There is a branch of Chinese herbology referred to as “dui yao”, which has to do with the combining of herbs. Part of this topic includes herbs which have complementary, or synergistic, functions. I remember learning a long time ago, that once you understood herbal medicine you could come across an herb or a plant you have never seen before, and know something of its usage. Appearance, taste, texture, odor, and the environment in which the plant is growing, all give clues to the properties of an herb. It took me many years to fully appreciate this idea. I used to spend time with live plants in the woods. Now I spend most of my time with dried herbs in my pharmacy. Without being in contact with herbs in some way, I think it would be impossible to fully appreciate what it is they can do. I find the understanding which comes from handling the herbs themselves to be not only the most useful, but also the most interesting. I am writing this brief article I the hopes of sharing some of this experience. Below I am posting some pictures of herbs which have similar appearance and similar function. While I cannot convey other sense characteristics through the internet, these qualities are often just as similar as appearance.
Frankincense and Myrrh
These two well known substances are Blood quickening medicinals. Their ability to affect the Blood arises in part from their being resins. As the dried sap or blood of plants, they have resonance with and the ability to interact with blood tissue in other systems (see Beans and the Doctrine of Signatures). They share the functions of quickening the Blood, dispersing swelling and stopping pain. They are commonly found together in injury formulas.
Ophiopogon and Asparagus Tuber
The slightly gummy nature of these two herbs is an indicator of their ability to supplement the Yin, and their white color is a sign that they affect the Lungs. Both are sweet and cold, clear heat and nourish Yin, and moisten the Lungs and stop cough. They are found together in such formulas as Lily Cough Powder and Heavenly Emperor’s Special Pill to Tonify the Heart
Sparganium and Zedoaria
These two herbs have very similar actions. They are both bitter and acrid, enter the Liver and Spleen channels, move the Qi and break the Blood, and disperse accumulations and stop pain. Most commonly they are used to treat concretions and conglomerations (lumps) in the liver, spleen and uterus, and in gynecology for blocked or painful menstruation. They also both treat abdominal pain due to food accumulation.
Violet and Dandelion
These common plants clear heat and resolve toxins. They are both bitter and cold, disperse swelling, and affect the Liver. Both are commonly used to treat skin disorders, abscesses and breast disease. They are combined in many formulas, including Five Flavors Disperse Toxins Drink.