One of the simplest and most standard herbal formulas in Chinese medicine is Si Jun Zi Tang, which in the West is translated as “The Four Gentlemen”. The formula consists of four herbs that beautifully blend together and complement each other’s properties. Two of them are well known in the West – Renshen (Ginseng) and Gan Cao (Licorice root). In the Four Gentlemen formula we use Zhi Gan Cao - licorice root that is processed by being honey fried - to enhance its tonifying and warming property.
Ginseng – the chief herb in the formula – is an herb that strongly tonifies the Qi. There are three types of Ginseng – Oriental, American and Siberian. Although Chinese ginseng is described only as slightly warm by Western scholars in my experience it is a rather hot herb that should be used with great precaution and in my opinion should absolutely not be available as an over-the-counter supplement. People with “internal heat” (thirst, red face, dislike of hot environment, burning sensation in the chest or abdomen) will easily get heart palpitations, headaches, insomnia or severe irritability because of Ginseng's heating nature. It is also known to higher the blood pressure... In conclusion Ginseng - the“man root’’ - is an unique Qi stimulant, maybe the strongest one in its class, and it’s strength should be appreciated and well respected. Please read more about the different temperatures of herbs, foods and spices and how they define their properties! You can read more about other Qi stimulant herbs here
Fried Licorice is a Qi tonic root that is often added to Chinese herbal formulas to harmonize and moderate the other herbs, and to conduct them to the proper channels.
Bai Zhu and Fu Ling – the remaining two herbs in the formula - both work to tonify the Spleen and drain dampness (a deficient Spleen will fall behind on its important duty to transform and transport fluids leading to fluid retention referred to as “dampness” in Chinese medicine). Together the Four Gentlemen work harmoniously to tonify Qi, and to strengthen and dry the Spleen.
When we add two more herbs to the Four Gentlemen the formula now becomes Liu Jun Zi Tang. i.e. the Six Gentlemen. This formula is for advanced Spleen deficiency with further development of dampness or phlegm. While the first formula is for Spleen Qi deficiency with symptoms such as weakness, tiredness, paleness, poor digestion the other formula addresses the presence of buildup damp and/or phlegm with symptoms such as distention in the chest and abdomen (caused by the damp/phlegm), feeling of heaviness in the body (damp has “heavy” nature) coughing up sputum, etc.
One of the two herbs added is not unfamiliar for the Westerner. Chen Pi – aged/dried tangerine peel – is an aromatic herb that drains dampness and transforms phlegm. It regulates the Qi by invigorating the Qi in the Spleen and the Stomach, and benefits abdominal distention (caused by Qi not moving), indigestion, and bloating.
The second herb added is Ban Xia – pinellia rhizome. It strongly transforms phlegm, and harmonizes the Stomach directing Stomach Qi downward, thus benefiting the digestion.
Two simple formulas with great effect. Feel free to explore more here