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Yuan Zhi – Polygala tenuifolia

Polygala Tenuifloria

by Matt Van Dyke, EAMP

Just though I’d share with you my love for Polygala tenuifolia, or Yuan Zhi,(遠志), a truly incredible herb. 🙂

Here’s why I love it so:

Yuan Zhi, in Chinese Medicine, is in the category called ‘nourish the heart and calm the spirit’. No surprise then that this herb activates the heart and lung meridian, and helps treat insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness. What I love about this herb is that it also treats forgetfullness and inability to concentrate. Studies have shown that it produces memory-enhancing effects and cognitive improvement in healthy adults and elderly. An herbal nootropic! (Nootropic: a substance that enhances cognition and memory and facilitates learning) Although I haven’t seen any trials, this herb is often used for add or adhd in kids as well. Makes sense, as Chinese herbal formulas for add and adhd tend toward sedation rather than stimulation, which is the Western approach.

Another reason I like this herb so much is that it helps to clear phlegm. Who, in our damp corner of the Pacific Northwest, doesn’t need a little drying out? This phlegm could manifest in the lung, for example, with a productive cough; or it could manifest in the brain with such conditions as emotional disorientation or seizures.

Some cautions, however. Please seek the advice of a competent herbalist if you want to use this herb, or any herb, safely. If you take this herb for a long period of time, you might want to think about using the honey-fried version, or taking with licorice root, as this will protect your stomach from it’s drying effects. Also, if you have a history of gastritis, or peptic or duodenal ulcers, then this herb is not a good choice. This herb is a diuretic, so make sure you have good fluid and electrolyte intake. And finally! Yuan Zhi stimulates uterine contractions, so, if you’re pregnant and you’re ready to have a baby, then this herb could be helpful, but if you’re pregnant and you’re not ready to have a baby, then hold off.

If you would like to schedule an herbal consultation or acupuncture session with me, you can go to

Lee J.-Y., Kim K.Y., Shin K.Y., Won B.Y., Jung H.Y., Suh Y.H. (2009). “Effects of BT-11 on memory in healthy humans”. Neuroscience Letters 454 (2): 111–114. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2009.03.024. PMID 19429065.

Shin K.Y., Lee J.-Y., Won B.Y., Jung H.Y., Chang K.-A., Koppula S., Suh Y.-H. (2009). “BT-11 is effective for enhancing cognitive functions in the elderly humans”. Neuroscience Letters 465 (2): 157–159. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2009.08.033.


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