My acupuncture teacher, Dr. Miriam Lee, said she never studied herbs but she had a very busy practice in San Jose, treating up to 100 patients a day with acupuncture. In those days, acupuncture was not a legal profession. She was arrested for practicing medicine without a license. Through her heroic efforts and with the support from the many patients she helped, she was able to finally get a law passed legalizing the profession of acupuncture in the State of California – the first state, I believe, to do so.
Despite her limited knowledge of herbs, she had one formula that she dispensed to most of her old patients. It was Liu Wei Di Huang, also known as “Rehmannia Six.” She felt that most of her patients were burnt out from worry and overwork and suffered a constitutional deficiency Yin. She dispensed the formula in a small bottle of which 8 tiny pilules were to be taken two or three times daily.
At the time, neither I nor my fellow students knew anything about Chinese herbs but we suspected that “Liu Wei” must have been special.
Later when we began studying herbs with Taoist professor Foon Lee Wong living on the outer edge of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, we learned of a certain black-colored tea that his patients were all required to drink for a week before they could have one of Foon’s high-powered ginseng roots that he was selling, depending on age and quality, anywhere from $300 to $2000 dollars each. Foon would not tell us what was in this mucky tea, which I jokingly called “swamp water.” This procedure of diet and preparatory tea was a prerequisite for the ‘big day’ when they would carefully chop their entire ginseng root and carefully brew it in a ceramic double boiler made for the occasion called by Foon, “ginseng cooker.” Indeed as a Taoist, Foon practiced a special form of Chinese herbal medicine best represented today by Ron Teeguarden’s Dragon Herbs Company. Taoists use the same herbs as TCM practitioner but with a special emphasis on the use of the tonics, like ginseng, for longevity, mental and physical strength.
Foon liked to show us his book of clippings and endorsements from wealthy movie stars and politicians who traveled from throughout the state to undergo his unique ginseng therapy, which granted to his clients energy that lasted three months to a year depending on the quality of the root.
Years after leaving Foon and getting on with my own herbal career, I wondered what was in Foon’s special tea. One day by chance, Lesley and I were walking in the neighborhood of old Foon’s Chinese antique shop with his clandestine acupuncture and herb practice in the curtained back room. I persuaded her to stop for a visit. Foon was retired from his business, but his wife was there. She said he spent most days playing cards or Mahjong with his cronies in Chinatown.
I ventured to ask her if she knew anything about Foon’s mysterious black tea. She said she didn’t know, but she directed me to a Chinese herb pharmacy a couple blocks away, where Foon would buy his herbs. I couldn’t resist a visit.
When I asked the people at the shop about the tea, several of them said it was Liu Wei Di Huang. They added that this tea was taken before consuming Chinese ginseng so that nourish the yin parasympathetic energy of the body would be nourished to prepare it for receiving the sudden powerful influx of non-stimulant energy from high quality ginseng.
Liu Wei Di Huang’s Relationship to Ginseng
It is well known that many who take a large dose of top quality Chinese ginseng often suffer from what is become known as “ginseng abuse syndrome,” which could be described as ‘too much yang and not enough yin.” It is associated with symptoms of yin (parasympathetic) deficiency and can include any or all of the following symptoms: allergy, cardiovascular and renal toxicity, gynecomastia, hepatotoxicity, hypertension, reproductive toxicity, and bleeding disorders. For this reason, while ginseng is revered by the Chinese it is seldom taken by them. Instead when a formula calls for ginseng, they often substitute milder qi tonics such as codonopsis (dang shen) or astragalus (huang qi).
In TCM, Yin Yang theory rules over all. So there are yin or yang herbs and foods but there are also yin or yang toxins. Ginseng abuse syndrome comes about as a result of toxins accumulated from deep levels of yin deficiency. In the West we might associate yin deficiency with adrenal fatigue. Toxins would include an excess of cortisol in the body, and perhaps other stress-related secretions that can accumulate as a result of severe prolonged stress. As an extreme, one might think of PTSD as an accumulation of such stress-related toxins. Another cause of yin deficiency is that a malnourished body must still eliminate its metabolic waste but lacks the organic strength to do so. These then accumulate in the organs and tissues resulting in fatigue and various auto-immune diseases. Such people complaining of low energy would seem likely candidates for a good dose of high quality ginseng, right?
This is where Liu Wei Di Huang can be used to first nourish the deep yin organs of the Kidneys, Liver, Spleen and Heart to prevent the body from being overwhelmed by Ginseng Qi, causing a flushing up of yin toxins or “ginseng abuse syndrome,” as it is known.
Most people, especially coffee drinkers, don’t realize that when they are tired and suffering from low energy they would be wise to seek yin tonics and drinks rather than coffee. I think the difference is between being invigorated or refreshed, with the feeling of calm refreshment being the experience of yin nourishment.
People often think Chinese ginseng (panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) are the same They are not. (see Lesley Tierra’s blog on the different ginsengs).
Chinese ginseng and Korean red ginseng are warming and stimulating. The best quality roots are at least six years or older before they accumulate their magical qi-generating, mitochondria-enhancing, ATP-producing, ginsenosides. The older the root the better. Many who do not appreciate the power of ginseng are amazed when they view a prized a superior quality wild ginseng root of more than 100 years displayed behind a glass case in old Chinese herb shops selling in for $500,000! You definitely would not want to ingest such a root without first taking Liu Wei Di Huang formula for days or weeks prior.
In contrast, Ameircan ginseng (Panax quinquefolium), a great herb in itself, is mild, has more yin-nourishing properties and therefore safer to take. The ginseng that is most commonly sold to tourists in colorful Chinatowns in big cities in the US.
More information on Liu Wei Di Huang
Liu Wei Di Huang is a very valuable constitutional formula for treating most chronic degenerative conditions often but not exclusively associated with aging.