There are many herbal approaches to supporting Shen depending on the imbalance affecting it:
- Nourish the Shen through Heart Qi, Blood, or Yin tonics: fu shen, zizyphus, biota, asparagus root, reishi, rhodiola, hawthorn
- Astringe the Shen: schisandra, cornus
- Clear Heart Heat or Fire: scute, coptis
- Sedate the Heart and settle the Shen: dragon bone, oyster shell, magnetite
- Open the Heart orifices: borneol, musk, acorus
- Transform Damp and calm the Heart: fu ling, atractylodes (bai zhu), cinnamon twig, akebia
Generally, herbs that nourish the Shen are employed when the Shen is low. These include such herbs as zizyphus seeds, biota seeds, polygala, longan berries, hawthorn berries, albizia, rhodiola (hong jing tian), reishi (ling zhi), polygala, wild asparagus root (tian men dong), ginseng (ren shen), fu ling cortex, schisandra (wu wei zi), oyster shell and dragon bone.
Albizia [Albizia julibrissin; he huan pi (bark); he huan hua (flower)]:
Having a neutral energy, the mimosa tree is known as the “happiness bark,” although the flowerheads may also be used. The bark calms the Spirit and is specifically used for depression, bad temper, insomnia and palpitations due to anger and anxiety, irritability and poor memory due to Stagnant Liver Qi, pain and swelling due to trauma, abscesses, carbuncles, furuncles and similar swellings. The flowerheads are used for insomnia and palpitations due to anger and anxiety, fullness of the chest, poor memory, and irritability due to Stagnant Liver Qi.
American Ginseng(Panax quinquefolium; xi yang shen):
This root is a Yin tonic which quiets metabolism. The Chinese widely use American ginseng because its cooling demulcent energy tonifies Yin while simultaneously strengthening Qi (this is quite different than Panax ginseng, which is a warming Qi tonic). Thus, American ginseng is used for chronic, afternoon or low-grade fevers and irritability and thirst after a fever, since Yin (fluids) becomes depleted from fevers (heat evaporating moisture). It also treats irritability, thirst and night sweats due to general Yin Deficiency, all accompanied by weakness, deficiency and debility. American ginseng is also great for nourishing the Lungs to treat loss of voice, wheezing and coughing up of blood. As such, it is valuable for wasting conditions such as AIDS and pulmonary tuberculosis. Western herbalists use American ginseng as an adaptogen to counteract the effects of stress and to increase endurance.
Asparagus(Asparagus cochinchinensis; tian men dong; Sanskrit: shatavari):
Asparagus tuber is a Yin or nutritive tonic. The Chinese believe that this herb engenders love and compassion, so Chinese pharmacists routinely set aside some of the sweetest roots for their personal use. Typically used for dry mouth, thick blood-streaked mucus, dry cough, tuberculosis, mouth sores, low-grade afternoon fever, constipation due to Dryness, and thirst. Because it nourishes the Yin of the Heart, it supports Shen in those with Yin Deficiency.
Biota (Platycladius orientalis; Thujae orientalis; bai zi ren)
More commonly called Platycladi seeds now, biota seeds nourish Heart Blood and Yin, treating insomnia, forgetfulness, palpitations, anxiety, night terrors in children, and night sweats. They are sweet and neutral with a gentle nature that harmonizes and so they nourish the Heart and Spirit. They are especially good for those who are exhausted with sensations of heat and weakness in the lover back and knees. As well, biota seeds moisten the intestines, helping alleviate dry constipation.
Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosulae; dang shen):
Codonopsis is called “poor man’s ginseng” because it is very similar to, although milder acting, than ginseng. As a Qi tonic, it increases vital energy, strengthens digestion and assimilation and is given in all diseases associated with weakness. Having more Qi means feeling better in general, which boosts the Shen.
Ginseng (Panax ginseng; ren shen):
Korean red ginseng and Chinese white ginseng tonify the Qi in all Deficiency diseases. It is used for palpitations with anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness, or restlessness and excellent for convalescence, debility and weakness in old age, debility, weakness, tiredness.
Hawthorn Berries (Crataegus oxycantha, C. pinnatifida; C. spp; shan zha):
Although hawthorn berries (and leaves and flowers) are primarily known in the West as a cardiac tonic, these berries also nourish Heart Blood. treating both emotionally and physically induced heart issues including high and low blood pressure, rapid or arrhythmic heartbeat, tachycardia, inflammation of the heart muscle, angina pectoris, arteriosclerosis, enlarged heart, heart strain and valvular heart diseases. This incredible herb stimulates circulation and moves Stagnant Blood, regulates blood flow, blood pressure and heart rate, dilates coronary vessels, brings more blood to the heart, reduces cholesterol and blood lipids, strengthens the heart muscle, and helps maintain a healthy heart, arteries and veins. I have seen it stabilize irregular heartbeat and eliminate palpitations many times. Although the Chinese are aware of its Blood-moving and heart protective properties, they primarily use the berries to move food congestion, particularly due to meats or greasy foods. Hawthorn also stimulates appetite and eases abdominal distention, gas, bloating, and pain. Interestingly, many people go to the emergency room with heart pains believing they are having a heart attack when really this is caused by Food Stagnation. Hawthorn helps here!
Precautions: Hawthorn may potentiate the effects of cardiac glycosides, such as digitalis; caution in Spleen/Stomach Deficiency without food stagnation; acid regurgitation.
Jujube Dates (Zizyphus sativa; da zao)
The delicious large red fruit tonify both Qi and Blood, treating poor digestion, weakness, low energy, nervous exhaustion, insomnia, diarrhea from Coldness and poor appetite, digestion and memory. Nourishing to the Spirit, they calm and stabilize emotions when feeling irritable, sad or crying for no reason. They are added like licorice to sweeten and harmonize other herbs in a formula. After cooking the dates in a tea or soup, eat them for their full medicinal value (remove pits first). They help weight gain and help malnourished children thrive.
Longan Berries (Euphoria longan; long yan rou):
These delicious berries quickly tonify Heart Blood (like no other herb I know), alleviating palpitations, anxiety, forgetfulness and insomnia, particularly due to overwork or from excessive thinking, studying, reading or talking (all of which use a lot of Heart Blood and blood sugar in the brain – these berries are high in glucose and sucrose, which quickly replenish blood sugar). As such, they wonderfully nourish the Shen.
Polygala (Polygala tenuifolia; yuan zhi)
Polygala especially works by establishing harmonious communication between the Heart and Kidneys. Warming and bitter, it should not be used for those with any Heat signs. Polygala calms the Spirit and quiets the Heart, treating restlessness, anxiety, disorientation, excessive brooding or pent-up emotions. As well, it expels phlegm, helping to clear any phlegm blocking the Heart orifices that causes emotional or mental disorientation, spasms or seizures. As well, polygala treats coughs.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum; ling zhi):
Although it is classified as a Qi tonic, reishi (the Japanese name) means “spirit plant.” Reishi mushroom, once a rare and secret fungus revered by the ancient Taoists, was considered to be the elixir of life, even said to restore it, because of its amazing tonifying properties. No wonder it has been treasured more than gold! Calming and revitalizing at the same time, reishi increases inner stamina and strength. It tonifies Blood along with Qi and is a bone marrow tonic. Among many other medicinal uses, it specifically nourishes the Spirit, treating anxiety, insomnia, nervousness, arrhythmia, and palpitations.
Salvia (Salvia miltiorrhiza; dan shen):
Red sage root moves blood circulation and is one of the premier herbs for most heart conditions, including moving the blood, breaking up congestion and clots, and regulating cholesterol and triglycerides. Because it is a cooling herb that moves Blood (most Blood-movers are warming), it is extremely useful for a wide variety of Blood Stasis complaints in those with Excess Heat (such as inflammation) as well as those with Deficient Yin.
Precautions: Use caution in pregnancy; when there is no Blood Stasis; in patients who are taking anticoagulant medications, such as Warfarin, unless under direction of a qualified health care practitioner.
Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis; wu wei zi):
Schisandra astringes the Spirit which helps to anchor it. Among its many uses, it assists the Shen by treating nerve weakness (neurasthenia, meaning weakness, fatigue and pallor), forgetfulness, insomnia, and dream-disturbed sleep. As a tonic astringent, schisandra strengthens tissues, eliminates secretions and retains energy, Essence and leakages (good for all of you exhausted folks in physical and mental “burnout”). Schisandra is a mild adaptogen that regulates various body functions, and increases the body’s ability to handle stress.
Zizyphus seeds (Zizyphus spinosae; suan zao ren):
Because zizyphus seeds clear Liver and Heart Heat, they help calm the mind and emotions, treating insomnia, irritability, palpitations, anxiety, nervous exhaustion, amnesia and poor memory. They also reduce spontaneous sweating or night sweats.
Oyster Shell (Ostrea concha; mu li)
A “heavy” mineral, oyster shell’s astringency “anchors” the Spirit. It settles and calms the Spirit, treating palpitations, anxiety, insomnia and restlessness. As well, it “pulls down” floating Yang that leads to dizziness, tinnitus, headaches, flushed face, insomnia and irritability. It also treats continuous sweating, spontaneous sweating, night sweats, nocturnal emissions, and vaginal discharge.
Dragon Bone (fossilized bones of various animals; long gu)
Like oyster shell, dragon bone anchors the Shen, calming restlessness, palpitations with anxiety, and insomnia. It also treats floating Yang with irritability, restlessness, dizziness, vertigo, and a bad temper. Its astringent nature stops leakage such as spontaneous sweating, nocturnal emissions, night sweats, and vaginal discharge. Both oyster shell and dragon bone are often combined in formulas.