Atractylodes (Bai Zhu, Cang Zhu)Atractylodes (Bai Zhu, Cang Zhu)

Botanical Name: Bai Zhu – Rhizoma Atractylodes Macrocephalae, A. Ovata. Cang Zhu – Rhizoma A. chinensis.

Of the two versions of Atractylodis, Bai Zhu (Rhizoma A. Macrocephalae or Ovata) is considered one of the finest Qi tonics available. Used by martial artists to strengthen their legs and muscles this herb is often used in combination with other herbs to help build Qi and balance herbal formulas. In contrast, Cang Zhu (Rhizoma A. chinensis) is very drying and more aromatic.

Below is an overview of Atractylodes, combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Atractylodes.

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Western Name: Atractylodes

Also Known As: Atractylodis

Organs/Systems: Cang Zhu – Digestion, Joints. Bai Zhu – Digestion, Blood, Bladder.

Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Black Atractylodis (Cang Zhu) – Digestive, Antibacterial: bloating, nausea, poor appetite, colds, flu with phelgm. White Atractylodis (Bai Zhu) – gastro and abdominal distention, diarrhea, edema, dizziness due to excess phlegm, prevent sweating, soothes the fetus and helps prevent abortion.  Used to help “clena the blood” from complications of dialysis.


Pin Yin: Bai Zhu (Rhizoma A. macrocephalae or ovata), Cang Zhu (Rhizoma A. chinensis)

Also Known As: Black Atractylodis (Cang Zhu), White Atractylodis (AKA Largehead atractylodis/Bai Zhu)

Meridians: Spleen and Stomach

Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Cang Zhu (Black Atractylodes) – Strongly Dries Damp/Tonifies Spleen Qi: dampness obstructing the middle burner preventing transformation and transportation functions of the Spleen: includes poor appetite, diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, nausea, vomiting. Expels Wind-Damp: painful obstruction due to wind-cold-dampness in the extremities. Clears Dampness in the Lower Burner/Dries Dampness: dampness pouring downwards. Induces Sweating/Releases Exterior: Headaches, body aches, oozing Yin sores due to wind-damp-cold. Improves Vision: night blindness, rough sensation in the eyes.

Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes) – Tonifies Spleen and Qi: diarrhea, fatigue, poor appetite, vomiting. Strengthens Spleen/Dries Dampness: digestive disorders due to weak Spleen Yang, edema, reduced urination. Stabilizes the Exterior/Stops Sweating: spontaneous sweating due to Qi deficiency. Strengthens Spleen/Calms Fetus: restless fetus disorder, especially due to Spleen deficiency.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

Bai Zhu – A perennial plant of the Compositae family (the sunflower family).

Cang Zhu – Also a member of the Compositae family, it is found in Zhejiang, Hunan and Jiangxi provences.

Atractylodes (Bai Zhu, Cang Zhu)Parts Most Frequently Used: Roots, Rhizomes

Flavors/Temps: Cang Zhu – Acrid, Bitter, Warm, Aromatic. Bai Zhu – Bitter, Sweet, Warm.

Caution: None noted, unless prior allergy to ragweeds or daisys exists as atractylodis is in the same Compositae family of plants as they are.

History/Folklore: Atractylus is an important general tonic herb that generally supports the digestive system and balances the appetite. In China, it is widely used to help weight loss programs. It’s warming properties make it mildly stimulating. It is widely used a safe diuretic and helps regulate fluid metabolism. With ongoing use it is recognized as aiding the control of appetite. In China, it is said to strengthen the legs and muscles.  It is considered one of the best tonic herbs in Chinese herbalism.

In contrast to Bai Zhu, Cang Zhu is very drying. Patients using Cang Zhu are often recommended to eat it in a congee (rice porridge) to cocunteract the plants drying effects. Good quality Cang Zhu is large, solid and lacking small hairs and will be aromatic. Cang Zhu is harvested spring and autumn. Cang Zhu is more typically collected from the wild. There is some reporting that indicates the herb as burned as as an incense may have antibacterial qualities.

Bai Zhu is harvested late autumn to winter, the later the better. Used raw Bai Zhu to help dry dampness and promote urination. Dry-fried Bai Zhu will help strengthen and tonify Spleen Qi. Scorched Bai Zhu is considered best to help stopping diarrhea. Good quality Bai Zhu will have a yellowish white cross section compared to Cang Zhu that has a cross section color that is similar to cinnabar. In studies, Bai Zhu has increased assimilation of glucose and lowered plasma glucose levels. Bai Zhu is typically blended with other herbs and rarely used as a lead herb, but most often as an adjunct herb to help focus a formulas therapeutic effects on a particular area or function. Bai Zhu is typically cultivated and not harvested from the wild.

Key Constituents:

Atractylol, Atractylone, Hinesol, Vitamin A, Butenolide A, Butenolide B, Volatile oils, Essential Amino acids.

Did you know?

Encourage Weight Loss

In the West, Bai Zhu is used to help encourage weight loss.


Digestive Aid

Cang Zhu is best for dampness, Bai Zhu is best for building Qi. Both help digestion.

Fun fact!


Allergic to daisy’s or ragweed’s? You might be allergic to atractylodis (both forms). They are all in the same family of Compositae plants.


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