The Qi of Plants: Glossary of terms and Materia Medica May 05 2015, 0 Comments

The ancient system of Chinese herbology is mysterious and complex; individual herbs are understood as having more than single actions or targeted issues.  Each has a scope of attributes that defines its way of interacting with other herbs and with the body's life-force, the Qi. 

Like timeless Far Eastern philosophy, the essence of Chinese herbal  science (theory) is dynamic, balancing, symbiotic. 

Formulations of this tradition rarely use a single plant for its action alone.  Rather, complementary herbs are combined with exquisite care and sophistication, to offset and balance one another, maximizing intended benefits while neutralizing any unwanted effects. 

Every herb in a given combination has been carefully chosen, and has an essential reason for being there.  Every one has its part in the unified whole.  This creates perfect harmony in each formula, and allows it to exactingly target a specific condition.  




Point zero of any discussion regarding Chinese Medicine.  Qi has no exact translation; it is most usually translated as 'energy' or 'life-force'.   It is the instrinsic, motivating principle of all things; and of each thing, being, and component individually.  Essentially, Qi is the ancient Eastern understanding of the same dynamic recognized by modern physics as molecular and atomic activity.  We think the closest translation is 'life'. 


A concept of Chinese Medicine derived from and inseperable from Eastern philosophy.  Yin is represented by the dark half of the well-known symbol and, together with Yang, conceptualizes the constant interplay of apparently opposing forces that create both the movement and the balance of the universe (our world) and each person and thing within it. 

In herbalism and Skin Care, Yin represents such qualities as moisture, cooling, softness, nurturing and calm. Yin-tonifying herbs are hydrating, cooling, nutritive and nurturing.


Represented by the light half of the familiar symbol, shown in its ebb and flow with Yin to signify the dynamic of forces that creates the harmony and cycles of nature.

In herbalism and Skin Care, Yang refers to such qualities as brightness, movement, and liveliness.  Where Yin is the deep, supportive substance of skin, Yang is its luminous "life", showing through.  Together they create the indefinable 'glow from within' that manifests ideal health and balance. 

Yang-tonfying herbs are brightening, revitalizing and enlivening.   Another attribute of Yang is dryness - generally undesirable in skincare.  This is one of the reasons it is so important to balance herbs in a formula:  When we use Yang herbals for skincare, we balance any drying effects with Yin herbs to get the benefits we want without the drawbacks.


To increase the power and/or strength of.  Tonifying herbal formulas are considered the most precious therapeutically.  They are prized for their ability to deeply and lastingly fortify the body and skin's resources.  Many tonifying herbs are on the Yang


To increase the quantity of.  Supplementing herbs provide or replace Qi, moisture, nutrients and/or energetic properties the skin may need more of.  They infuse additional benefits, actually adding something to the system, as differentiated from 'tonifying', which strengthens and maximizes what is already there (see 'tonify').  Supplementing substances tend to be very nourishing and substantial, particularly beneficial for dull, dry, or mature skin. 


To energize harmoniously; the Chinese therapeutic principle is literally 'to move' - with the understanding that movement is intrinsic to, and specifically expresses, life.  Life shows in the skin as vitality, vibrance, youthfullness, and radiance.  Regulating the Qi maintains these things in the complexion as well as in the body.


To change, especially to correct the metabolism of water, ie edema.  Puffiness is water in the body that is remaining where it should not (under the skin, in the tissue).  To transform it means to encourage it back into the circulation so it is used where it is needed, not pooled where it is creating imbalance.  Because movement is needed to effect transforing action, many herbals that have this action are quite Yang in nature.


To clean.  Purifying herbs generally have antiseptic properties or known anti-microbial actions and keep toxic organic material from harming the skin.


To smooth out; even out the action of.  Harmonizing herbs for the skin excel at correcting such things as uneven redness ( a disharmony of heat and coolness) and combination skin ( a disharmony of yin and yang, ie oil and dryness). 


To tighten; by contracting skin or tissue.   This effect is sought usually either to minimize the appearance of pores or to minimize blood vessels and redness.  It is a temporary effect but can be protective and create a look of evenness and smoothness to the skin.


To stop itching, irritation, redness or pain.  This effect is also associated with 'harmonizing', the evening out of the complexion.  The Chinese call this action, more properly, 'quieting'.  It refers to the mind, emotional and spiritual levels as well.  Most calming herbs are very Yin in nature. 


To counteract heat in the system or skin; as usually indicated by redness, soreness, and feelings of warmth.  Cooling herbs are necessarily Yin in nature, as it is this property which balances out the heat (an expression of Yang) by neutralizing it with its opposite. 


To remove heat.  To 'clear' in Chinese therapeutics technically implies to clear heat.  This is differentilted from 'cooling' in that it actually means to take the heat away altogether, not just to balance out the effect of it with its opposite.  This is the equivalent of drinking cold water to cool down the system and thus the face (clearing), vs. splashing cold water directly on the skin for a more temporary fix.  Clearing is a deeper action, and takes longer to accomplish.


To infuse with necessary or highly beneficial substances.  Very similar to 'supplement' but with more emphasis on providing what is strictly necessary, on a deeper level both energetically and substantially.   Nourishing substances tend to be Yin in nature, supporting the skin by supporting the blood vessels and nutritional resources.


To heal.  Regenerating herbs excel at promoting healing and encouraging new healthy cell growth and turnover in the treatment of damaged, aging, or scarred skin.  This effect can help with uneven color associated with past damage as well.  Plants with this property also tend to be extremely healing and centering on other levels as well, the most familiar being frankincense and myrrh, with their ancient traditions of sacred spiritual use.



To add moisture, hydrate what is too dry.  Less Yin than nourishing substances because not as cool in temperature.




Essential Ingredients

Rose (mei gui hua):

Chinese Medicine properties: tonifying, harmonizing, regulating.

The rose blossom is long-revered for its value as a beauty-enhancing botanical, both in Western and Eastern traditions.  Its essential oil is said to have the highest vibration (ie the most 'life' or qi)of any plant.  In the Chinese herbal tradition the tonifying and regulating properties of this beautiful flower means it acts on the skin to give a deep radiance by maximizing qi; its harmonizing effect contributes to overall balance.  Rose features prominently in Superglow Triple Rose Extraordinary Face cream, and Pomegranate Rose Supplementing Skin Concentrate.  It is also a main ingredient in Spice Market perfume.


Aurantium flower, Neroli (dai dai hua)

Chinese Herbal Properties: regulating, tonifying, astringing, quieting

Neroli is the flower of the bitter orange tree; known for its exquisite aroma and skin-calming, supplementing qi.   Its astringing and quieting effects make it perfect to maintain daily skin health, creating a  balanced glow by guarding against broken capillaries, dryness and unevenness.  Western herbalism recognizes it as a skin-regenerator, meaning it has a healing, correcting effect on scars and marks.  Neroli is the featured ingredient of Neroli extraordinary Day cream.  It is also an ingredient in Green Tea Light Moisture Serum. 


Bitter Orange peel (chen pi) and fruit (zhi ke)

Chinese herbal properties: regulating, astringing, transforming

The particular gift of citrus peel in Chinese Medicine is its stellar ability to remove fluid, particularly below the skin of the face where it can accumulate and cause puffiness.  That is because chen pi is a qi-moving herb, and it specializes in moving fluid downward, astringing it from below the skin; transforming it to its pure, useful state once again in the body.   Bitter orange peel and essential oils are used in Green Tea with Green Clay Eye Depuffer mask. 


Goji Berry (gou qi, )

Chinese herbal properties: yin-tonifying, purifying, deeply supplementing

In Chinese herbology, goji berry is an 'herb' that is also a food, and is classified as a 'Yin tonic' with a special affinity for the eyes.   Lately considered a 'superfood', it is full of protective anti-oxidants as well as skin-nourishing hydrators and collagen-supporters.  Goji berries contain high amounts of vitamin C, well-recognized for its ability to promote a tighter, radiant complexion by boosting collagen production and brightening skin tone.  It also contains smoothing polysaccharides, amino acids, and 11 of the 22 essential dietary minerals.  Goji is a primary ingredient of Superplants Essential Roll-on Eye serum. 



Watermelon (xi gua), rind (xi gua pi)

Chinese herbal properties: cooling, yin-tonifying, transforming

Watermelon is another Chinese herb that is also a food.  It is cooling, hydrating,and tonifying particularly to the Yin, which makes it superior for maintaining moisture balance in the skin leading to improved elasticity and tone.  With its high content of antioxidants, flavanoids, carotenoids and vitamin C, this superfruit is understood by modern science to have superior protective effects on DNA against skin damage from UV light and pollution.  Watermelon is a primary ingredient in Superplants Essential Roll-on Eye Serum.


Ginger (sheng jiang)

Chinese herbal properties: regulating, yang-tonifying, protective

Ginger moves qi - and with it fluid - to keep skin fresh and prevent stagnation.  Its Yang-tonifying properties make it especially revitalizing of the complexion, since Yang is the source of radiance and life in Chinese herbal theory.   Its action is understood to have an affinity for the eyes and skin.  Ginger is shown in western studies to have protective benefits due to its antioxidant effects, to promote skin healing and collagen production, and to inhibit tumor growth.   It is an active ingredient in Superplants Essential Roll-on Eye Serum. 


Licorice (gan cao)

Chinese Herbal Porperties: tonifying, harmonizing, qi-boosting

Licorice is a harmonizer and general tonic in Eastern tradition.  It tones, moisturizes and boosts the qi of the complexion, contributing to a soft, even glow.  The acid in licorice helps to balance skin pH, and is well-recognized as a skin-brightener, anti-inflammatory and collagen-preserver.  Although it is highly valued as a botanical on its own, one of the main uses for licorice is to harmonize (smooth together) the other herbs in a formula.   Find it as a main ingredient in Green Tea Light Moisture Facial Serum.  It is also used in Superplants Essential roll-on Eye Serum and Green Tea with Green Clay Eye De-puffer.


Sandalwood (tan xiang)

Chinese Herbal Properties: regulating, harmonizing, calming, clearing

Sandalwood has a long history as an herb sacred to many traditions, and precious for its many healing and skin-enhancing benefits.  Its regulating and harmonizing effects help achieve and maintain ideal moisture balance and even tone, supporting collagen production as well.  It is known to calm itching and inflammation, and ongoing studies point to a promising use in tumor prevention, which makes it perfect for daily treatment of sun-exposed skin.

Sandalwood is a chief ingredient in Intensive Overnight Hand and Nail Treatment.


Pomegranate (shi liu), seed (shi liu zi)

Chinese Herbal Properties: astringing, cooling, tonifying

The oil of the pomegranate seed is a long-recognized astringent, regarded as having cooling properties and recently found to accelerate skin recovery from environmental stressors and daily cell regeneration.  This has made it extremely precious as a skin-care agent to brighten and even the compexion.  Its tonifying action is aided by its cooling property, which addresses the inflammation that can interfere with the deep glow which comes from balanced, vital skin qi.  Replete with antioxidants, pomegranate seed oil has been shown in studies to prevent sun damage and to reverse its effects, both in the deeper layers of the skin and in the correction of hyperpigmentation.

Precious pomegranate seed is a primary ingredient in Pomegranate Rose Skin Supplementing Concentrate, and in Chinese Herbal Exfoliating Grains. 


Frankincense (ru xiang)

Chinese Herbal Properties: regulating, regenerating, transforming

Frankincense is an herb of timeless use, long prized for its spiritual associations as well as for its therapeutic and skin-beautifying benefits.  One of the few herbs in the Chinese Materia Medica specifically designated as a skin-regenerator, frankincense has been recognized for thousands of years for its ability to fade scars and heal damaged skin.    Frankincense is found in Pomegranate Rose Skin Supplementing Concentrate.


Cucumber (huang gua)

Chinese Herbal properties: cooling, clearing, transforming,

Cucumber is one of those Chinese 'herbs' that is also a well-known vegetable.  Its nature is very Yin, which makes it a superior agent for cooling skin and clearing redness.  It transforms edema, helping to keep puffiness at bay by draining it from beneath the skin.   It features in Cucumber and Chamomile Extraordinary Cream and Cucumber Rosewater Cooling Face Mist and Toner. 


Coix seed (yi yi ren)

Chinese Herbal Properties: cooling, transforming, supplementing

Coix seed is actually a grain, another example of a Chinese Medicinal which balances on the border between food and herb.   The Chinese have long recognized coix in particular as a skin-enhancing herb, both when eaten and topically.  The exquisite specialty of coix is in relieving pore congestion by both balancing skin's water content and cooling the inflammation that can contribute to acne.  It is rare for an herb with these qualities to be also supplementing; but coix, like most nutritious grains, has this ability as well.  Ground coix is the main ingredient in Chinese Herbal Exfoliating Grains. 


 Pumpkin (nan gua)

Chinese herbal Properties: qi-supplementing, yang-tonifying, purifying

This well-known squash is regarded as being both supplementing - thanks to its dense content of nourishing vitamins and minerals - and Yang-fortifying.  This combination explains its instantly revitalizing effect on the skin and the deep luminosity that remains with regular use.  Vitamins B and C, carotenoids and minerals are in abundance in the pumpkin,  making it a superior botanical for the treatment of dull or tired skin.  Pumpkin is the main ingredient in Pumpkin Carrot Mask for Pure Radiance.

Poria (fu ling)

Chinese Herbal properties: transforming, calming, tonifying

A well-used herb from the Chinese Materia Medica, poria is less-known to Western traditions.  It is a kind of mushroom, with outstanding abilities to remove excess fluid from tissue.  Poria is also highly-regarded for its calming effect on both the mind and body.  Its luminous white color is regarded as signifying its value an anti-inflammatory and skin-brightener; and preliminary studies point to anti-tumor properties, making it a valuable botanical for topical skincare.

Poria is used prominently in Green tea with Green Clay Eye De-puffer Mask. 


Camellia sinensis, Green tea (lu cha)

Chinese Herbal Properties: cooling, tonifying, regulating

Green tea is one of the most universally known and used botanicals from the Chinese Materia Medica.  Since ancient times it has been regarded as a tonic for long life and good health.  It also has a long tradition of use for skincare, prized for its tonifying, decongesting and antiinflammatory actions.  Significant modern research points to its abundance of flavanoids called polyphenols, found uniquely in the camellia sinensis plant.  Particular tea polyphenols called  catechins, have been widely identified as some of the most powerful skin-protective antioxidants.   One of the most-researched phyto-actives, green tea has been proven by modern science as a potent protector against sun damage and UV-related skin cancers.

Green Tea is the star ingredient in Green Tea Light Moisture Serum.  It also features in Green Tea Lavender Facial Toner and Cooling Face Mist, Superplants Essential Roll-on Eye Serum, and Acne Healing Botanicals Spot Treatment.


Amber (hu po)

Chinese Herbal Principles: calming, regulating, transforming

Amber is classified as a Chinese 'herb' although in its hardened, aromatic form it is no longer, strictly speaking, a plant.   The fossilized resin of ancient forests, amber is more usually thought of as a gemstone, and prized for its spectrum of golden hues .  The yellow of amber imparts a centering quality, according to Eastern theory.   It is regarded as supremely calming.  A powdered form of rich, earthy amber is used in Chinese Herbal Exfoliating Grains. 


Aloe vera (lu hui)

Chinese Herbal Principles: purifying, cooling, regenerating

Aloe, with its many antioxidants, nutrients and vitamins, is an ancient herb with a long history of use for skin beauty.  With its cooling anti-inflammatory action, it is well known for healing sunburned or damaged skin.  Aloe's value in treating acne comes from this quality as well, along with its antiseptic properties.   Products which contain aloe include Acne Healing Botanical Spot treatment and Superplants Essential Eye Roll-on Serum. 


Myrrh (mo yao), commiphora myrrha

Chinese Herbal Properties:  calming, regenerating, transforming

The resin of a small bush native to the Red Sea region, myrrh has been held as extremely precious both for its spiritual associations and for its use in healing.  It is one of the few herbs in the Chinese Materia Medica specifically designated as a skin regenerator, and is also used to correct puffiness and for its calming qualities.  Known also to have antiseptic properties, myrrh is recognized for its superior benefits on mature or tired skin, as well as skin prone to break-outs.  Find it in Pomegranate Rose Supplementing Skin Concentrate.


Honey (feng mi)

Chinese Herbal Properties: tonifying, nourishing, calming

Honey is a food that is treated as a medicinal in Chinese medicine, and well-recognized as a natural beauty enhancer  in western tradition.  The Chinese attribute to honey the power to 'moderate tension', which translates in skincare to softening, moisturizing and calming.  With its well-known antibacterial properties, honey is helpful to acne-prone skin, and its high levels of antioxidants and amino acids have made it a favorite since antiquity for imparting a deep healthy glow to skin.  Honey is reputed to have been Cleopatra's most-guarded beauty secret.  Find it here in Green Clay with Green Tea Eye-depuffer mask and Pumpkin Carrot Mask for Pure Radiance. 

Almond (ba dan xing ren)

Chinese Herbal Properties:  moistening, harmonizing, tonifying

Almond is strictly speaking a food (xing ren, with a similar name, is apricot seed and is an herb).  As there is often an indistinct line between foods and medicinals in Chinese medicine it is still considered to have great therapeutic value in tonifying the essence (deep reserves) of the body as well as adding hydration and balance to the skin.  Almonds contain significant amounts of flavanoids, and vitamin E which are known to increase blood vessel strength.  Find almond oil as the base of many of our products, including Triple Rose Cream and Gentle Creamy Cleanser.

carrot (hu luo bo)

lavender (xun yi cao)

sugar (tang)

Oats (yan mai pian)

Chinese Herbal Properties:

rosehip (shan zha)

sage (dan shen)

goat's milk

white willow

 chamomile  (yang gan ju)


peony (bai shao)

evening primrose (dai xiao cao)