Atractylodes (Bai Zhu, Cang Zhu)

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

Of the two versions of Atractylodis, Bai Zhu (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 (A. chinensis) is very drying and more aromatic.

Remember to check with your doctor before trying new medicines or herbal remedies, especially if you are taking other medication where drug interactions are possible.

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

How to use Atractylodes and take FULL advantage of it's healing powers!

Atractylodes (Bai Zhu, Cang Zhu)

Find out how to safely use this powerful herb and get specific recipes you can make use of immediately. Get Eastern and Western perspectives about HOW and WHY this herb works.


Western Name: Atractylodes

Also Known As: Atractylodis

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

Key Actions: Digestive, Antibacterial, Diuretic, Hypoglycaemic, Sedative, Stomachic, Tonic, Antifungal, Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant

Medicinal Uses: Black Atractylodis (Cang Zhu) – bloating, nausea, poor appetite, colds, flu with phlegm. 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 “cleanse the blood” from complications of dialysis.


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

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

Meridians: Spleen and Stomach

Key Actions: Cang Zhu (Black Atractylodes) – Strongly Dries Damp, Tonifies Spleen Qi, Expels Wind-Damp, Clears Dampness in the Lower Burner, Dries Dampness, Induces Sweating, Releases Exterior, Improves Vision.
Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes) – Tonifies Spleen and Qi, Strengthens Spleen, Dries Dampness, Stabilizes the Exterior, Stops Sweating, Strengthens Spleen, Calms Fetus.

Medicinal Uses: Cang Zhu (Black Atractylodes) – poor appetite, diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headaches, body aches, night blindness, rough sensation in the eyes.
Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes) – Diarrhea, fatigue, poor appetite, vomiting, digestive disorders due to weak Spleen Yang, edema, reduced urination, sweating, restless fetus disorder, joint pain, weight loss due to cancer, allergies, or toxicity, Candida, blood cleanser.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

Atractylodes (Bai Zhu and Cang Zhu) is a flowering plant in the sunflower family.

Atractylodes (Bai Zhu and Cang Zhu) enjoy pastures and waste lands. It grows well in grassland and forests, and is commonly found in the mountain valleys of China’s Zhejiang province.

Parts Most Frequently Used: Roots, Rhizomes

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

Caution: Considered safe, unless prior allergy to ragweeds or daisys exists. 

Key Constituents: Atractylol, Atractylone, Hinesol, Vitamin A, Butenolide A, Butenolide B, Volatile oils, Essential Amino acids, Glucoside, Inulin.

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 as a safe diuretic helping to 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 and is sometimes called “the First Herb of Invigorating Qi (Energy) and Strengthening the Spleen.”

Of the two varieties, Bai Zhu is the most frequently used. 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 counteract the plants drying effects. Good quality Cang Zhu is large, solid, and lacking small hairs. It will be aromatic. Cang Zhu is harvested in the spring and autumn. Cang Zhu is more typically collected from the wild. There is some reporting that indicates the herb burned as an incense may have antibacterial qualities.

Bai Zhu is harvested late autumn to winter, the later the better. Used raw, Bai Zhu helps Dry Dampness and promote urination. Dry-fried Bai Zhu will help strengthen and tonify Spleen Qi. Scorched Bai Zhu is considered best to help stop 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, such as codonopsis, astragalus, and bupleurum to strengthen the functioning of the Spleen and digestion. By strengthening the Spleen it helps to increase blood and strengthen Energy (Qi). It is often combined with skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) to help prevent miscarriage. Bai Zhu is rarely used as a lead herb, but most often as an adjunct herb to help focus a formula’s therapeutic effects on a particular area or function. Bai Zhu is typically cultivated and not harvested from the wild.

Both varieties of atractylodes are used for treating conditions associated with Dampness. They promote digestion and have been used to treat tetany, and jaundice. Bai Zhu can be used to help reduce general swelling.

The ancient Taoist used the herb to help counter the loss of body weight and appetite associated with the consumption of heavy metals in alchemical mixtures used to promote longevity or “lightness.”

Many consider the herb to be, next to ginseng one of the best tonic herbs for the daily treatment of Energy (Qi) deficiency and treating conditions caused by and accumulation of Dampness. There is an old Chinese saying that says “ginseng in the north and atractylodes in the south” referring to the herbs ability to especially treat digestion and intestinal issues caused by excess damp, where as ginseng is especially preferred for its upward clearing and strengthening abilities associated with the respiratory and heart systems. As a diuretic it is useful for aiding the elimination of dangerous toxins.

According to ancient texts, atractylodes is one of the key herbs to be used for salvation during end times for its ability to build strong Qi (Energy), fight off ghosts, and promote longevity.

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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.

How to use Atractylodes to take FULL advantage of it's healing powers!

Find out how to safely use this powerful herb and get specific recipes you can make use of immediately. Get Eastern and Western perspectives about HOW and WHY this herb works.

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