Any time you have a fresh injury with significant swelling and inflammation, or if you have tightness, sensitivity, and reduced range of motion, San Huang San should be one of the first things you consider using.
Roughly translated as Three Yellow Powder, San Huang San is a very old and well-known formula used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), both as a standalone recipe and as a base for larger formulas with more specific targets.
What’s In It?
As the name implies, San Huang San is composed of three yellow herbs in equal proportions, often ground to powder. All three substances have strong cooling effects to clear Heat; additionally they are all very drying herbs used for Damp conditions. These three herbs originally were:
- Huang Bai: Differentiated by its ability to aid with Wind-Damp when combined with the right herbs. It enters the Kidney meridian and tends to be useful for the lower back and knees.
- Huang Qin: Differentiated by functionality to cool Blood to stop bleeding. In contrast to Hunag Bai, Huang Qin tends to be used more often on the upper body.
- Huang Lian: Differentiated by functionality to sedate Fire for issues such as irritability or hypertension through its interaction with the Heart and Liver meridians. Huang Lian has a very pronounced antibiotic effect.
All 3 herbs contain a substance called Berberine which provides the herbs with its substantial Heat clearing properties.
How Is It Prepared?
Traditionally, it was ground finely into powder. For internal consumption, the powder can be made into pills or capsules. Externally, it is either fashioned into a poultice for external application using Vaseline or oils and waxes. Additionally, it can be soaked in wine in the same fashion that dit da jow is. After a standard aging period, this infusion can be used both internally and externally, however it is far more common to be used externally in this way. Generally, 2 oz of each herb per gallon is plenty for good strength.
What Does It Do?
For internal use, San Huang San has strong ability to fight infection and is something of an herbal antibiotic. All 3 herbs have antibiotic properties with Huang Lian being the strongest and most pronounced for this action. Huang Lian has a synergistic effect and enhances the antibiotic properties of other herbs substantially. San Huang San can also be used internally or externally for various types of infections, bleeding, and inflammation due to a variety of different reasons. This is where our interest piques...
In the world of Chinese martial arts, San Huang San became popular largely for its ability to reduce inflammation due to traumatic injury such as bruises, sprains, and strains. Through its ability to clear hear and stop bleeding, it exhibits all of the positive uses of ice without the ridiculous side effects inherent in icing an injury; namely, the physical cooling and hardening of coagulated fluids at the site of injury and the reduction of blood flow, resulting in an increase in friction through the range of motion where joints are concerned.
Old injuries that are over-iced are often still sensitive to the wrong stimulus even years later. This issue can be bypassed entirely with the use of San Huang San in place of ice.
Modifying the Original Formula
Why Da Huang Often Replaces Huang Lian
As time went on, the focus of San Huang San took on this injury-related focus in certain circles. Modifications soon came: Huang Lian, being an expensive substance that is most useful for fighting infection, was replaced with Da Huang, still preserving the Three yellow theme. Da Huang has a strong moving property to dispel Blood stasis, making it vastly more useful for injury, while reducing procurement cost.
Elements Added in Tom Bisios Herbal Ice
Further refinement and modification eventually arose with modifications gaining complexity. Some schools even have created their own "versions" of San Huang San which they claim as "secret" closed-door knowledge.
Among the more useful and popular of the modified versions is Tom Bisios Herbal Ice. This version adds three ingredients to the original martial arts version:
These help both in reducing inflammation and removing stagnant fluids.
The Four Yellows - For Stronger Circulation and Control of Bleeding
At Plum Dragon the San Huang San (with Da Huang in place of Huang Lian) is often filled as the "Four Yellows" by adding Pu Huang to aid in stopping bleeding and invigorating Blood circulation, making our version the most effective on the market for acute trauma injury.
Steering San Huang San Towards An Injury Liniment
Further, these 3 herbs have been added to various dit da formulas to enhance their ability to stave off inflammation in fresh new injuries--today, many formulas have San Huang San as a standard subset of their battery of injury herbs.
The below version of San Huang San is much less common, but an example of modifications that steer San Huang much more towards an injury liniment without losing all of its essence as a strong anti-inflammatory...or its yellow persona:
- Da Huang -- 30g
- Jiang Huang -- 30g
- Yan Hu Suo -- 30g
- Mo Yao -- 30g
- Huang Qin -- 20g
- Huang Bai -- 20g
- Di Gu Pi-- 20g
Every herb in the formula addresses inflammation to some degree, perhaps with the exception of Jiang Huang. (Given that it's yellow though, exceptions can be made!) What is interesting here is that the additions and proportions call for a slight shift in action, with moving Blood being primary and cooling being very slightly behind.
- Jiang Huang and Mo Yao both support Invigorating Blood to heal injury.
- Mo Yao is also a welcome addition here for the thickness it can provide to an otherwise resin-free formula.
- Yan Hu Suo also supports the Blood invigorating action but adds a focus to reducing pain. Fresh injuries are often painful and no doubt it was added here to curb pain.
- Di Gu Pi provides additional heat clearing properties and is sometimes used in other formulas to aid in stopping bleeding and reducing Heat.
If one were to add a couple more Blood invigorators (perhaps 21g each of Hong Hua and Tao Ren), this would start to turn into a very simple but effective basic bruise liniment with a more general use.
To make this liniment for external use, add the herbs above (whole or ground) to 1 gallon of alcohol and allow a standard aging time.
When Should You Avoid It?
While it is very clear that San Huang San should be a go-to formula for situations when there is a painful fresh injury with significant swelling and inflammation and potentially reduced range of motion or bleeding, there are also some times when it is a good idea to stay away from using it and opt for other more warming and moving formulas. Obviously, as a cooling formula, we want to stay away from San Huang San in cases where there is cold present. Often, older, chronic injuries or arthritic types of pain, coldness or pain in the joints and extremities often call for much more warming and moving formulas.
And as martial artists, San Huang San is probably not the best choice when serious conditioning is involved. Limb knocking and iron palm training can sometimes use cooling formulas, but these liniment are also more moving and utilize a number of herbs to heal and strengthen bones and sinew and protect the joints.
However, we all receive injuries from time to time as martial artists where redness and inflammation take place within minutes. This is where San Huang San shines best...