chinese-herbsChinese Herbs

Chinese Herbology is the theory of Traditional Chinese herbal therapy, which accounts for the majority of treatments in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

The term herbology is misleading in so far as plant elements are by far the most commonly, but not solely used substances; animal, human, and mineral products are also utilized. Thus, the term (medicinal) (instead of herb) is usually preferred as a translation for 药. 

There are over three hundred herbs that are commonly being used today. The most commonly used herbs are Ginseng (人参), wolfberry (枸杞子), Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis, 当归), astragalus (黄耆), atractylodes (白术), bupleurum (柴胡), cinnamon (cinnamon twigs (桂枝) and cinnamon bark (肉桂), coptis (黄莲), ginger (姜), hoelen (茯苓), licorice (甘草), ephedra sinica (麻黄, 麻黃), peony (白芍), rehmannia (地黄), rhubarb (大黄), and salvia (丹参). These are just a few of the herbs.

Chinese patent medicine (traditional Chinese: 中成藥, Simplified Chinese: 中成药, is a kind of traditional Chinese medicine. They are standardized herbal formulas. 

From ancient times, pills were formed by combining several herbs and other ingredients, which were dried and ground into a powder. They were then mixed with a binder and formed into pills by hand. 

The binder was traditionally honey. Modern teapills, however, are extracted in stainless steel extractors to create either a water decoction or water-alcohol decoction, depending on the herbs used. 

They are extracted at a low temperature (below 100 degrees Celsius) to preserve essential ingredients. The extracted liquid is then further condensed, and some raw herb powder from one of the herbal ingredients is mixed in to form an herbal dough. This dough is then machine cut into tiny pieces, a small amount of excipients are added for a smooth and consistent exterior, and they are spun into pills. Teapills are characteristically little round black pills. 

Chinese patent medicines are easy and convenient. They are not easy to customize on a patient-by-patient basis, however. They are often used when a patient's condition is not severe and the medicine can be taken as a long-term treatment. 

These medicines are not patented in the traditional sense of the word. No one has exclusive rights to the formula. Instead, patent refers to the standardization of the formula.

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List Of Chinese Herbs

Ginseng - Chinese red ginseng roots

The use of ginseng (人参) is well over two thousand years old in Chinese medicine. Ginseng contains ginsenosides. The amount of ginsenosides in ginseng depends on how the plant was cultivated and the age of the root. Wild ginseng is rare and commands the highest prices on the market, but most ginseng on the market today is a reasonable price. Red Panax ginseng is the most popular form of ginseng and it is usually packaged as a liquid or tea. Ginseng comes in two kinds, red and white. The color of the ginseng depends on how it is processed. White ginseng is unprocessed and dries naturally. Red ginseng is processed with steam and is believed to be more effective. Native Americans have used American ginseng for dry coughs, constipation, and fevers. 

TCM Information: Species: Panax ginseng. Pinyin: Ren Shen. Common Name: Chinese Ginseng. Quality: Sweet, Bitter, Warm. Meridians: Lung, Spleen, Heart. Actions: Tonifies yuan qi to treat collapse of qi, tonifies spleen and lung, generates fluids, mildly tonifies heart qi. 

Species: Elutherococcus senticosus. Pinyin: Ci Wu Jia. Common Name: Siberian Ginseng. Quality: Pungent (Acrid), Slightly bitter, Warm. Meridians: Spleen, Heart, Kidney. Actions: Tonifies spleen and kidney, mildly tonifies heart qi, promote blood circulation, calms shen. 

Species: Panax quinquefolius. Pinyin: Xi Yang Shen. Common Name: American Ginseng. Quality: Sweet, Slightly bitter, Cold. Meridians: Heart, Kidney, Lung. Actions: Tonifies lung and spleen qi, tonifies lung yin, cools fire from lung yin deficiency, generates fluids. 


Mushrooms have long been used as a medicinal food and as a tea in Chinese herbology. Clinical, animal, and cellular research has shown mushrooms may be able to up-regulate aspects of the immune system. Notable mushrooms used in Chinese herbology include Reishi and Shiitake. 


Wolfberry (枸杞子) is grown in the Far East and is grown from shrubs with long vines. The shrubs are covered with small trumpet-shaped flowers, which turn into small, bright red berries. The berries are usually fresh and sometimes used when it is dried. 

TCM Information: Species: Lycium barbarum. Pinyin: Gou Qi Zi. Common Name: Chinese Wolfberry. Quality: Sweet, Neutral. Meridians: Liver, Lung, Kidney. Actions: Tonifies kidney and lung yin, tonifies liver blood, tonifies jing, improves vision. 

Dang Gui

Dang Gui (当归, Angelica sinensis or female ginseng) is an aromatic herb that grows in China, Korea, and Japan. 

TCM Information: Species: Angelica sinensis. Pinyin: Dang Gui. Common Name: Chinese Angelica Root. Quality: Sweet, Pungent(Acrid), Warm. Meridians: Liver, Heart, Spleen. Actions: Tonify blood, invigorate blood, regulate menstruation, relieve pain, unblock bowels by moistening intestine.  


Astragalus (黄耆) is a root used for immune deficiencies and allergies. 

TCM Information: Species: Astragalus membranaceus. Pinyin: Huang Qi. Common Name: Astragalus Root, Milkvetch Root. Quality: Sweet, Slightly warm. Meridians: Lung, Spleen. Actions: Raise yang qi to treat prolapse, tonify spleen and lung qi, tonify wei qi, increases urination, promotes drainage of pus, generates flesh. 


Atractylodes (白术) is believed to be important in the treatment of digestive disorders and problems of moisture accumulation. 

TCM Information: Species: Atractylodes lancea. Pinyin: Cang Zhu. Common Name: Atractylodes Rhizome. Quality: Pungent(Acrid), Bitter, Warm. Meridians: Spleen, Stomach. Actions: Strong to dry dampness, strengthens the spleen, induce sweating, expel wind-cold, clears damp-heat from lower jiao, improves vision. 


Bupleurum (柴胡) is believed to be useful for the treatment of liver diseases, skin ailments, arthritis, menopausal syndrome, withdrawal from corticosteroid use, nephritis, stress-induced ulcers, and mental disorders. 

TCM Information: Species: Bupleurnum chinense. Pinyin: Chai Hu. Common Name: Hare's Ear Root. Quality: Bitter, Pungent(Acrid), Cool. Meridians: Gallbladder, Liver, Pericardium, San Jiao. Actions: Treats alternating chills and fever, clears lesser yang disorders, relieves liver qi stagnation, raises yang qi to treat prolapse, treats certain menstrual disorders. 


Cinnamon (桂枝, 肉桂), mostly gui zhi and rou gui, are twigs and bark from large tropical trees. 

Studies show that cinnamon reduces serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes, and the findings suggest that the inclusion of cinnamon in the diet of people with type 2 diabetes will reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. 

TCM Information: Species: Cinnamomum cassia. Pinyin: Gui Zhi. Common Name: Cinnamon Twig. Quality: Pungent (Acrid), Sweet, Warm. Meridians: Heart, Lung, Bladder. Actions: Induce sweating, warms and unblocks channels, unblocks yang qi of the chest, treats dysmenorrhea. 

Species: Cinnamomum cassia. Pinyin: Rou Gui. Common Name: Cinnamon Bark. Quality: Pungent (Acrid), Sweet, Hot. Meridians: Heart, Kidney, Liver, Spleen. Actions: Tonifies kidney yang, leads fire back to its source, disperses cold, encourages generation of qi and blood, promotes blood circulation, alleviates pain due to cold, dysmenorrhea. 

Coptis chinensis

Coptis chinensis (黄莲) is a rhizome that is one of the bitterest herbs used in Chinese medicine. 

TCM Information: Species: Coptis chinensis. Pinyin: Huang Lian. Common Name: Coptis Rhizome. Qualities: Bitter, Cold. Meridians: Heart, Large Intestine, Liver, Stomach. Actions: Clears heat and drains damp, drains fire(especially from heart and stomach), eliminates toxicity. 


Ginger (干姜, 乾薑) is a herb and a spice that is used in Chinese cuisine. Commonly used to treat nausea. 

TCM Information: Species: Zingiber officinalis. Pinyin: Sheng Jiang. Common Name: Fresh Ginger Rhizome. Quality: Pungent(Acrid), Slightly warm. Meridians: Lung, Spleen, Stomach. Actions: Release the exterior, expel cold, warm the middle jiao, relieve nausea, transform phlegm, warm lung to stop coughing, treat toxicity, and moderate the toxicity of other herbs. 

Species: Zingiber officinalis. Pinyin: Gan Jiang. Common Name: Dried Ginger Rhizome. Quality: Pungent(Acrid), Hot. Meridians: Heart, Lung, Spleen, Stomach. Actions: Warms the spleen and stomach, restores devastated yang, warms the lung to transform thin mucus, warms and unblocks channels. 


The use of licorice(甘草) is thought to help treat hepatitis, sore throat, and muscle spasms.

TCM Information: Species: Glycyrrhiza inflata or Glycyrrhiza glabra. Pinyin: Gan Cao. Common Name: Licorice Root. Quality: Sweet, Neutral. Meridians: All 12 channels, but mainly Heart, Lung, Spleen, Stomach. Actions: Tonify spleen qi, moisten lung for dry cough, clears heat and fire toxicity, tonifies heart qi to regulate pulse, alleviates spasmodic pain, antidote for toxicity, moderates the effects of harsh herbs.

Ephedra (麻黄)

TCM Information: Species: Ephedra sinica or Ephedra intermedia. Pinyin: Ma Huang. Common Name: Ephedra Stem. Quality: Pungent(Acrid), Slightly Bitter, Warm. Meridians: Lung, Bladder. Actions: Induce sweating and release exterior for wind-cold invasion with no sweating, promotes urination, move lung qi for wheezing, cough or asthma.


Peony (白芍, 赤芍) comes in two varieties: bai shao(white) and chi shao (red), the root of the plant is used in both varieties.

TCM Information: Species: Paeonia lactiflora. Pinyin: Bai Shao. Common Name: White Peony Root. Quality: Bitter, Sour, Cool. Meridians: Liver, Spleen. Actions: Tonify liver blood, calms liver yang, alleviates flank/abdominal pain from liver qi stagnation or liver and spleen disharmony, preserves yin and adjusts nutritive and protective levels, regulates menses for blood deficiency problem.

Species: Paeonia lactiflora or Paeonia veitchii. Pinyin: Chi Shao. Common Name: Red Peony Root. Quality: Sour, Bitter, Cool. Meridians: Liver, Spleen. Actions: Clears heat, cools blood, invigorates blood and dispel stasis to treat irregular menses, dysmenorrhoea, amenorrhea, abdominal pain, and fixed abdominal masses.


Rehmannia (地黄) is a root where the dark, moist part of the herb is used.

TCM Information: Species: Rehmannia glucinosa. Pinyin: Sheng Di Huang. Common Name: Chinese Foxglove Root. Qualities: Sweet, Bitter, Cold. Meridians: Heart, Kidney, Liver. Actions: Clears heat, cools blood, nourishes yin, generates fluids, treats wasting and thirsting disorder.

Species: Rehmannia glucinosa. Pinyin: Shu Di Huang. Common Name: Chinese Foxglove Root Prepared with Wine. Qualities: Sweet, Slightly warm. Meridians: Heart, Kidney, Liver. Actions: Tonifies blood, tonifies liver and kidney yin, treats wasting and thirsting disorder, nourishes jing.


Chinese rhubarb depicted by Michał Boym (1655)

Rhubarb (大黄) is a large root and was once one of the first herbs that was imported from China.

TCM Information: Species: Rheum palmatum, Rheum ranguticum, or Rheum officinale. Pinyin: Da Huang. Common Name: Rhubarb Root and Rhizome. Quality: Bitter, Cold. Meridians: Heart, Large Intestine, Liver, Stomach. Actions: Purge accumulation, cool blood, invigorate blood, drain damp-heat.


Salvia (丹参) are the deep roots of the Chinese sage plant.

TCM Information: Species: Salvia miltiorrhiza. Pinyin: Dan Shen. Common Name: Salvia Root. Qualities: Bitter, Cool. Meridians: Heart, Pericardium, Liver. Actions: Invigorate blood, tonify blood, regulate menstruation, clear heat and soothe irritability.

Fundamental herbal

In Chinese herbology, there are 50 fundamental herbs, as given in the reference text, although these herbs are not universally recognized as such in other texts. The herbs are:

Agastache rugosa (藿香) Korean Mint

Alangium chinense (八角枫) Chinese Alangium Root

Anemone chinensis (syn. Pulsatilla chinensis) 白头翁 Chinese anemone

Anisodus tanguticus (山莨菪)

Ardisia japonica (紫金牛) Marlberry

Aster tataricus (紫菀) Tatar aster, Tartar aster

Astragalus propinquus (黄芪 or 北芪) Chinese astragalus

Camellia sinensis (茶树 or 茶叶) Tea Plant

Cannabis sativa (大麻) Cannabis

Carthamus tinctorius (红花) Safflower

Cinnamomum cassia (肉桂) Cassia, Chinese Cinnamon

Cissampelos pareira (锡生藤 or 亞乎奴) Velvet leaf

Coptis chinensis (短萼黄连) Chinese Goldthread

Corydalis ambigua (延胡索) Fumewort

Croton tiglium (巴豆) Purging Croton

Daphne genkwa (芫花) Lilac Dahpne

Datura metel (洋金花) Devil's Trumpet

Datura stramonium (syn. Datura tatula) (紫花曼陀萝) Jimson Weed

Dendrobium nobile (石斛) or (石斛兰) Noble Dendrobium

Dichroa febrifuga (常山) Blue Evergreen Hydrangea, Chinese Quinine

Ephedra sinica (草麻黄) Chinese ephedra

Eucommia ulmoides (杜仲) Hardy rubber tree

Euphorbia pekinensis (大戟) Peking spurge

Flueggea suffruticosa (formerly Securinega suffruticosa) (一叶秋)

Forsythia suspensa (连翘) Weeping Forsythia

Gentiana loureiroi (地丁)

Gleditsia sinensis (皂荚) Chinese Honeylocust

Glycyrrhiza uralensis (甘草) Licorice

Hydnocarpus anthelminticus (大风子) Chaulmoogra tree

Ilex purpurea dōngqīng (冬青) Purple Holly

Leonurus japonicus (益母草) Chinese motherwort

Ligusticum wallichii (川芎) Szechuan lovage

Lobelia chinensis (半边莲) Creeping Lobelia

Phellodendron amurense (黄柏) Amur cork tree

Platycladus orientalis (formerly Thuja orientalis) (侧柏) Chinese Arborvitae

Pseudolarix amabilis (金钱松) Golden Larch

Psilopeganum sinense (山麻黄) Naked rue

Pueraria lobata (葛根) Kudzu

Rauwolfia serpentina (蛇根木) Sarpagandha, Indian Snakeroot

Rehmannia glutinosa (地黄) or (干地黄) Chinese Foxglove

Rheum officinale (药用大黄) Chinese or Eastern rhubarb

Rhododendron tsinghaiense (青海杜鹃)

Saussurea costus (云木香) Costus

Schisandra chinensis (五味子) Chinese Magnolia Vine

Scutellaria baicalensis (黄芩) Baikal Skullcap

Stemona tuberosa (百部)

Stephania tetrandra (防己) Stephania Root

Styphnolobium japonicum (formerly Sophora japonica) (槐) Pagoda Tree

Trichosanthes kirilowii (栝楼) Chinese Cucumber

Wikstroemia indica (了哥王) Indian stringbush

Other Chinese herbal

In addition to the above, many other Chinese herbs and other substances are in common use, and these include:

Akebia quinata (木通)

Arisaema cum bile (胆南星)

Arsenic trioxide (砒霜)

Arsenolite (砒石)

Aspongopus (九香虫)

Asteriscus pseudosciaenae (鱼脑石)

Benzoinum (安息香)

Bombyx batryticatus (僵蚕)

Bulbus fritillariae cirrhosae (川贝母)

Bulbus fritillariae hupehensis (湖北贝母)

Bulbus fritillariae pallidiflorae (伊贝母)

Bulbus fritillariae thunbergii (浙贝母)

Bulbus fritillariae ussuriensis (平贝母)

Bulbus lycoridis radiatae (石蒜)

Cacumen securinegae suffruticosae (叶底珠)

Cacumen tamaricis (西河柳)

Calamina (炉甘石)

Calculus bovis (牛黄)

Calculus equi (马宝)

Calomelas (轻粉)

Calyx seu fructus physalis (锦灯笼)

Caulis ampelopsis brevipedunculae (山葡萄)

Caulis aristolochiae manshuriensis (关木通)

Caulis bambusae in taeniam (竹茹)

Caulis clematidis armandii (川木通)

Caulis entadae (过江龙)

Caulis erycibes (丁公藤)

Caulis et folium piperis hancei (山蒟)

Caulis et folium schefflerae arboricolae (七叶莲)

Caulis euphorbiae antiquori (火殃勒)

Caulis fibraureae (黄藤)

Caulis gneti (买麻藤)

Caulis hederae sinensis (常春藤)

Caulis impatientis (透骨草)

Caulis lonicerae (忍冬藤)

Caulis mahoniae (功劳木)

Caulis perillae (紫苏梗)

Caulis piperis kadsurae (海风藤)

Caulis polygoni multiflori (首乌藤)

Caulis sargentodoxae (大血藤)

Caulis sinomenii (青风藤)

Caulis spatholobi (鸡血藤)

Caulis tinosporae (宽根藤)

Caulis trachelospermi (络石藤)

Cera chinensis (虫白蜡)

Chenpi (Sun-Dried tangerine (Mandarin) peel) (陳皮)

Cinnabaris (朱砂)

Clematis (威灵仙)

Colla corii asini (阿胶)

Concha arcae (瓦楞子)

Concha haliotidis (石决明)

Concha margaritifera usta (珍珠母)

Concha mauritiae arabicae (紫贝齿)

Concha meretricis seu cyclinae (蛤壳)

Concretio silicea bambusae (天竺黄)

Cordyceps sinensis (冬虫夏草)

Corium erinacei seu hemiechianus (刺猬皮)

Cornu bubali (水牛角)

Cornu cervi (鹿角)

Cornu cervi degelatinatum (鹿角霜)

Cornu cervi pantotrichum (鹿茸)

Cornu saigae tataricae (羚羊角)

Cortex acanthopanacis (五加皮)

Cortex ailanthi (椿皮)

Cortex albiziae (合欢皮)

Cortex cinchonae (金鸡纳皮)

Cortex dictamni (白鲜皮)

Curcuma (郁金)

Dalbergia odorifera (降香)

Hirudo medicinalis (水蛭)

Myrrh (没药)

Olibanum (乳香)

Persicaria (桃仁)

Polygonum (虎杖)

Sparganium (三棱)

Zedoary (Curcuma zedoaria) (莪朮)





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