In [prescribing] medicinals, what is vital is not variety but the choice of what is effective. -- Liu Yi-ren


Oregon Grape Root & Pleurisy Root, Western Herbs
according to Traditional Chinese Medicine


EDITOR'S NOTE: Ricardo B. Serrano, a licensed acupuncturist and a master herbalist trained in Western and Chinese herbology, has included two samples of western herbs Oregon Grape Root and Pleurisy Root according to Traditional Chinese Medicine by Thomas Avery Garran, to show the efficacy and safety of western herbs when prescribed by licensed acupuncturists and Chinese medical practitioners.

"The methods used by one person may be faulty; the methods used by two people will be better." - Chinese proverb

When western herbs are added together with acupuncture, acupressure, Qi-healing, Qigong (see Herbs that calm the Spirit), balanced diet, exercise, and traditional Chinese herbal tonics and formulas with alkaline water, as Ricardo does in his regular non-drug treatment practice, a Chinese medical practitioner's abilities to more effectively treat patients (and himself) are enhanced.

"The revival interest in herbal medicine is a worldwide phenomenon." - Mark Blumenthal

"With the growing recognition of the value of herbs, it is surely time to examine the professional therapeutic use of these herbs. There are profound changes happening in the American culture and herbal medicine, 'green medicine,' is playing an ever-increasing role in people's experience of this transformation." - David Hoffman

"The art of pharmacy turned to the production of drugs which could bring the quickest relief of symptoms, ignoring the reason that the symptoms appeared. As we look back perhaps it is time to reconsider the path. The use of substances has spawned a myriad of unexpected problems, such as suppression of the very signals that our bodies produce to alert us to a need of change. Pain itself is a call to action - a call to remedy and in balance in our lifestyle. The proficient use of herbal therapy is directly connected to our ability to sense that first signal and to adjust our lifestyle accordingly. It is when these signals are continually ignored that disease has a chance to seat itself more deeply within our bodies. The appropriate use of herbs is one of many health alternatives to our medical system." - Debbra St.Clair, Master Herbalist from "Pocket Herbal Reference Guide"

"Pungent and sweet herbs disperse and fortify. Bland herbs promote diuresis and get rid of dampness. These herbs are considered yang. Sour and bitter herbs induce expelling in either direction. Salty herbs lubricate and dissolve hardening. These herbs are considered yin.

Treatment principles consist of warming to dispel cold, cooling to clear heat, dispersing to remove congestion, purging to eliminate buildup, catharsis to dispel water, lubricating to moisten dryness, fortifying to strengthen deficiency, decelerating to arrest acute progression, invigorating to accelerate flow, inducing vomiting to expel food or phlegm, calming to accelerate flow, and softening to dissolve mass. Other methods such as bathing with herbs and massage can be used as adjunctive therapies." - NeiJing Suwen (Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine)

"The subtlety in prescribing medicinals is like that of commanding an army. What is decisive is not the amounts of armies but putting them to their best use. In (prescribing) medicinals, what is vital is not variety but the choice of what is effective." - Liu Yi-ren in The Heart Transmission of Medicine

According to Herbs: Vital to a Healthy Balance by Klaus Ferlow, Herbalist, "The value of herbs to our lives and to our health cannot be overstated. Since our ancestors first walked the earth, herbs have formed the basis of medicine chests, cosmetic bowls, culinary spice jars, perfume vials and dye pots. Most herbs in their natural state are safe, and do not leave a residue in the body that could produce negative side effects. Drugs tend to treat or mask the symptoms or condition, while herbals emphasize a preventative approach to healthcare helping to balance and support the bodily functions. The compounds in herbs work synergistically in the body to promote healing. All plants have therapeutic properties as they contain a variety of biologically active substances. Plants undergo photosynthesis, transforming carbon dioxide into energy rich substances. The resulting carbon chains are further transformed into a variety of compounds such as lipids, alkaloids, essential oils and tannins. Through other biochemical processes, minerals and nitrates are absorbed by the roots and transformed into vitamins, trace minerals and antibiotics.

Herbs can affect biological systems in our bodies at the cellular level. Ultimately these high levels of biologically active substances can produce pharmacological and therapeutic affects. The nutritional value of herbs is high and organically grown herbs (no herbicide and pesticide spraying and chemical fertilizer) offer maximum benefits.

Herbs are extensively used in cosmetics, herbal creams, lotions, shampoo, toothpaste, oils, tinctures, sprays and in cooking. The multitude of uses for herbs as foods, medicines and in products emphasizes how vital botanical plants are to our health and well being. Unfortunately, as the Pharmaceutical industry developed the ability to synthesize medicine from the inert substances such as petroleum and minerals, and developing sophisticated marketing strategies, the therapeutic use of natural herbs diminished especially in North America.

Recently however, there has been a resurgence of interest in herbs and healing. As people begin to lose faith in prescription drugs and antibiotics, they are rediscovering that herbs and herbal remedies and products are an effective and comparatively inexpensive form of healthcare. Herbal medicine represents a particular approach to healing which differs from allopathic medicine. Rather than relieving a single symptom with single active ingredient, herbs offer a holistic approach by striving to deal with the entire system and treating the cause.

Herbal medicine can only be truly holistic if it acknowledges the social and cultural context in which the illnesses occurred, and then the desired healing takes place. (Body, Mind & Spirit). According to Chris Kilham, the medicine hunter,, over five billion people today are still using herbal remedies for healing! The renewed interest in holistic medicine, as well as a great number of traditional therapies, has encouraged changes within the existing medical profession. Given the severe financial crisis of our medical system (many professional predict a collapse within 5 - 10 years) it is incumbent upon us all to seek out and utilize appropriate health alternatives."

According to Dr. Michael Tierra, herbalist and author of Way of Herbs, and Planetary Herbology, "The following are some of the many good reasons for TCM herbal practitioners to incorporate and use Western herbs, especially herbs native to their own region of practice:

  1. Some North American or other Western plants may be more effective for certain conditions than their Chinese counterparts.
  2. Herbalists should learn how to prescribe and use herbs that are already familiar to the local population, rather than exclusively use exotic plants from a distant continent.
  3. In the event that a specific herb from a distant source becomes unavailable, it is prudent to know the uses of local plants. As a byproduct, this will also foster respect for our local resources and can encourage the sustainable use of both local and distant plant populations.
  4. Bodies may tend to respond better to locally available herbs. Though this is not always true, finding health resources (and I might add, food) closer to where we reside is a good practice to cultivate overall."

The key to mastering health is to regulate the body's Yin and Yang - NeijingAccording to Thomas Avery Garran, author of Western herbs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, "Using Western herbs within the paradigm of traditional Chinese medicine is a controversial undertaking, but one that I believe is important. The path that I've followed, first as a student and later as a practitioner and teacher, has led me to a unique understanding of herbs, one that convinced me there is great value in attempting to integrate the insights and knowledge from two great herbal traditions. The primary motivating force behind this work is actually a desire to redefine the understanding of the plants I have presented here. I have used the insights and knowledge on the healing properties of these plants gained from the Western herbal tradition to guide me to their use, and the wisdom from the Chinese medical paradigm as a framework in which to redefine the Western herbal understanding. Thus the expression of the work herein, is in part, an integration or fusion of East and West. I prefer, however, to see it more as an alternate way of looking at much of the herbal healing information. Please note that some of the clinical data comes from my own or colleague's personal experience. Our data may differ somewhat from the currently available literature.

It is my hope that with this book I will do justice to the teachings I received from Michael Tierra and Christopher Hobbs, as well as many others along the way. By developing these ideas and bringing to you the first presentation of 58 Western herbs in the familiar language and format of our Chinese medicine materia medicas, I acknowledge all of you who have supported and schooled me along the way. May each who reads this find a gem that allows him or her to help relieve human suffering."

The following two samples of western herbs with other herbs were taken from Thomas Avery Garran's book Western Herbs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, A Practitioner's Guide. See his website Source Point Herbs


Oregon Grape Root herb
Oregon Grape Root Herb

Oregon Grape Root according to Traditional Chinese Medicine
by Thomas Avery Garran

Oregon Grape Root

Mahonia aquifolium (aka Berberis spp.)


Cortex seu Radicis Mahoniae

Qi and Flavor: bitter, cool

Channels entered: liver, gallbladder, kidney, stomach, small intestine, large intestine

Actions: antimicrobial, liver stimulant, bitter tonic

Functions & Indications: Clears heat and drains damp from the middle jiao for symptoms such as warmth and pain in the epigastric and hypochondriac areas, reduced appetite, nausea, regurgitation, heart burn, constipation, mild diarrhea (damp-heat invading the spleen), bloating after meals with difficulty digesting fats and protein, conjunctivitis, foul breath with a thick yellow tongue coating and a replete rapid pulse. Also used for damp-heat in the intestines where the heat is the predominate sign. This is marked with malodorous diarrhea or constipation, bloody stools, dark malodorous urine, stuffiness in the epigastric and chest area, abdominal pain, intestinal abscess, fever, mental restlessness or muddled thinking a red tongue with a sticky yellow coat and a rapid, slippery pulse. Mahonias bitter and cooling nature effectively drain and cool heat, while draining damp from the middle jiao.

Clears heat, either from vacuity or repletion, where the heat has dried up body fluids causing dry skin, dry mouth, bleeding gums or nose, red eyes, red tongue with or without a yellow coat and a pulse that is rapid and either thready and weak, or full and forceful depending on the condition. Although Oregon Grape Root is bitter and cool, effectively treating replete heat, it also is very appropriate for vacuity heat. It is enriching and is often a first choice when I am treating vacuity heat. I prefer to use the whole root, instead of only the root bark for this indication. This is not always possible when purchasing the medicinal from a purveyor, however this remains a medicinal that I enjoy harvesting for myself. Furthermore, there is sometimes lower quality material available where the harvesters were too lazy to peel the bark. This could be to your advantage if you are using the medicinal in this fashion.

Like many other herbs in this category, Oregon Grape Root can be used externally. Its cooling nature effectively clears heat from the skin and other places where it comes into direct contact. Used as a wash or dusting powder for skin conditions caused by heat or damp-heat. Prepared as a sitz bath or douche, Oregon Grape Root is useful for damp-heat vaginal conditions with yellow malodorous excretions. The leaves are prepared as infused oil and used externally to clear heat and resolve toxicity for abrasions.

Cautions: This herb is not for long-term usage, use caution with weak deficient persons who have signs of cold.

Dosage and Preparation: 3-9g in decoction; 2-4ml in tincture; 0.5-2ml fluid extract. The tincture prepared from the recently dried root bark, or a fluid extract from the same, is the preferred preparation although a decoction is best for use in patients that have yin vacuity with dryness. The leaves of this plant can also be prepared as a salve or cream for external use.

Good quality is the root (and stem) bark only. It should be dark yellow to almost orange. The whole root can be used when the core is yellow. Much of the commercially available Oregon Grape Root is the whole root and often with the stem. The most important qualities to examine are its colorthe deeper yellow the betterand its bitter flavor.

Major Combinations:

  1. Combine with Marshmallow for stomach heat with symptoms of stomach pain, heartburn, and acid reflux.
  2. Combine with Gentian and Lavender for damp-heat in the middle burner with bloating after eating, foul gas and belching, and a thick yellow coating on the tongue.
  3. Combine with Yellow Dock, Chinese Skullcap, and Gardenia for liver-gallbladder damp-heat, add Dandelion leaf if damp is the predominate pathogen.
  4. Combine with Burdock for various skin conditions associated with heat, such as acne rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and simple acne.

Translation of Available Source Material:

Mahonia bealei, (Mahonia fortunei), Mahonia japonica

Flavors: from (yin pin xin shen), bitter, cool

Channels: from (ben cao zi xin), enters Lung channel

Clears heat, supplements vacuity, stops cough and transforms phlegm, treats pulmonary consumption with coughing of blood, steaming bone tidal fever, dizziness and tinnitus, aching lumbus and limp legs, heart vexation, red eyes.

1) from (ben cao zi xin): treats vacuity taxation cough

4) from (zh w mng sh t kao): treats coughing blood

5) from (yin pin xin shen): treats lung taxation, stops cough and transforms phlegm, reduces vacuity heat, kills worms

6) from (xin di sh yng zhong yo): cool and clearing, enriching and strengthening herb, actions are similar to Ligustri Fructus, suitable for tidal fever, steaming bone, aching lumbar, weak knees, dizziness, tinnitus, etc.

7) from (l chuan ben cao): drains fire and reduces fever, treats warm diseases with fever, heart vexation, diarrhea, red eyes

8) from (xi zng chng yng zhong cao yo): treats warm heat dysentery, red, swollen, and painful eyes, swelling and toxin of welling abscess and sores

Commentary: There is some confusion about the genus name for this plant. Berberis is an ancient Arabic name for barberry, without spines on the leaves. Mahonia, a name to honor the Irish-American botanist Bernard MacMahon, was once considered a group within the Berberis genus, but is now considered separate. There are two distinct differences between the genera. Mahonia has spiny leaf margins while Berberis does not. Berberis' fruit has 2-3 seeds, while Mahonia has 3-9 seeds. There are approximately 600 species within the combined genera.

This is a very abundant plant in the Pacific Northwest of the US. It is a pioneer plant and is one of the first plants to colonize after the logging companies have raped the acres of forest for its timber. The clear abundance of this plant makes it an excellent and stable plant for use in herbal medicine. It has a long history of use and is very safe. I have found it dependable and highly recommend its use. This herb is effective for clearing heat and I have found it safe and effective for clearing yin vacuity heat without damaging the yin; I liken it to Chinese Phellodenron for this use. Not only does this medicinal effectively clear vacuity heat, it also assists the construction qi. While clearing heat it helps to nourish by assisting to build structure within yin.

Native Americas of the Pacific Northwest used the plant for other uses as well as medicine. The root was boiled and used as a yellow dye for basketry and clothing. The ripe fruits were collected and eaten in various preparations, either raw or cooked, but were rarely preserved by drying; in fact, some tribes considered them poison. The fruit is quite sour, which account for some considering it poison. However, the berries can be boiled and make a fine jelly.

Various species of this medicinal were official in the United States Pharmacopeia and National Formulary from the mid 19th century through the mid 20th century. Mahonia aquifolium was made official in the British Herbal Pharmacopeia in 1983.


by Thomas Avery Garran

This category is really two categories combined for clinical ease to distinguish these medicinals as those used to treat phlegm located in the lung. That being said, one should not assume that all three of the medicinals found in this chapter are used only for phlegm in the lungs. To transform phlegm implies a relative gentle action on eliminating phlegm. Stopping cough is exactly that, downbearing q and restoring the depurative function of the lung.

Pleurisy Root
Pleurisy Root Herb

Pleurisy root is a very important medicinal in this category with a wide range of actions, which also makes it a very important medicinal in the materia medica. It is bitter, acrid, and cold in nature. Pleurisy root is very effective for diffusing lung q and circulating the q of the chest, thus it is used for a wide variety of ailments in the chest including cough, major chest bind, and asthma. Yerba santa is likely the most famous of the California endemics. Unlike pleurisy root, yerba santa is warm and is an important medicinal for transforming phlegm in the lung and spleen. Yerba santa also has the extra benefit of warming spleen yang and resolving rheum. Both pleurisy root and yerba santa resolve the exterior, but their action is different. Grindelia is bitter, acrid, and cool in nature and is an important medicinal for diffusing and downbearing the lung q. Grindelia also treats the lower burner with cool and bitterness, clearing heat in the kidney and bladder.

Pleurisy Root

Asclepias tuberosa Aslepiadaceae

Butterfly Weed, Wind Root

Flavor and Q: bitter, acrid, cold

Channels entered: lung, large intestine

Actions: expectorant, antitussive, diaphoretic, anticatarrhal

Functions & Indications

  1. Clears heat, diffuses the lung q and transforms phlegm for lung-heat with symptoms of pain in the chest with fever and cough with no or difficult expectoration. Pleurisy root has a bitter and acrid flavor and is cold in nature. Its bitter and acrid flavor transforms phlegm and drains the lung of repletion heat, while diffusing the lung q. Its cold nature strongly clears heat.
  2. Circulates the q of the chest, relieves pain, and harmonizes the upper jiao. This herb is very effective for major chest bind (da jie xiong) caused by chronic heat and phlegm where the heat is predominate with a tight, rapid pulse. Pleurisy root has an acrid and bitter flavor. Acridity outthrusts while bitter downbears. This combination of flavors creates a harmonizing action in the chest where this medicinal has an affinity. Owing to its acridity and cold nature, pleurisy root circulates the q in the chest, transforms phlegm, and clears heat, thus relieving pain and treating this condition very effectively. This medicinal is also used for hot asthma with chest pain and/or difficult breathing. This herb is effective for any type of heat in the chest but because of its cold nature should be used with warming medicinals in extremely deficient patients.
  3. Resolves the exterior and expels wind for external wind-heat invasion with sweating, cough, fever, sore throat, and a floating and rapid pulse. Acridity outthrusts and cold clears heat. Because pleurisy root is acrid and cold, it outthrusts wind and heat. This is a major way this medicinal is used and when considering the history of the use of this medicinal, this occupies a significant portion of the literature.
  4. Clears heat and cools the blood for fever with dry skin, a red tongue, and a rapid and replete pulse. When heat enters the blood at the blood aspect there is serious illness and pleurisy root is an important medicinal for this pattern. Pleurisy root has a bitter flavor and is cold in nature. This bitter/cold combination is essential for the treatment of heat at the blood aspect. Furthermore, this medicinal is acrid in nature, which activates the q and quickens the blood secondarily. This secondary action is beneficial to the overall action of this medicinal as stasis and stagnation are common confounding factors when heat enters the blood aspect. Also helpful for skin rashes where blood heat is part of the pattern.


Pleurisy root is cold in nature and should be used with caution by those with spleen q vacuity or internal cold.
Pleurisy root should be avoided during pregnancy.

Dosage and Preparation

Use 26g in strong infusion or decoction, 2.55ml in tincture. The fresh plant tincture of pleurisy root is superior to the dry preparation.

Pleurisy root is gathered in the autumn after the plant has withered or in the early spring. The root is either prepared fresh or sliced and dried for storage. Good quality root is grayish-white and firm. It is quite fibrous, so if it is cut and sifted it will have significant fibrous material included.

Major Combinations

  1. Combine with American ginseng and sweet flag for phlegm-heat in the lung. Change the dosages of the medicinals to fit the clinical picture.
  2. Combine with lobelia for hot spasmodic cough with difficult expectoration.
  3. Combine with black cohosh for acute rheumatic fever with arthritic pain that is worsened on motion, abdominal pain, and high fever.
  4. Combine with bugleweed for chest pain due to heat stagnation with or without cough with blood-streaked sputum.


Pleurisy root is exceptional in the treatment of lung heat, especially when phlegm is a confounding factor. Further, pleurisy root is a very effective medicinal for major chest bind (da jie xiong).

The genus name Asclepias comes from the ancient Greek god of medicine Asklepios, and "tuberosa" arose due to its enlarged root system. The genus is endemic to America. The Cherokee used this plant for pain in the breast, stomach, and intestines. Most Native American Peoples within its range used it for lung diseases. It is often combined with Zingiber to enhance its effectiveness. Pleurisy root was official in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 18201905 and the National Formulary from 1916-1936.


by Thomas Avery Garran

This category consists of medicinals that generally nourish the heart and quiet the spirit. The heart is the storage place for the spirit, if the heart is either replete or vacuous, the spirit may become disquieted. When the spirit is disquieted a patient may experience heart vexation, insomnia, palpitations, anxiety, susceptibility to fright, and even biomedically defined clinical depression.

The Western materia medica is replete with medicinals that fit into this category, perhaps because of our cultural predilection for stress, overwork, and undernourishment - physical, emotional, and spiritual. Seven medicinals are represented here. Each has its niche, but with the exception of passionflower, none of them are nourishing. California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is bitter and draining, and thus is generally applied in conditions associated with heat, especially replete heat. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is nourishing and can be used for all types of disquieted spirit. St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), kava (Piper methysticum), and valerian (Valeriana officinalis) are useful because of their qi-coursing actions. Although chamomile (Matricaria recutita) also courses the qi, this is a weaker action, and this plant will be more serviceable when digestive problems exist. Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is an exceptionally important medicinal native to the Americas. Skullcap is bitter, acrid, and cool. It quiets the spirit and resolves depression - both in the heart and liver. It is also helpful in the treatment of liver-wind conditions.

See Awakening the Soul Qigong and Enlightenment Qigong for Returning to Oneness

Awakening of a Bodhisattva
Awakening Heart



Western Herbs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, A Practitioner's Guide by Thomas Avery Garran, 2008.



Ricardo would like to thank and acknowledge Thomas Avery Garran for his integration of western herbs into the system of traditional Chinese medicine in a book format that allows those practitioners trained in Chinese medicine to effectively and safely add western herbs to their regular practice.


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