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Atractylodes is the dried or steam-dried rhizome (rootstalk) of Atractylodes macrocephala or A. ovata, perennial north Asian herbs in the Compositae family. It grows in mountain valleys, especially in China's Zhejiang province. It may also be cultivated. In autumn, it presents magenta corolla blooms.

In Mandarin, atractylodes is called Bai Zhu, Bai Shu, Yu Zhu, and Dong Zhu. The Cantonese term is Paak Sat, and the Japanese call it Byakujutsu. Common names include large-headed atractylodes, white atractylodes, and white shu. Its pharmaceutical name, used to distinguish it as a medicine, is Rhizoma Atractylodis, and it is one of more than 500 plants recognized as official drugs in traditional Chinese medicine . Related species, A. lancea and A. chinensis, both called black or gray atractylodes, are also used medicinally for similar but distinct purposes.

General use

Practitioners of Chinese medicine believe that atractylodes affects the Spleen and Stomach meridians, or energy pathways in the body. Its medicinal properties are considered warm, mildly bitter, and sweet.

Atractylodes is thought to dry dampness, strengthen the Spleen or digestion, and promote diuresis, the formation and excretion of urine. It is used for diarrhea , generalized aching, mental fatigue, dizziness , lack of appetite, vomiting, edema (accumulation of fluids), and spontaneous sweating. It is also used to prevent miscarriage and to treat restless fetal movement. Other uses include restoring deficient digestion associated with poor absorption, malnutrition, anorexia, metabolic acidosis, hypogylcemia, and rheumatism. It has also been used to treat tumors of the cervix, uterus, breast, and stomach.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, both white and black atractylodes may be used for digestive and urinary problems. Black atractylodes is more drying than white. White atractylodes has the additional benefit of being a "Spleen Qi tonic," meaning that it rebuilds metabolic function by increasing nutrition , increasing energy, and regulating fluids. White atractylodes is also thought to have restorative, normalizing effects on the digestive system and Liver.

Research on atractylodes has generally been conducted in China and has focused on pharmacological investigation and animal experiments. In-vitro and animal studies show it has significant diuretic, sedative, and hypoglycemic (lowering of blood glucose) effects. Animal studies pinpoint the essential oil as responsible for sedative effects. It also promotes digestion and quells nausea and diarrhea.

Major chemical constituents include atractylone, atractylol, butenolide B, acetoxyatractylon, hydroxyatractylon, and vitamin A .


Atractylodes is not generally available in American health food stores, but it can be found at most Chinese pharmacies and Asian groceries. Good quality atractylodes is large, firm, solid, aromatic, and has a yellowish cross section.

The standard dose is 310 g as a decoction (strong tea) or 14 ml of tincture. Doses of dried material are 312 g.

Atractylodes is commonly prescribed in conjunction with moisture-removing drugs and digestants. Practitioners of Chinese medicine commonly also combine atractylodes with other Chinese herbs. The following are the major herbs with which it is combined and the symptoms for which the combinations are prescribed.

  • Radix codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula, Dang Shen ) and rhizoma zingiberis (Zingiber officinalis, Gan Jiang, dried ginger root) for abdominal pain , distention, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Fructus Immaturus Citri Aurantii (Citrus aurantium, Zhi Shi, unripened bitter orange) for reduced appetite with abdominal distention and fullness due to Spleen deficiency with qi stagnation.
  • Gray or black atractylodes (Atractylodes japonica, Cang Zhu ) for damp-cold painful obstruction or vaginal discharge.
  • Sclerotium Poriae Cocos (Poria cocos; Fu Ling ; tuckahoe, poria, or Indian bread) and Ramulus Cinnamomi Cassiae (Cinnamomum cassia, Gui Zhi, cinnamon twig) for congested fluids with distention of the chest and edema due to Spleen deficiency.
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus, Huang Qi ) and Fructus Tritici (Triticum aestivum, Fu Xiao Mai, name wheat grain) for unrelenting spontaneous sweating.
  • Ramulus Perillae (Perilla frutescens, Su Geng ) and Pericarpium Citri Reticulatae (Citrus reticulata, Chen Pi, aged tangerine rind) for restless fetus disorder with qi stagnation giving rise to distention and fullness in the chest and abdomen.


According to tradition, atractylodes is contraindicated in the presence of deficient heat conditions.

Side effects

None noted.


No interactions with pharmaceutical drugs have been noted.



Bensky, Dan, and Andrew Gamble. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Rev. ed. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993.

Fan, Warner J-W. A Manual of Chinese Herbal Medicine: Principles and Practice for Easy Reference. Boston: Shambhala, 1996.

Holmes, Peter. Jade Remedies: A Chinese Herbal Reference for the West. Boulder, Colo.: Snow Lotus Press, 1996.

Hsu, Hong-yen, et al. Oriental Materia Medica: A Concise Guide. Long Beach, Calif.: Oriental Healing Arts Institute, 1986.

Erika Lenz