When you think of cherries, the deep red, sweet cherries of mid-summer may come to mind. However, there are a huge number of shrubs and trees that are considered to be cherry plants; some with edible fruits and others not. Two of these plants are found in the Chinese herbal formulary, although one is called a cherry, but is actually not. Here are two Chinese herbs that come from cherries:
Bush Cherry Pit. Also called Yu Li Ren, this herb is made from the cherry pits from this dwarf flowering shrub. It produces small sour red fruits that are attractive to birds. To be used as an herb, the pits need to be extracted from the fruit and ground into a powder with a mortar and pestle.
Yu Li Ren is considered to be a downward draining herb, which means that it helps to move substances downward and out of your body, such as through the bladder or intestines. It’s used in formulas as a way to moisten the lower intestines to treat constipation that’s caused by stagnation. Yu Li Ren also works to encourage urination to reduce water swelling, called edema. This herb can also be used to treat lower leg swelling combined with redness and inflammation; a condition called Leg Qi.
Asiatic Cornelian Cherry Fruit. This plant is actually not a cherry at all, as it’s also called the Cornelian Dogwood or the Cornelian Cherry Dogwood. Called Shan Zhu Yu in Chinese, the herb is made from the dried and ground up red fruits from this shrub or small tree. It’s used medicinally to hold in fluids and substances when they are excreted abnormally or excessively, such as through diarrhea, profuse sweating, frequent urination, and even prolapsed organs. This inability to contain body substances arises from being depleted, as one of the primary functions of Qi (energy) is to hold things in place—blood in the vessels, the opening and closing of pores to regulate sweating, and controlling the release of urine. When your energy and overall body constitution is weak, this holding ability can become weak, too.
Shan Zhu Yu is often used in formulas to treat heavy sweating or urinary incontinence that arises from deficiency. For women, it can help to treat heavy menstrual cycles that are caused by depletion, and in men is can be used for impotence or excessive release of sperm. Systemically, this herb helps to bolster your Kidney and Liver systems to treat symptoms such as light headedness, dizziness, weak or sore lower back or knees, as well as overall depletion.
While both of these herbs are called cherries, it’s interesting that they have opposing actions. Shan Zhu Yu is used to contain substances, problems usually caused by depletion; where Yu Li Ren is used to move substances out of the body. These differences underscore the importance of your being prescribed the correct herb for your condition, something that takes a great deal of knowledge, training, experience and an eye for the subtle differences between the herbs. If you have questions about whether Chinese herbs are right for you, please give me a call.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.