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Monday, August 15, 2011

Yunnan Baiyao

Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks balance.
Image courtesy of this site.

We were driving through east Washington one August, spending the day trying to get to the Oregon coast, which we finally did.  But my sinuses were not happy with the change from dry air to moist, and I started bleeding.  As we passed a strip mall we saw a van with people taking huge boxes of shitaki mushrooms into a Chinese grocery.  As we were heading back to So. California the next day, we stopped to check them out.

Image courtesy of www.chinancient.com.

As we were examining the wonderful little store, which had an eclectic selection of all things Chinese, my husband inquired about my nose.  I told him the bleeding had stopped for now.  The little female proprietor grabbed a box from a shelf and ran over and thrust it at me, claiming that I needed it.  It turned out to be Yunnan Baiyao, a Chinese herbal medicine famous for stopping bleeding, among other things.  We spoke with her for a while, bought the inexpensive pills (and a lot of mushrooms) and have since become firm believers in its abilities.  It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to stop bleeding and heal wounds.

The man who developed this herbal formula was a practitioner of Chinese medicine.  He lived in Jiangchuan County of Yunnan province.  Yunnan is a province of China in the far southeast of the country, bordering Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.  It is a mountainous area that is rich in natural resources, and has the largest diversity of plant life in China, some 17,000 of the 30,000 species of higher plants.  ("Higher plants" are vascular plants that have lignified, or woody, tissues for conducting water, minerals, and the sucrose from photosynthesis through the plant.)

Yunnan Province is in red.   Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Qu Huangzhang explored the entire Yunnan region, and tasted the hundreds of herbs.  In 1902 he formulated "Qu Huangzhang Panacea".  He donated more than 30,000 bottles to the Chinese army when they fought the Japanese in 1938, and the reputation of the compound spread.  After his death, his wife donated the secret formula to the government.  It became known as Yunnan Baiyao, which means "white medicine from Yunnan".

Qu Huangzhang.  Image courtesy of Yunnan Baiyao website

It was used by the Vietcong to stop bleeding during the Vietnam war.  According to a recent edition of the Materia Medica, a very old body of work on the therapeutic properties of healing substances (which has been translated and updated continually through its history), captured Viet Cong and Vietnamese prisoners were often found with a small bottle of it.

A very old edition of the Materia Medica in Chinese, written by Li Shizhen
 1593 (Ming Dynasty).   Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The main ingredients are steamed and raw ginseng (used to normalize blood flow, enhance poor circulation, and heal internal bleeding in injuries and bleeding ulcers), and Rhizoma Dioscoreae, a plant related to yams.  The two ginsengs are combined with astringent herbs that absorb excess bleeding and invigorate the blood,  which include myrrh and dragon's blood.  Myrrh is a natural gum, a blend of essential oil and resin, and is used in many different medicinal traditions for circulatory problems.  Dragon's blood is a resin that can come from a number of plant genera, and helps heal wounds and stop bleeding.

Drying ginseng.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The exact formula is a closely guarded secret.  It is produced now by the state-owned Yunnan Baiyao Group in Kunming, a company that researches, develops, and manufactures mostly traditional Chinese medicinal products, as well as handling the wholesale and retail business.  There are 13 teams that make up the separate herbal ingredients, none of which know what the others are mixing. The components are then combined by yet another team, who have no knowledge of what is in the parts, but just the correct proportions to use.

Image courtesy www.hudong.com.

The herbal concoction is not habit-forming.  It can be taken internally or sprinkled directly on a bleeding wound, followed by pressure.  Some veterinarians suggest its use for animals.  A small red pill comes in some packets, which is for shock, but only severe cases.  Some doctors and practitioners suggest swallowing the red pills before surgery, along with regular doses of the regular pills.  They do not interfere with anesthesia or antibiotic drugs.
Red pill shown on top of packet.

It should not be taken or given to people or animals with cancer, however. Although not proven, there is a danger that the increased blood circulation that the pills provide could spread cancer cells.  It should also not be taken by pregnant women.  It is best to leave a two-hour margin before or after eating cold or raw foods, since they require extra digestion which would slow the action of the herbs.

Image courtesy of www.chinancient.com.

Yunnan Baiyao can be found in Chinese herbal shops, some health food stores and pharmacies, and online.  It also available in aerosol spray, powder, tincture, and plasters, as well as the capsules.  A trial at Kunming Medical College showed that the efficacy of the product was 99.2%.

It's pretty common knowledge that a lot of drugs have their roots in plants. Ongoing searches for new drugs generally start with plant derivatives.  Here's a safe and beneficial way to use plants, without the often outrageous costs of pharmaceuticals.


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