseases not only due to wind cold, but also due to summer heat, damp, dry, and heat pathogens with some minor modifications.

To illustrate the ascending action of Yang and the descending action of Yin, let’s look at the formula construction of Gui Zhi Tang by the taste, nature, and temperature of each medicinal, plus the color. We can clearly see that GZT transforms both Yin and Yang.

  • Gui Zhi (pungent, warm, and sweet) Color: Red
  • Bai Shao Yao (bitter and sour) Color: White
  • Sheng Jiang (pungent and warm) Color: Yellow
  • Zhi Gan Cao (sweet and neutral) Color: Yellow
  • Da Zao (sweet and neutral) Color: Red on the outside; Yellow on the inside

The combination of pungent + sweet transform Yang’s ascending action.  The combination of sweet + sour transforms Yin’s descending action.  So, we know that this formula has both an ascending action as well as a descending action.  Second, we can also see that the sole primary action of the emperor herb, Gui Zhi, is ascending, while the sole primary action of Shao Yao is descending.

To conclude, this is a primary formula for adjusting both the defensive qi and the nutritive qi.  It can be used for external attack of wind and cold.  But you can also use it for a broader internal use as well. Regulating either the ascending action or descending action of this formula can be achieved by either reducing or increasing the dose of Gui Zhi or Bai Shao Yao.  As you can see, the complexity of colors, flavors, and temperatures are what make this the formula a balanced one that can cure 100 diseases with the Emperor herb, Gui Zhi - the King of the 100 herbs.  Of the 113 formulas contained in the SHL, 41 of them contain Gui Zhi.  And, 29 of them are modifications of this base formula – Gui Zhi Tang.


I love this formula!  I hope you will too!

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