Theory

Gan Cao Licorice Root - Chinese Herbal Medicine


Gan Cao Names

  • English Name: Licorice Root
  • Pinyin Name: Gan Cao

Gan Cao Image

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Gan Cao Cautions


    Contraindication Notes:

    • Avoid with excess dampness, nausea, vomiting.
    • Incompatible with Gan Sui, Da Ji, Yuan Hua, Hai Zao (although used in some formulas with Hai Zao).
    • If taken for long periods of time, may cause hypertension and/or edema.


Gan Cao Clinical Usages and Indications

  • Tonifies the spleen and augments qi - spleen deficiency w/shortness of breath, fatigue, loose stools (si jun zi tong).
  • Qi and/or blood deficiency w/irregular pluse or palpitations (Zhi Gan Cao Tang).
  • Moistens the lungs and stops cough - heat/cold in the lungs (Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang).
  • Clears heat and toxic fire (raw) - carbuncles, sores, sore throat due to fire toxin (internally or topically).
  • Alleviates pain and stops spasms - abdomen or legs (Shao Yao Gan Cao Tang).
  • Often used to harmonize and/or moderate characteristics of other herbs.
  • Antidote for toxic substances (internally and topically).


Gan Cao Dosage and Prep Notes

  • Dosage: 2-12g




Clinician Notes

  • Affects all 12 meridians, but most used with the heart, lung, spleen, and stomach meridians.
  • When raw it has more neutral properties, when dry-fried it is more warming.

Gan Cao Appears In 50 Formulas

Bai He Gu Jin Wan

  • Lily Bulb to Preserve the Metal
    • General yin deficiency signs may present as night sweats, heat in the soles and palms, and flusing.
    • Cough/wheezing, possible blood in the sputum, dry and sore throat may present from lung yin and qi deficiency.
    • This formula can recovering smokers.
  • Treat Dryness
  • Enrich the Yin and Moisten Dryness

Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Wan

  • Pinellia, Atractylodis and Gastrodia Combination
    • Nausea with possible vomitting from combination of damp with liver qi stagnation causing rebellious qi.
    • Dizziness, migraines, and vertigo from damp and liver wind rising.
    • Heavy or oppressed sensation of the chest.
  • Treat Phlegm
  • Transform Phlegm and Extinguish Wind
  • Cautions
  • This formula should not be used to treat dizziness or vertigo due to liver yang rising patterns.

Ban Xia Xie Xin Wan

  • Pinellia Drain Epigastrium Pills
    • Distension and fullness of the epigastrium usually without pain.
    • Borborygmus (gurgling sounds), and diarrhea if spleen qi is affected.
    • Vomiting with possible dry heaves due to rebellious stomach qi.
  • Harmonize
  • Harmonize the Stomach and Intestines
  • Cautions
  • Do not use for epigastric distention due to food stagnation.  Use with caution if patient has yin deficiency.

Bi Yan Wan

  • Nose Inflammation Tablets
    • For acute or chronic rhinitis resulting from the combination of lung qi deficiency and phlegm accumulation.
    • Runny nose, sneezing, congestion due to phlegm.
    • Can be used to treat for general cold or flu symptoms due to phlegm and wind.
  • Treat Phlegm
  • Transform Phlegm and Extinguish Wind

Chen Xiang Hua Qi Wan

  • Aquilaria Qi Transforming Pills
  • For spleen qi deficiency with damp heat accumulation in the lower.  The spleen system is effectively the western version of the digestive system.  The spleen is responsible for extracting the energy from the food and properly breaking the food down.  When the spleen is weak the overall energy tends to drop, the appetite may be poor, and the mood may also be on the down side.  Furthermore, the weakness of the spleen results in the accumulation of byproducts (damp) which tend to accumulate in the lower.

    Symptoms may include diarrhea, constipation, excessive gas, and abdominal distension.  This formula is used to treat belching, acid reflux, poor appetite, abdominal distension, flatulence, constipation, and abdominal cramping and discomfort.

    Tongue: puffy, sticky or greasy coat

    Pulse: slippery, weak

  • Expel Dampness
  • Clear Damp-Heat
  • Cautions
  • Contraindicated during pregnancy

Chu Kou Wei Wan

  • Chu Kou Wei Wan
    • Acid reflux and/or burning sensation in the epigastrium, throat, or mouth from stomach fire.
    • Ulcers, sores, or other types of abcess in the mouth due to persistent stomach heat.
    • Constant sense of hunger or noticable increse in appetite.
    • Commonly used to treat bad breath (halitosis).
  • Clear Heat
  • Clear Heat From The Organs

Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan

  • Ligusticum Tea Pills
    • Headaches, primarily from wind-cold (but used with wind-heat/wind-damp), with neck stiffness, muscle aches and/or nasal discharge.
    • In certain cases may be useful for migraines, frequent headaches - particularly when they are influenced by cold weather and/or changing from warm to cold environments.
    • Rhinitis, sinusitis.
  • Expel Wind
  • Release Wind from the Skin and Channels
  • Cautions
  • Pregnancy
    • Use only with direction during pregnancy.
    • Avoid in cases of headache from liver yang rising or deficiencies of qi and/or blood.

Du Huo Ji Sheng Wan

  • Solitary Hermit Teapills
    • For chronic pain due to obstruction (bi zheng) with liver and kidney deficiency.
    • For lower back pain often with weakness and/or pain in the knees.
    • For arthritis, especially the type affected by cold/damp weather.
  • Expel Dampness
  • Dispel Wind-Dampness
  • Cautions
    • Use with caution during pregnancy.
    • Do not use with patients that present with damp heat or excess heat.

Er Chen He San Zi Yang Qin Wan

Fang Feng Tong Sheng Wan

Gan Bing Zhi Ben Wan

  • Liver Disease Recovery Pills
    • Irritibility or easily prone to outburts or anger.
    • Liver disease such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, fatty liver.
    • Jaundice - yellowing of the skin, brittle nails, pale complexion.
  • Regulate the Qi
  • Promote the Movement of Qi
  • Cautions
    • Ovoid foods and drugs that tax the liver such as coffee, alcohol, fried foods, etc.
    • Use with caution during pregnancy.

Gan Mai Da Zao Wan

  • Licorice, Wheat, and Jujube Formula
    • Anxiety/depression/manic issues with a tendency towards losing self-control (crying fits, excessive yawning, etc.) that result from the combination of heart yin deficiency and liver qi stagnation.
    • Insomnia, possibly with vivid dreaming and heart palpitations.
    • Post-partum depression and milder symptoms of menopause.
  • Calm The Spirit
  • Nourish the Heart and Calm the Spirit

Ge Xia Zhu Yu Wan

  • Drive Out Blood Stasis Below The Diaphragm Decoction
    • For blood stasis below the diaphgram - abdominal masses, liver and spleen masses/swelling, colitis.
    • A range of liver disorders are possibly applicable - cirrhosis, hepatic hemangioma, hepatitis, jaundice.
    • Spleen disorders - splenomegaly.
    • Pleural adhesions.
    • A range of menstrual disorders - fibroids, endometriosis, dysmenorrhea (although Shao Fu Zhu Yu Wan may be more appropriate as that targets more the lower jiao).
    • Pelvic inflammatory disease.
    • May be used to help expel ectopic pregnancy.
  • Invigorate the Blood
  • Invigorate the Blood and Dispel Blood Stasis
  • Cautions
  • Pregnancy
    • Avoid during pregnancy.
    • Use only under direction during menstruation.
    • Use only under direction if you are taking blood thinners.
    • Generally not for long term use.

Hui Chun Wan

  • Recovery Special Pill
  • Most often used for childhood convulsions (possibly with wheezing, nausea, nighttime crying, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive mucus/saliva) or other conditions that involve fever, impaired or loss of consciousness, irritability, restlessness such as seizure disorders, meningitis, measles, and gastroenteritis among others.

  • Open the Orifices
  • Clear Heat and Open The Orifices

Jia Wei Gui Pi Wan

  • Augmented Restore The Spleen Decoction
    • A combination of jia wei xiao yao wan and gui pi wan - similar effects but with more spleen qi and blood tonification.
    • A range of stress related issues - essentially mixes of stagnation with underlying deficiencies.
    • Potential uses with immune / idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) and other bruising/bleeding issues with appropriate diagnostic factors.
  • Harmonize
  • Regulate and Harmonize the Liver and Spleen

Jia Wei Xiao Yao Wan

  • Free and Easy Wanderer Pills
    • Derived from the base formula, xiao yao wan, an important formula for liver qi stagnation with herbs added to clear heat.
    • Liver qi stagnation - menstrual issues, painful cycles, irregular cycles, breast distention, PMS, acne.
    • A range of mild to moderate psychological issues arising from liver qi stagnation such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder, insomnia, anger issues, etc.
    • Physical symptoms from liver qi stagnation such as headaches, tightness in the chest, cold hands and feet, various eye issues.
  • Harmonize
  • Regulate and Harmonize the Liver and Spleen

Jian Pi Wan

Jiao Ai Wan

  • Ass-Hide Gelatin and Mugwort Formula
  • This formula is generally a tonifying agent with herbs to invigorate the blood it is used for excessive menstruation, excessive spotting between periods or bleeding during pregnancy.  Other uses would be uterine bleeding and restless fetus syndrome.

    The Tongue is generally pale with a thin white coat and the Pulse will be thin and frail.

  • Stop Bleeding
  • Tonify and Stop Bleeding
  • Cautions
    • Avoid in cases of beng lou (flooding and spotting) when caused by heat or accompanied with strong heat signs.

Jing Fang Bai Du Wan

  • Schizonepeta and Siler Powder to Overcome Pathogenic Influences
    • Early stages of disease arising from wind cold damp - common cold, flu, bronchitis, mumps.
    • Early stages of skin diseases - boils, carbuncles, eczema, dermatitis with the right underlying factors.
    • Mastitis arising from cold/damp.
  • Release the Exterior
  • Release Exterior Cold
  • Cautions
    • Avoid with issues arising from wind-heat, possibly yin qiao would be far more suitable.

Long Dan Xie Gan Wan

  • Gentiana Purge Liver Formula
  • Hypochondriac pain, bitter taste in the mouth, irritability, easily angered, headache, dizziness, red, and possibly sore, eyes, diminished hearing and/or swollen sensation in ears/head.  May have urinary symptoms such as painful, hot urination perhaps with swollen genitalia.  Women may have leukorrhea with a strong odor.

    The Pulse will be wiry, rapid and forceful and the Tongue will be red with a yellow tongue coating.

  • Clear Heat
  • Clear Heat From The Organs

Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan

Qi Xue Da Bu Wan

Qing Bi Wan

Qing Shu Yi Qi Tang Wan

  • Clear Summer Heat and Augment the Qi
    • Please note that there are two formulas with the same name but slightly different compositions.  One is from Wang's Wen Re Jing Wei and tonifies the yin more strongly, the other (which is the one discussed here) is from Li's Pi Wei Lun (Discussion of the Spleen and Stomach) and tonifies the spleen more strongly.  Both have similar usages but are not directly interchangeable.  
    • Clears summerheat and dries dampness - summer colds and flus, heatstroke - fever, fatigue, excessive sweating with loose stools and heaviness in the body.
    • Along with respiratory infections in the right cases certain types of asthma may be appropriate for this formula.
    • Dampheat related inflammatory condtions such as Colitis are approprirate with the right underlying factors.
    • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with symptoms of spleen deficiency and heat.
    • Wtih the right underlying factors the range of perimenopausal symptoms may be appropriate - low libido, fatigue, water retention, fibroids, heavy cycles.  Where this appear with spleen qi deficiency signs and kidney weakness, this formula may be appropriate.
  • Clear Heat
  • Relieve Summerheat

Ren Shen Bai Du Wan

Sha Shen Mai Dong Wan

  • Glehnia and Ophiopogonis Decoction
    • Important formula for stomach yin deficiency - benefits the stomach and the lungs - a range of digestive issues (gastritis, epigastric pain), possibly with dry throat, thirst and/or cough.
    • Diabetes - particularly with signs of dryness.
    • A range of lung related issues - lung cancer, pneumonia, cough/wheezing.
  • Treat Dryness
  • Gently Disperse and Moisten Dryness

Shen Ling Bai Zhu Wan

Shen Tong Zhu Yu Wan

  • Remove Stagnant Blood from a Painful Body Pills
    • Qi and Blood stagnation blocking the channels and collaterals - pain in the extremities, shoulder pain, elbow pain, leg pain.
    • With the right underlying patterns - possibly useful for fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome, etc.
    • Arthritic conditions - rheumatoid, neuralgia.
  • Invigorate the Blood
  • Invigorate the Blood and Dispel Blood Stasis
  • Cautions
  • Pregnancy
    • Avoid during pregnancy.

Shi Quan Da Bu Wan

Shu Jing Huo Xue Wan

  • Relax The Channels and Invigorate The Blood Decoction
    • Primarily used for blood stasis with wind-damp in the channels and collaterals characterized by internal deficiency with external excesses - joint pain, muscle aches, numbness and/or pain in the lower extremities (may be severe).
    • Wind-cold damp bi-syndrome (i.e. arthritis) - particularly in the lower part of the body, hips, knees, lower back.
    • Sciatic pain with the correct underlying pattern.
    • Neck pain with the correct underling pattern.
    • Fractures that are reluctant to heal, particularly in the lower body.
  • Invigorate the Blood
  • Invigorate the Blood and Dispel Blood Stasis
  • Cautions
  • Pregnancy
    • Avoid during pregnancy.
    • Generally not for long term use and use with caution if at all in deficient patients.

Su Zi Jiang Qi Wan

  • Perilla Fruit Pill to Direct Qi Downward
  • Cough with watery, copious sputum, breathing issues such as wheezing, asthma, shortness of breath (particularly difficulty inhaling), chest oppression.  Possibly signs of kidney qi/yang deficiency such as edema, weak low back and/or legs, fatigue.

    The Tongue will have a white coating that can be either greasy or slippery.

  • Regulate the Qi
  • Direct Rebellious Qi Downward

Suan Zao Ren Wan

Wu Ji Bai Feng Wan

Wu Lin San Wan

Wu Ling San Wan

Xi Guan Jie Bi Tong Wan

  • Knee Joint Pain Relief
    • Arthritis from damp heat in Chinese Medicine terms.
    • Knee issues with kidney and liver systems involvement.
    • Lower body pain and/or inflammation - hips, knees, ankles, toes.
    • Connective tissue disorders.
  • Expel Dampness
  • Dispel Wind-Dampness

Xian Fang Huo Ming Yin Wan

  • Immortals Formula For Sustaining Life
    • Generally for short-term use with early stage heat toxins - sores, carbuncles, boils, styes, acne.  Swollen and painful skin lesions with other heat signs (chills/fever). 
    • Breast abscesses, mastitis.
    • Uses for rheumatoid arthritis and/or psoriasis with the right underlying diagnosis.
    • Internal abscesses from blood stasis.
  • Clear Heat
  • Clear Heat and Relieve Toxicity
  • Cautions
    • Generally not for long-term use.
    • Use with caution with spleen qi deficiency.
    • Avoid with yin fire.

Xiang Sha Yang Wei Wan

Xiao Feng Wan

  • Clear Wind Pill
  • Itchy and red skin lesions, possibly with weeping, comprising such conditions as psoriasis, eczema, acne, dermatitis, etc.

    The Pulse will generally be forceful, floating and rapid and the Tongue will have a yellow or white tongue coating.

  • Expel Wind
  • Release Wind from the Skin and Channels

Xin Yi Qing Fei Wan

  • Magnolia Flower Drink To Clear The Lungs
    • Colds and/or allergies with heat signs (yellow mucus and/or fever, etc.).
    • Chronic sinus congestions / issues, chronic sinusitis, chronic rhinitis, loss of smell.
    • Nasal polyps with the right underlying factors.
    • Difficult to resolve sinus issues with thick, sticky mucus.
    • Headaches from sinus congestion.
  • Release the Exterior
  • Release Exterior Disorders with Head and Neck Symptoms
  • Cautions
    • May not be appropriate with heat signs from lung yin deficiency.

Xin Yi Wan

Xue Fu Zhu Yu Wan

  • Blood Stasis Relief Pills
    • Qi and Blood stagnation - pain, cardiovascular issues, physical organ issues.
    • Coronary artery disease, angina and other cardiovascular issues.
    • Hepatitis and other liver function issues.
    • Migraines, headaches, neuralgia from most causes.
    • A range of menstrual issues including dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, fibroids - particularly with pain and/or bleeding.
    • Certain diagnostic types of psychological illness, schizophrenia, bipolar, chronic depression, etc.
  • Invigorate the Blood
  • Invigorate the Blood and Dispel Blood Stasis
  • Cautions
  • Pregnancy
    • Avoid during pregnancy.
    • Avoid with heavy menstrual bleeding.
    • Use only under direction if you are taking blood thinners.
    • Generally not for long term use.

Yi Zi Wan

  • Decoction B
    • Hemorrhoids and/or constipation from an accumulation of damp-heat and toxins in the lower jiao - possibly bleeding hemorrhoids, pain, rectal prolapse, anal itching.
    • With the right underlying factors may also be useful for vaginal bleeding with abdominal pain, possibly with dark clots.
  • Clear Heat
  • Clear Heat and Relieve Toxicity

Yin Qiao Wan

  • Honeysuckle and Forsythia Formula
  • Common cold, flu, general immunity, fever w/slight or no chills, headache, desire for fluids, cough, sore throat.

    Pulse will be floating and rapid and the Tongue will have a red tip with a thin white or yellow tongue coating.

  • Release the Exterior
  • Release Exterior Wind Heat
  • Cautions

Yu Quan Wan

  • Jade Spring Pills
    • Xiao Ke (wasting and thirsting syndrome), qi and yin deficiencies of the kidney and spleen most commonly seen in the advanced forms of diabetes type II - excessive thirst, excessive urination, strong hunger symptoms, weight loss.
  • Treat Dryness
  • Enrich the Yin and Moisten Dryness



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