English Name: gastrodia
Literal Translation: “heavenly hemp”
Pharmaceutical Name: Rhizoma Gastrodiae
Medica Category: Liver-Calming and Wind-Extinguishing Herbs
Properties: Tian Ma enters the Liver channel; it is sweet in nature and neutral in temperature.
The Chinese Herb Tian Ma (Gastrodia elata Bl.) is the dried, tuberous root of Gastrodia elata, which is a tall plant in the orchid family that lives/grows in symbiosis with two fungi: armillaria mellea (that feeds it) and mycena osmundicola (that it needs to sprout seeds and reproduce). The best quality Tian Ma comes from tubers dug up in winter. Once the tubers are dug up, they are cleaned and dried at low temperature. Then they are re-moistened and sliced for use as medicine.
Tian Ma extinguishes Liver wind to stop spasms and tremors—and because it is neutral in temperature and rich in oils, it has the unique ability to do so without damaging the yin. Thus, it is indicated for use with Liver wind patterns with an underlying deficiency (as well as Liver wind patterns that comes out of an excess condition, like Liver fire blazing). Clinical presentations for which Tian Ma can be helpful include: tremors, spasms, tonic-clonic convulsions (grand mal seizures), opisthotonos (muscle spasms causing backward arching of the head, neck, and spine), infantile and childhood seizures and epilepsy.
Tian Ma pacifies rising Liver yang patterns (i.e. anchors Liver yang) that may present clinically as headaches, irritability, red eyes, and dizziness. In China, this pattern is often the cause of hypertension, and Tian Ma is used (e.g. in the formula Tian Ma Gou Teng) to control high blood pressure.
Use of Tian Ma may be associated with drowsiness and sedation; exercise caution when operating heavy machinery.
Tian Ma potentiates the sedative effects of barbiturates, antihistamines, narcotic analgesics, benzodiazepines, and other categories of drugs with sedative effects.
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