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The Practical Herbalist

Yunnan White medicine

The Vietnam war was probably the first time that Americans came into contact with a herbal medicine that has a fascinating story. American soldiers sometimes found small glass vials of white powder on the bodies of Viet cong soldiers. Many assumed that these bottles carried opium or some other drug. That powder was actually something more powerful and valuable to the Vietcong soldier. It was a herbal formula called Yunnan bai yao (literally; white medicine from Yunnan province). To the soldier that carried it, that vial could be the difference between life and death. Yunnan bai yao has the ability to help stop bleeding, and that vial of powder, emptied into the wound, was often sufficient to staunch the bleeding from a gunshot. Obviously if you were shot somewhere vital, no medicine is going to save you, but for the non fatal wound that could lead to bleeding to death, it was the medicine of choice.

Since I learned of it I have always kept some around. I used to carry a vial with me when I took my young daughter to the park. Sprinkled into cuts and scrapes it reduced the pain and stopped the bleeding. On a professional level I have used this herbal formula to help people with excessive menstrual bleeding as well as for people with non acute internal bleeding. It is also the formula of choice when herbalists are treating the bleeding disorder hemophilia.

I was surprised recently when I called my supplier and found that I could no longer get Yunnan bai yao. My supplier gave few details as to why, but truth be told, many herbalists have suspected that this day would come. The reason; Yunnan bai yao is a secret formula. Under modern labeling laws, secret formulas are difficult to import into this country.

Actually, herbalists all know what is in the formula, but what is known and what is put on the label are two different things. It is mostly a herb called San Qi (also called Tian Qi, or radix pseudoginseng, or notoginseng). This herb is legendary for stopping bleeding. A family in Yunnan province China started making this formula for soldiers several hundred years ago. The secret family recipe worked better than other formulas, and it developed a reputation as THE medicine to have. When you are buying something that may save your life, you don't go with second best. As a result the family in Yunnan eventually cornered the market and has had basically a monopoly on stop bleeding formulas ever since.

The interesting thing is, that despite the obvious value of this formula, few people reading this probably have ever heard of it. I think it is just a case of getting lost in the marketing shuffle. Would you believe an advertisement that said that a dash of this secret formula can stop bleeding from a severe wound?

I know it works. I once cut the tip of my finger off, I packed the wound in the powder and it was healed in less than week. There has been research on the formula. It has been found to be safe. It has also been shown in clinical studies to increase the speed of clotting 30-55%. A book I have, makes passing reference to academic studies of Yunnan bai yao in universities in several parts of the world, including Wisconsin. The author also notes that experts in Sweden and China suspect that the formula could be helpful in treating blood cancers like leukemia.

In the mean time I am cautious with my supply of Yunnan bai yao. My supplier informs me that things are getting worked out and that we should be able to get more soon.

I hope so, like the soldiers of old, I feel more comfortable when I have it around.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066