Pao Zhi- Ancient Techniques applied to Western Herbs

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Honey Stir Fried Licorice Root

Pao Zhi is an ancient Chinese technique of altering the tastes, energies and directions of medicinal substances by processing. This transformational alchemical approach to preparation can increase herbs therapeutic effectiveness and applicability for individualized treatment. Albeit a simplistic view, I view it is akin to cooking, in which the very nature of food, is transformed for assimilation.

What about western herbs? I have used some of the very same processes described below with Western traditional herbs including honey stir-fried elecampane root to direct its energy to digestion, dry stir fried solomon seal with a salt solution to direct its energy towards the kidneys, cooking nettles with black bean juice to enhance its ability to nourish blood, and dry stir frying rice with angelica to reinforce it action on the spleen.

An individual herb can be used in different ways depending on what part of the plant is used; where as, with the process of pao zhi one can transform the energy, flavor and action of the same part of the plant. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the preparation of herbs is an integral aspect of the therapeutic strategy. Pao Zhi is a vast subject and this article is only the tip of the iceberg. I have included some references at the end of the article for further exploration.

There are a multitude of reasons why herbs are subjected to processing including the removal of debris, reduction of toxicity, reduction of odors and flavors, to reinforce or modify energetic properties, prolong storage and most importantly, to increase assimilation. This image represents a visual overview of Pao Zhi techniques and the types of products that are produced. The following is a partial list of methods of Pao Zhi preparation and pinyin names, which are reflected in the naming of Chinese Herbs:

  • Sheng: uncooked without heat or cooking.
  • Shu: prepared with heat or cooking
  • Shui Zhi (w/ water): multiple rinsing and washing, moistening and soaking
  • Shui Fei, using water in the process of pulverizing. Used to eliminate salts, toxicity, refine minerals, and soften for cutting.
  • Huo Zhi (w/ fire): Stir-frying, calcination, roasting, baking and blast frying. Stir-frying might be done with or without the addition of various substances including honey, vinegar, rise, wheat brand, etc. that alter the energetic action of the herb.
  • Sometimes a combination all or any of the above including steaming, boiling, distilling and dipped into water after calcinated.
  • Fermentation and sprouting or germination is also used as a method of transforming herbs.
  • Many of the herbs that are toxic such as Fu Zi (aconitum carmichaeli) or Ban Xia (Rhizoma Pinelliae ternatae) involve successive transformational processes to make them safe for use.  This is a video that shows the traditional preparation of Fu Zi.

One of the most common methods of transformation is through the use of stir-frying with either one or several substances to change the energy/action of the herb. The following examples illustrates how Pao Zhi can effect flavor, actions and corresponding organs:

  • Stir-frying with rice, with its sweet flavor and neutral energy helps to eliminate dampness andSlide10 supplements the spleen and qi. Directions: a pan is preheated and rice is added and stir-fried until it starts to smell, the herbs are added, and cooked until both are brown, then the herbs are separated out. An example of this is with Dang Shen (Codonopsis).
  • Honey has a sweet flavor and cool energy but when heated it becomes warming. Directions: combine a small amount of honey and dilute with water until fairly runny. This is tossed with the herbs until they are coated. The herbs are stir-fried in a dry pan over low heat until the honey is no longer sticky. This process alters the herbs actions to reinforce the supplementation of the spleen and qi by increasing their moistening and tonification properties. Examples: Dang Shen (codonopsis), Gan Cao (licorice) and Huang Qi (astragalus).
  • Salt has a cold energy and enhances downward action directing the energetic actions of theSlide09 herbs to the kidneys, supplements yin, addresses empty fire blazing, promotes softening of nodules and stimulates diuretic action. Directions: Mix salt and water for a 2% solution or 2 grams of salt in 100 millilitres of solution. Toss the herbs with the salt solution until well coated and then stir-fried over low heat until dry. An example of this process is with Zhi Mu (Anemarrhenae) and Huang Bai (Phellodendrum), for use in yin deficiency with empty fire blazing.
  • Vinegar (rice) has a warm energy. It also has a sour and bitter flavor directing its action towards the liver. Directions: take 15 parts vinegar to 100 parts water then soak the herb thoroughly, followed up by stir-frying it over a low fire until a golden color.   Examples are Chai Hu (Bupleurum) and Qing Pi (citrus peel).
  • Wine is acidic and sweet flavored. It is also heating and helps to increase circulation or quickening of the blood in the network vessels. Directions: using 20-50 parts of wine to 100 parts of herb, the herb is tossed with the wine, and then stir-fried over low heat until yellow. Examples are Dang Gui (angelica sinensis) and Chuan Xiong (ligusticum wallachii)

An excellent example of this is to look at the different methods for preparing Di Huang (Rehmannia glutinosa, Chinese foxglove) to obtain different energies, tastes and actions.

  • Xian Di Huang, (raw fresh root) is sweet and bitter with a cold energy. It clears heat, cools the blood engenders fluids and stops thirst.
  • Di Huang Zhi, (raw fresh juice) is sweet and slightly bitter with a cold energy. It clears heat and stops bleeding.
  • Sheng Di Huang, (dry uncooked) is sweet and slightly bitter with a cool energy. It enriches yin and clears heat.
  • Chao Shen Di Huang, (dry stir-fried till scorched) is sweet and slightly bitter. It has a cool to neutral energy.   It enriches yin and nourishes the blood.
  • Sheng Di Huang Tan, (dry stir-fried till carbonized) is sweet, bitter and slightly astringent. It has a cool to neutral energy.
  • Shu Di Huang**(steaming in rice wine). It is sweet and slightly warming. It supplements yin, supplements the blood, supplements the essence, and supplements the kidneys.
  • Chao Shu Di Huang, (steaming in rice wine and stir-fried till scorched). It is sweet flavored and warm energy. It nourishes the blood, nourishes the constructive qi, and enriches yin.
  • Shu Di Huang Tan, (steaming in rice wind and stir-fried till carbonized). It is sweet flavored and slightly astringent. It is warm energetically. It supplements the blood and stops bleeding.
  • ** David Wolf and Mountain Rose Herbs prepared rehmannia is manufactured, by boiling the root in a mixture of yellow wine and black bean infusion until the liquids have been boiled away and the roots are black. The roots are then dried in the sun.

Slide15You can see that by using different processes one can change the energy of the herb from cold to warm and the flavor from sweet to astringent. By understanding the needs of the individual client, one can further amend prepared Shu Di Huang by using ginger juice (dampness), cardamom (or chen pi (citrus peel) for spleen vacuity and qi stagnation when stir frying.

The following link is a study on the chemical comparisons of dried rehmannia root and prepared rehmannia root (steamed). The report’s results show characteristic changes in the content of major monosaccharides and oligosaccharides as the dried root is converted in the steaming process of the prepared root, indicating a possible special role for fructose, stachyose and rehmaionoside in the differing therapeutic effects of dried and prepared rehmannia. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211383512001499

Further Reference:

  • Sionneau, Philippe. An Introduction to the use of Processed Chinese Medicinals. Blue Poppy Press, 1995.
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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Debbie Lukas
    May 07, 2015 @ 15:39:12

    Thank you for this article. I have found this information difficult to obtain!

    Reply

  2. MICHAEL DEMARCO
    Jun 13, 2015 @ 19:23:24

    I’ve come back to this article three times and each time it reminds me how much I don’t know. Thanks for the reminder and the great information.

    Reply

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