In modern times, most people are expending more energy than they are cultivating. Whether you are a “type A” personality, or not, the culture of America is often one that celebrates achievement, corporate ladder climbing, material accumulation and status. This constant “pushing” of energy depletes our Kidney system, the savings bank of our body. Whenever we have to fight a disease (like a pesky common cold), on already depleted energy, our Kidney is drained. Of course, we usually don’t rest enough afterwards to restore our energetic savings bank, and the cycle continues throughout our lives.
If your practitioner has ever mentioned tonifying your Kidneys, or Kidney yang specifically, this article may shed light on specifics of how herbal medicine can do that. Specifically, we will introduce the herb (zhi) fuzi, or (prepared) aconite radix lateralis. For simplicity sake, I will use the term “fuzi” to refer to the prepared, safe form of the aconite herb zhi fuzi.
What is Fuzi
In Chinese herbalist, herbs have properties, tastes, temperatures and actions. They are rarely used alone, but have synergistic relationship with some herbs, as well as balancing (therapeutically antagonistic) relationships with others.
Fu zi is acrid, hot, and “toxic”. It enters the channels of the Heart, Kidney, and Spleen. Its main functions are to revive devastated yang qi, tonify the fire at the gate of vitality (ming men), guide other herbs into the 12 channels, and expel cold-damp painful obstructions from the body. It should be noted that the term “toxic” in Chinese medicine is not synonymous with poisonous. There are many Western herbs used in small doses that are technically toxic to some extent. Fuzi goes through a multi-step process to detoxify it, which is why it’s listed as “zhi fuzi”, or processed fuzi. That being said, it is vital to choose a trusted and reputable source for your fuzi, as its terroir and processing greatly influence its medicinal qualities. Thompson Family Acupuncture only uses Classical Pearls brand fuzi, which is the top of the line fuzi available commercially.
It might seem hard to understand what all those qualities and descriptors mean to Western minds. Essentially, the qualities describe mechanisms of action as to how the herb interacts with other herbs, and in the patient’s body. This is why one herb can be used for a wide variety of diseases, depending on the quantity used and the other herbs in a formula.
The Fire School and Fuzi
Within the umbrella of Chinese medicine, there exist many branches of different systems, unique schools of thought. Like martial arts, these schools of thought usually follow the teachings of certain masters of medicine, and their dedicated students pass it along, perhaps modifying and adjusting for clinical efficacy.
One school of Chinese medicine is the Fire Spirit School of Sichuan province herbalism. The ideas of this herbal lineage have influenced many, including renown herbalist Heiner Fruehauf, creator of the Classical Pearls line of Chinese herbs. Fruehauf specializes in treatment of chronic disease patterns, often utilizing fuzi as a way to restore the aforementioned savings bank of the body, known as the Kidney yang, which is invariably depleted from the body when fighting chronic disease.
Summer is the Time for Restoring Yang
The Fire School believes the best time to restore Kidney yang is the summer. This may seem contradictory to some, as yang tonifying herbs are warming in nature, and some herbalists may fear overheating the patient. However, the idea behind using fuzi, in particular during the summer, is that it has the ability to drive all the vitality and vigor of the season back into the ming-men (or the storage of Kidney energy in the body). In the Fall, the yang declines, the Winter, the yang stores, in the Spring the yang rises, and in the Summer, the yang is in its full glory. Fuzi acts like a lasso, gathering that vitality of full yang and wrangling it back into an area of containment.
When the yang is in the ming-men, vitality and energy can be stored for later use (again, the savings bank analogy is clear). In contrast, if the Kidney is unable to store the yang, a patient may experience symptoms such as: hot flashes, spontaneous sweating, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, diarrhea, chronic fatigue, aversion to cold, circulation issues, and the list goes on.
Particularly, if you are a person that struggles with chronic symptoms during the Winter (typically body pain, or vitality issues) or have difficulty staying warm in colder weather in general, Summer is the time to build your yang. If yang is abundant and stored properly, it will burn bright to keep your metabolic processes clipping along in the depths of Winter.
Herbal medicine is very individualized, and a qualified practitioner will be able to assess your unique health picture to give you the best formula. Hopefully this article has served to give some brief insight into just one of the hundreds of herbs we use in Chinese medicine to help restore vitality to the body.
Amanda Johnson (AJ) practices at Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. She loves to show patients how Chinese medicine is fantastic at relieving body pain, aiding recovery and enhancing vitality. When not in the clinic, she will be out hiking, cycling, or playing in the water.