Feb 16 , 2019
In a previous article, we delved into the finer points of the Tiger Balm line of products and benchmarked them against the advantages of Plum Dragon Dit Da Jow products. In this article, we compare Plum Dragon Dit Da Jow to a product that is not as common place in the mainstream as Tiger Balm, but one that is more popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) circles: Zheng Gu Shui.
This article will refer to Tiger Balm occasionally, you can read the Tiger Balm vs. Dit Da Jow blog: HERE.
About Zheng Gu Shui Ingredients
Roughly translated as “Rectify Bone Water," or more colloquially, “Bone Setting Water," Zheng Gu Shui (ZGS) is a liquid liniment, so it mirrors the application process of Plum Dragon Dit Da Jow more closely than than the petroleum based Tiger Balm product. While the name translations suggest that ZGS is a water-based liniment, it is does contain some alcohol in its base. With that said, we cannot know for sure in what concentration the alcohol is present, or even what kind of alcohol is present—some references claim ZGS uses isopropyl alcohol.
Zheng Gu Shui is far less well known to the average citizen, than Tiger Balm. Until relatively recently, ZGS has been more of a go-to source for external liniments in the TCM, Acupuncture, and Martial Arts circles, especially at the commercial level. It is fairly inexpensive, easy to procure, and was designed by a well-known TCM Doctor; it was also more closely based on Traditional Chinese herbal philosophies than something like Tiger Balm. Thus, in many ways, ZGS has appealed to TCM practitioners and others as a more authentic Dit Da Jow formula than other available options like Tiger Balm. For this reason, many Chinese acupuncturists and herbalists used this formula in their clinics.
Unlike Tiger Balm, ZGS is sold as a single formulation and has gone through a variety of revisions over the years. At each step, these revisions have removed or reduced quantities of the more expensive and effective herbs that used to be present—the ZGS of today does not seem to be what its creator intended, and as we will see, it is strikingly similar to Tiger Balm, and not up to par for serious athletes who need strong a strong formula.
Today, ZGS is much like many commercially available liniments, with active ingredients of Camphor (Zhang Nao) and Menthol (coming from the volatile oils in Bo He) that provide some degree of physical sensation but do not provide much else in the way of therapeutic action. The Camphor and Menthol are in concentrations of 5.6% each, about half the quantity of what we see in Tiger Balm. The other ingredients, in order of quantity, are these according to the box label:
- Japanese Knotweed (Hu Zhang)
- Swallowwort (Xu Chang Qing)
- Shiny-leaf prickly-ash (Liang Mian Zhen)
- Zeodaria (E Zhu)
Hu Zhang is useful in reducing inflammation and drying Dampness, giving it some ability to inadvertently reduce pain. However, by itself, the removal of heat is somewhat limited. Rather than focus on that direction, Xu Chang Qing steers the formula more towards dispelling Wind and drying Dampness.
Liang Mian Zhen is the first herb in the formula which specifically addresses Blood circulation to drive out stasis and spur healing. It also supports the Wind-Damp functions of the previous 2 herbs. E Zhu is a very strong herb for increasing Blood circulation; unfortunately, it appears in ZGS in smaller concentrations than the other substances.
The formula has become incredibly simple, which, by itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. But, in this case, it is not comprehensive or strong enough to compare with Plum Dragon formulas. Fortunately, the fragrances, chemical ingredients, and carrier oils present in Tiger Balm are not present in Zheng Gu Shui, making it more in line with traditional Dit Da Jow, albeit not very strong. And, it is important to note that it is NOT in line with traditional Dit Da Jow to use such large amounts of Camphor and Menthol, if at all.
As we showed in the Tiger Balm vs. Dit Da Jow article, products containing high percentages of Camphor need to be used with caution and care. Patients can become very sick if they swallow chest rub made with camphor. Convulsions can begin within five minutes of ingestion. Excessive amounts of camphor rubbed on the chest can cause seizures as well. As little as 10ml of camphor can be lethal for children when swallowed. In addition to seizures, symptoms of camphor poisoning include nausea, vomiting, agitation and stomachaches.
Furthermore, doctors at the American Academy of Family Physicians report that Camphor has no redeeming medical value. The poisons in the oil of Camphor can transmit through the skin, making it a dangerous solution for pregnant women. Camphor can transfer through the placenta to the fetus, causing birth defects and stillborn births. Camphorated oil can be particularly dangerous and can cause birth defects even when inhaled.
One final note on Camphor: it is exceptionally dangerous for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. It interferes with the medicine used in Parkinson and increases the toxicity level. It can turn to be very poisonous in such cases.
About Plum Dragon Dit Da Jow
Having taken a detailed look at Zheng Gu Shui, we can conclude that we can compare it to Plum Dragon Dit Da Jow as simply another Dit Da Jow formula.
However, when we attempt to compare ZGS to any of one of the Dit Da Jow formulas sold at Plum Dragon Herbs, we find this is not a very fair comparison. Each and every formula (both Plum Dragon's proprietary formulas, as well as other formulas sold from various lineages of martial arts, public and private) are far more comprehensive formulas with a dozen to sometimes over 40 herbs, specifically tuned towards supporting the body in its natural healing process.
We can investigate Plum Dragon's Ho Family formula as a quick example, which uses E Zhu, the strongest herb used in ZGS: Ho Family utilizes large concentrations of E Zhu as well as its companion herb, San Leng. These are two of the strongest Blood invigorating herbs in the modern Materia Medica, and are backed up by several other very strong herbs to support that function. There is also a large battery of strong herbs to deal with Wind-Damp and inflammation. While this covers the actions in the ZGS formula—and dwarfs it in potency—we’re not done yet!
Ho Family also contains more herbs well-known in TCM to support bone and sinew strength, stop bleeding, and reduce pain. Technically, any good herbal liniment should contain several herbs supporting these functions to some degree and to varying strengths; but, these are largely or entirely absent in ZGS.
We can make the same comparison of ZGS with just about any Plum Dragon Dit Da Jow formula. We see a couple of strong herbs for each action, and several other herbs that reinforce that action; Southern Fist Iron Body, White Dragon, JKD, Bruise Juice, they all maintain those design principles.
This is the synergistic nature of Chinese herbal medicine: multiple herbs working together in harmony to support the actions of the others and provide strong therapeutic action to support the body's natural healing process. Zheng Gu Shui was designed a very long time ago with that in mind, and while we are grateful for their success in opening up the door to commercial use of the traditional (often secret) Chinese liniment, in its commercial form today, its origins have been neglected, most likely for the sake of profit. Today's Zheng Gi Sui, may look like a cheap alternative to the Plum Dragon Dit Da Jow products, but, we consider it now to be a rip off for what you actually get in this formula.
Plastic vs. Glass Bottles
Another note of comparison between the Zheng Gu Sui and the Plum Dragon products is that the ZGS product is sold in plastic containers. We were not able to find information about what type of plastic is being used (is it BPA free or just cheap plastic?), so we cannot speak precisely about probable contamination of the ZGS liniment by the leaching of plastic chemicals into the formula. But, we can tell you that Plum Dragon strictly avoids the use of plastics both in our manufacturing process and in the finished liquid products. This is simply because plastic is made of chemicals and contact with water alone can cause the leaching of those chemicals out of the plastic and into the water. Add alcohol to that water and the leaching effect is intensified.
Beware of using any liquid product, especially an alcohol based product that is stored in plastic. Furthermore, the potency of an herbal liniment can quickly degrade when exposed to light. The ZGS bottles are clear and allow light to penetrate into the formula and degrade its potency, whereas the Plum Dragon Dit Da Jow bottles are dark amber glass to prevent any potency degradation from light exposure.
Better Use of Time & Money
While we still think Zheng Gu Sui is a better formula to use than Tiger Balm, it is clear that its present-day incarnation lacks the effectiveness and strength we would like to see in a liniment. If you used the ZGS of the past and have lamented the degradation of the formula over time, or, if you run a clinic, practice, dojo, etc. where you have sold this product to your clients, we have great news for you! Practitioners, teachers, coaches, trainers and their clients love Plum Dragon products because they're powerful and profound and different from anything else they have tried. When you introduce a client (particularly a client in pain) to a high-quality product that eliminates their pain and changes their lives, they tell the world around them!
Give it a try and experience the difference for yourself.