The Sanqi Herb

In the treasure house of traditional Chinese medicine, there is a rare herb called sanqi. It is known for its amazing ability to stop bleeding, disperse "stagnant blood" (meaning that the passage of blood containing toxins is obstructed by some hardness, causing poor circulation), reduce swelling and relieve pain. It is used externally to heal wounds inflicted by trauma and to stop excessive bleeding. Sanqi is also highly effective for treating internal injuries, such as the bleeding of an internal organ or blood vessel. Sanqi is one of the main ingredients in the world famous yunnan baiyao. There is a Chinese folk saying, “When it comes to stopping people from bleeding, sanqi is worth more than its weight in gold.”

There is a beautiful legend about sanqi. According to legend, Sanqi was a beautiful and kind fairy who came to Earth in order to teach people how to plant crops. One day, while she was working in the field, Sanqi was suddenly pounced upon by a large, ferocious black bear. Fortunately, at the crucial moment, a Miao (an ethnic minority group in China) youth named Kaxiang killed the beast, saving Sanqi. Kaxiang’s family was very poor and his mother had been sick for many years, but he had no money to treat her illness. To repay him for saving her life, Sanqi told Kaxiang, “There is a herbal medicine growing on the back hillside. The leaves look like my long skirt and the branches are similar to my waistband. It can cure your mother’s sickness.” From what Sanqi told him, Kaxiang was able to find the herb. After Kaxiang’s mother took the herbal medicine several times, she completely recovered from her illness. Later, Kaxiang used it to cure the diseases of many people in his village. One after another, the villagers came to thank him and ask him what this miraculous herbal medicine was. Kaxiang did not know what the herb was called so he asked Sanqi. Sanqi came and smilingly pointed to the remarkable plant and said, “Please count how many leaves and branches there are on the plant?” The people counted and agreed that there were three branches and seven leaves. A clever girl shouted at once “sanqi!” (In Chinese, “san” means three and “qi” means seven). Since then, this became the name that has been passed down throughout the generations.


This is not the only legend about sanqi. In another legend, it is said that a long time ago, an old man went to the Tianmu Mountains to pick some herbal medicines. Along the way he met a little boy whose job was to herd cows. The boy was heading downhill and was carrying a bundle of herbal medicine on his back. The old man asked the little boy, “Little boy, what kind of herbs do you carry on your back?” The boy replied, “A valuable plant that heals wounds and sets broken bones. My younger brother’s broken leg was mended after applying this medicine.” The old man was surprised to hear that and asked the boy what his name was and how to find this amazing plant. The boy put down the herbs and told the old man the following story:

“My birthday is the 7th of March, so my mom calls me ‘Sanqi.’ Because my family was very poor, I depended on my cowherd to live. One autumn, I saw a crowd of monkeys playing on a wisteria vine and swinging between two big willow trees. As they swung between the willow trees, they damaged the vegetables in the field. So I took up my hatchet and threw it toward the monkeys. It happened that the hatchet cut off the wisteria vine. Some days later, I saw this crowd of monkeys swinging on the same wisteria vine again. I wondered how the vine was reconnected so soon after I had cut it. In order to solve this riddle, I took up a knife and cut the wisteria vine again. Everyday I would hide in a dark place and watch the vine. One day, the monkeys came again. An old monkey looked around him. Seeing nobody around, he dug up several plants and put the drab roots of the plants into his month and then chewed them into a pulp. He then took the pulp and applied it to the broken parts of the wisteria vine. A young monkey pulled up some grass and wrapped it around the broken vine like a bandage. The monkeys were hopping, skipping, and jumping as they left.

After that crowd of monkeys had gone, I went to carefully examine the wisteria vine at the place where they had reconnected it. When I pulled at the vine, I found that it was very strong as if it had never been broken. So, I was very pleased to discover this herbal medicine. I wondered whether this kind of plant could mend a person’s broken bone. I pulled up a lot of plants. After arriving home, I pounded them into a pulp, which I then applied to my brother’s broken leg and then wrapped it with a cloth. Soon, his broken bone was completely healed and he became well again. He was able to run and jump as before.”

After listening to this story, the old man was glad to say, “Little boy, you have discovered a valuable medicinal plant. You are so great!” Later on, the old man used this herbal medicine to cure many patients who had suffered injuries from falls, fractures or incessant bleeding. In order to acknowledge Sanqi’s discovery, the old man called the herbal medicine “Tianmu Sanqi.”

There are references to sanqi in many books on Chinese medicine. In the Qing Dynasty medicinal work, The Updated Version of the Compendium of Materia Medica, sanqi was described as follows, “Ginseng is No.1 for nourishing qi - energy; sanqi is No.1 for enriching blood. Both of them have the same taste and function so collectively they are called ginseng sanqi. They are the most precious herbs in Chinese medicine.” In the Ming Dynasty book, The Compendium of Materia Medica, by Li Shizhen, it states that sanqi is used “mainly as a treatment to stop bleeding, disperse blood, and to relieve pain and injuries caused by a sharp knife or sword. For the person bleeding incessantly from falls, traumas or sores, sanqi should be pounded into a pulp and applied to the injury. Another way to stop bleeding promptly is grind it into powder form and apply to the wound.” In addition, the book states that sanqi can also stop blood loss “from vomiting blood, flowing blood, injuries and bleeding from insect bites,” and also alleviate “bleeding severely from the large intestine, a women’s period, post parturition, men’s or women’s red eyes, unknown swelling, injuries caused by tigers, insect bites….”

Sanqi is indeed a great herb.

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