Chinese Medicine, Herbalism, Tea
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A Classic Chinese Herbal Formula: Gui Zhi Tang – Cinnamon Twig Decoction

Every East Asian medicine practioner knows that Gui Zhi Tang is an really important formula. Gui Zhi is Chinese for Cinnamon Twig; Tang means ‘soup’ or ‘decoction’. It is named so because of the chief (representative) herb of the formula, Gui Zhi/Cinnamon. This formula is simple yet complex, and demonstrates the elegance of Chinese herbal formulation. I am not attempting to completely disseminate the theory behind this formula or its combinations, which I do not feel prepared to do as I am still exploring it as we speak, but instead will share a bit of my experience with this awesomely tasty and effective tea.

I hesitate to even call it ‘tea’. I mean, look at it! It is thick, opaque, rich. It is strong and it is definitely medicine. Food and spice medicine, at that. The experience of drinking Gui Zhi Tang is not like sitting down with a cup of tea that consisted of one teaspoon of dried herbs steeped 20 minuets and strained. It’s like sipping broth except broth is usually lighter than this tea.

Gui Zhi Tang is used for an invasion of external wind-cold due to a deficient state of bodily defense in Chinese Medicine terms. Since defenses are low for whatever reason, an illness like a cold can easily enter the body and cause typical symptoms like runny or congested nose, scratchy throat, headache and body aches (especially the back of the neck and occiput), chills or aversion to wind, fatigue and sweating.

Gui Zhi Tang is used for more than just alleviating a cold. It is used as a base formula for balancing Yin and Yang and the interior and exterior as it is itself a very balanced formula. How does it work? In brief, it balances the Wei (defensive) and Ying (nutritive) levels of the body through the actions, natures and flavors of the herbs in the formula.

It contains:

  • 9 g Gui Zhi, Cinnamon Twig (Cinnamomum zeylanicum). Warm, acrid and sweet. Release externally contracted wind cold.
  • 9 g Bai Shao, White Peony (Paeonia lactiflora). Slightly cold, sour, sweet. Benefits Yin and contains the week nutritive qi.
  • 9 g Sheng Jiang, Fresh Ginger (Zingiber officinale). Warm, acrid, sweet. Release the exterior and treat nausea and vomiting while warming the middle, directs qi downwards.
  • 4-5 pieces Da Zao, Jujube Date (Ziziphus jujuba). Neutral and sweet. Helps the sour Bai Shao nourish and harmonize the nutritive qi and blood.
  • 6 g Zhi Gan Cao, Honey-fried Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Warm, sweet, acrid.  Harmonize the actions of the other herbs.
You will notice that the photos of the herbs contain more than 5 herbs. In this case, Gui Zhi Tang was the base formula to treat a bout of exhaustion and insomnia I was experiencing. My herbal practitioners must’ve found evidence of a deficiency or imbalance of Ying and Wei  within my pulse, tongue, health history and details of my condition.
The the fluffy herb in the back left of the photo is He Huan Hua/Silk Tree flower (Albizia spp.), a spirit-calming herb which calms the Heart and moves Qi when it’s stuck and causing irritability. The other addition is Chai Hu/Bupleurum (Bupleurum chinense), another herb for moving stagnant Qi. Apparently my insomnia was aggravated by some stagnant Qi!
This was my decoction of choice for 2 weeks for a few reasons. Firstly, it reduced my insomnia. Secondly, I was really run down and kept on thinking I’d get a cold, but that annoying scratch in the back of my throat went away after I had a cup. The last reason was that the complexity and elegance of this classical Chinese formula, first recorded in the year 220 AD piqued my interest; I just wanted to keep experiencing this tea because of its taste and sensation it left in my mouth and body. I would compare it to the tingly feeling produced from immuno-stimulant herbs like Echinacea, Prickly Ash or Splianthes.
I just wanted to keep experiencing this tea because of its taste and sensation it left in my mouth and body. I would compare it to the tingly feeling produced from immuno-stimulant herbs like Echinacea, Prickly Ash or Splianthes.
This leaves me with the questions:
Can single herbs create an effect when combined in a formula that they didn’t have as single herbs?
What’s the relationship between the regulation of the protective/Wei and Nutritive/Ying layers in Chinese medicine theory and immuno-stimulation?
Why did it make my tongue tingle like echinacea?!







  1. Hey girlfriend! This looks amazing and I’d love to try it. I’m having a hard time finding these ingredients online – do you mind sharing where you found them?

    Thanks a bunch <3

  2. Hi Alex, you are sot on: it is hard to find ingredients online. I got them from a Chinese Herbal Medicinary/Apothecary here in Portland. You need a licensed Chinese medicine practitioner to write you a prescription to get bulk Chinese herbs.

    Lucky for me I am an LAc so I write them for myself…shoot me an email if you’d like me to help you try this formula in bulk 🙂

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