Les Grandes Herbes: From natural coloring to phytotherapy


Written by Li Shizhen (1518-1593), a famous Chinese physician and pharmacist of the Ming Dynasty, “Compendium of Materia Medica (Ben Cao Gang Mu)” tells a story about the use of herbs to treat spider bites .

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Zhang Jian served as Zhang Yanshang’s subordinate. One day, Zhang Jian was bitten on the neck by a spider. After two nights, her head swelled like a bowl, and her stomach was also gradually growing. Zhang Yanshang has always had a high opinion of Zhang Jian. Zhang Yanshang offered large sums of money to recruit doctors who could treat him. There was a person who claimed he could cure Jian and he took a bowl of blue juice and sprinkled it on the spider bites. As expected, Jian recovered within two days.

In the bowl of blue juice was an herb called indigo naturalis.

Indigo naturalis, also called Qingdai in Chinese, mainly treats hemoptysis due to pulmonary heat, infantile wasting, inflammation of the eye and cervical tuberculous lymphadenitis, according to the “Compendium of Materia Medica”.

According to the “Chinese Pharmacy Dictionary”, it is used in the treatment of typhus, hemoptysis, swollen wounds, erysipelas, snake and insect bites, and it is clinically used in the treatment epistaxis (nosebleeds).

From left to right: Conehead, knotweed indigo, indigo pastel. / VCG

From left to right: Conehead, knotweed indigo, indigo pastel. / VCG

As the “Chinese Pharmacopoeia” explains, indigo naturalis which has a salty taste and a fresh nature, is a dried powder or lump made from the leaves and stems of conehead (Strobilanthes cusia (Nees) Kuntze), indigo knotweed (Polygonum tinctorium Aït.) and indigo pastel (Isatis indigotica Fortune).

When fall arrives, people make indigo naturalis by harvesting the stems and leaves from the above plants, soaking them in water until the leaves are rotten, peeling and removing the leaves. , adding the correct amount of milk of lime, completely stirring the liquid to the immersion liquid, skim the liquid surface foam and dry it in the sun.

Tie-dye fabric dyed with indigo naturalis. / VCG

Tie-dye fabric dyed with indigo naturalis. / VCG

Indigo naturalis is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine and has been used in blue tincture since ancient times. Tie-dyeing, a traditional Chinese manual dyeing technique, uses indigo naturalis to dye curtains, tablecloths, sofa covers, bedspreads, pillow cases, etc.

About the series “The big herbs”:

Chinese herbal medicine is the precious heritage of Chinese people’s struggle with disease for thousands of years and the essence of Chinese culture accumulated during this period. The “Compendium of Materia Medica”, written by Li Shizhen, is a precious heritage of ancient Chinese medicine and botany which played an important role in promoting the development of medicine and pharmaceuticals in China and even in the world. In this series, CGTN explores some of the tall herbs mentioned in the book.

For more:

Tall herbs: the first of China’s nine immortal herbs

The Big Herbs: The Blood Buster

Les Grandes Herbes: Two-tone flowers

Les Grandes Herbes: The King of Hundreds of Herbs

Les Grandes Herbes: Ancient “mushroom of immortality” on rotten woods

Les Grandes Herbes: Herb with a fishy taste

Les Grandes Herbes: Licorice “the old man” in the realm of medicine

Les Grandes Herbes: Red arrows

The Great Herbs: Cure All Herb Haulms In Summer

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