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Suan Zao Ren:
English Name: sour jujube seed, zizyphus
Pharmaceutical Name: Semen Ziziphi Spinosae
Properties: Suan Zao Ren enters the Heart and Liver channels. It is sweet and sour in nature and neutral in temperature.
What is Suan Zao Ren?: Suan Zao Ren (literally “sour date seed”) is the seed of the sour jujube date. It is commonly used in Chinese herbal formulas to address insomnia coupled with anxiety and nervousness, heart palpitations (i.e. feeling the heart flutter in one’s chest), and/or irritability, doing so by nourishing the Heart and Liver. This gives these two organ systems more resources to deal with stress and consequently helps them to relax, feel less anxious, and improve the quality of sleep.
TCM Herb Actions: The primary actions of Suan Zao Ren are to nourish Heart yin, augment Liver blood, and calm the Shen. It is especially effective in helping with insomnia due to Liver yin deficiency. It also has the secondary characteristic of being astringent and as such is helpful in cases of excessive sweating (e.g. night sweats or spontaneous sweating).
Actions and Benefits: Suan Zao Ren benefits the organ systems of the Liver and the Heart and also calms the spirit (shen); as such it is a primary herb in the Chinese medica for complaints of insomnia, palpitations and anxiety.
Suan Zao Ren in TCM Formulas:
Gui Pi Tang: Gui Pi Tang addresses Spleen Qi deficiency (signs include difficult digestion, reduced appetite, and loose stools) with concomitant Heart Blood and Yin deficiency symptoms of insomnia, palpitations, and anxiety. The idea here is that since the Spleen ultimately is responsible for generating Blood, one must address the ultimate source of the (Heart) blood deficiency in order to truly treat a root cause of the insomnia and anxiety.
An interesting twist here is that over-thinking and excessive rumination (i.e. anxiety) can damage the Spleen (i.e. make it less effective at extracting nutrients from food and sending those nutrients (in the form of Food Qi) to the Heart to make “quality” blood). Thus the very anxiety that is a symptom a Heart deficiency syndrome can create a feedback loop—anxiety and worry damage the Spleen’s ability to produce quality blood, which leads to a deficiency in the Heart, which leads to more anxiety and insomnia, which further damages the Spleen… and so on!
Suan Zao Ren Tang: Suan Zao Ren Tang best addresses insomnia rooted in Liver Yin/Blood deficiency. The insomnia is usually accompanied by fatigue (e.g. from “overwork—you work long hours, come home exhausted, and yet you lie awake at night unable to get to sleep). The presence of irritability is another key symptom when considering the use of this formula; a third is excessive sweating (especially night sweats), hot-flashes, or other subjective sensations of heat. Awakening around 3am on a regular basis is another sign that insomnia is based in some kind of Liver constraint and can be effectively addressed with this formula.
Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan Tang (Emperor’s Teapills): Emperor’s Teapills best addresses insomnia characterized by restless sleep—so instead of lying awake at night frustrated and unable to sleep (with nothing on your mind… almost bored), you mind might tend to be racing a bit more. Other indications for use of this formula are, generally speaking, Kidney Yin Deficiency signs (the most common of which are night sweats and lower backache). Other specific indications for using this formula to address the complaint of insomnia are: anxiety with palpitations, forgetfulness/inability to think or concentrate, thirst, dry mouth, and/or constipation/dry stools. In this formula, the astringency of Suan Zao Ren is utilized to prevent leakage of Heart Qi and Yin (thereby assisting the Heart’s ability to house the Shen so it can come to rest at night when it is time to sleep).
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