The Power of Huang Lian Tang and its Versatile Therapeutic Applications

Huang Lian Tang, or Coptis Decoction, is among the most significant herbal formulas in traditional Asian herbal medicine. The traditional herbal formulas appear in the Shang Han Lun and Jin Gui Yao Lue books. The formula treats various health conditions, such as digestive conditions, inflammatory conditions, upper jiao disorder, lower jiao disorder, heat pattern, etc.

The herb Huang Lian in the formula offers a fantastic hint in determining suitable herbal formulas for specific health conditions. Here are the therapeutic actions of Huang Lian in one of the textbooks. [1]

  • Clear heat and dry dampness: When combined with other herbs, it addresses damp heat in the intestines and summer heat. 
  • Sedate fire: it addresses liver fire, which manifests as dizziness, headache, red face and eyes, short temper, etc. It also addresses heart fire. Its manifestations are insomnia, tong ulcers, nose bleed, burning sensation in the chest, red tong tip, etc. 
  • Clear fire toxin: It addresses dermatology disorders at the skin level.  
Huang Lian

Therapeutic Applications of Huang Lian-Based Formulas

A Korean traditional medicine doctor has defined the actions of Huang Lian with new concepts.[2] He has set the bases upon which we can select suitable herbal formulas for each health issue. The bases to determine Huang Lian-based formulas are:

  • The character of a patient belongs to Yang rather than Yin. The Yang and Yin here indicate whether he is extroverted, active, or aggressive rather than introverted, passive, or calm. Some may share the both, which we call “Mixed.”
  • The patient has difficulty falling asleep. 
  • The patient feels heat rising. He could have a red face, a heating sensation, sensitive skin, cold aversion, cold extremities, or indigestion.  
  • The bowel movement can range from regular to constipation. Formulas like Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang show loose bowel movements or diarrhea. 

Exploring Traditional Herbal Formulas with Huang Lian

Korean traditional medicine doctors use Huang Lian-based herbal formulas most frequently in clinical settings. Significantly, they have expanded the applications of the formulas. They have found more uses than the original creators of the formulas in ancient times, and they have effectively treated various health conditions, including mental and emotional disorders.

Here are Huang Lian-based herbal formulas. We can divide them into four groups for convenience’s sake as follows:

Group 1

Huang Lian Tang

Xiao Xian Xiong Tang

Huang Lian E Jiao Tang

ban xia 12, da zao 8, huang lian, ren shen, sheng jiang (gan jiang), gui zhi, gan cao 6 x 1~2

  1. ban xia 12, gua lou shi 3~6, huang lian 6 x 2
  2. ban xia 9, gua lou shi 3, huang lian 9 x 2

huang lian 6~8, huang qin, bai shao 4, e jiao 6, egg yolk powder 2 x 1~2

Group 2

Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang

Sheng Jiang Xie Xin Tang

Gan Cao Xie Xin Tang

Wu Mei Wan

ban xia 12, da zao 8, huang qin, gan Jiang, ren shen, gan cao 6, huang lian 2~4~6 x 1~2

ban xia 12, sheng jiang, da zao 8, huang qin, ren shen, gan cao 6, gan jiang, huang lian 2~6 x 1~2

ban xia 12, gan cao, da zao 8, huang qin, gan jiang 6, huang lian 2~6 x 1~2

huang lian, gan jiang 6, wu mei, xi xin, gui zhi, ren shen, huang bai 4, dang gui, chuan jiao 3, fu zi 0~1~2 x 1

Group 3

Gan Jiang Huang Qin Huang Lian

Ge Gen Huang Qin Huang Lian Tang

Bai Tou Weng Tang

gan jiang, huang lian, huang qin, ren shen 6 x 1~1.5~2

ge gen 16, huang lian (6~12), huang qin 6, gan cao 4 x 1 ~1.5

huang lian, huang bai, qin pi, bai tou weng 4 x 1~1.5~2

Group 4

Fu Zi Xie Xin Tang

San Huang Xie Xin Tang

Da Huang Huang Lian Xie Xin Tang

da huang 6, huang lian, huang qin 3~6, fu zi 2~4~6 x 1~2~3

da huang, huang lian, huang qin 6 x 1~2~3

da huang 6, huang lian 3~6 x 1~2~3

Case Study

A thirty-year-old man visited the clinic to get treatment for feeling anxious and irritable. He also complained of headaches in the front and right temple. He looked red-faced.

His tongue showed frontal red dots and a thin-to-thick yellow coating from the mid to the foot.

His pulse felt slow and slippery. Kidney and spleen pulses felt weak. 

He showed symptoms as follows:


  • He sometimes has difficulty falling asleep. 
  • excitement (easily excited)
  • nervousness (emotionally uncomfortable, emotionally exhausted, feeling of being chased or rushed, restlessness, impatience, nervousness)
  • hwabyung (feel unfairly treated, tend to hold back my rage)
  • Depressed (difficult to have fun, dark, stagnant, loner, avoidance, passive, helpless)


  • He burps often. 
  • When he drinks alcohol, he has heartburn. 
  • He has poor digestion when he overeats. 
  • When he has an upset stomach, he has bloating and discomfort in the upper abdomen. 


  • He has a loose bowel or diarrhea when eating spicy or oily food. 
  • When he has a complete bowel movement, he feels light. 
  • He sometimes has frequent urination. 
  • He sometimes feels pain around the lower abdomen when his bladder is full. 


  • He drinks water for thirst, habit, or health. 
  • When he has a cold, he has body aches, fever, a runny nose, phlegm, or coughing. 
  • He sometimes easily shivers from the cold. 
  • He has to bundle up even when it becomes chilly. 
  • Part of his body, especially his feet, feels cold. 
  • His body sometimes feels heated in general. 


  • His neck and shoulders sometimes feel sore and heavy. 
  • He sometimes feels dizzy when he stands from sitting.

I prescribed Huang Lian Tang two week’s portions. I instructed him to take herbal granules 5g twice daily on an empty stomach. I advised him to return in two weeks if he still experiences anxiety.

Here are the dosages for Huang Lian Tang. 

ban xia 12

da zao 8

huang lian 6

gan jiang 6

rou gui 6

ren shen 6

gan cao 6


When you are correct in selecting formulas that can explain patients’ symptoms, Huang Lian-based formulas can treat many health problems, including musculoskeletal disorders, mental and emotional disorders, dermatological disorders, etc.[2] The expanded uses are well beyond the original application for the formulas in the Shang Han Lun and Jin Gui Yao Lue. It is excellent when practitioners have less difficulty determining formulas and more patients experience relief from their illnesses more quickly.


  1. Chen, J. K., & Chen, T. T. (2004). Chinese medical herbology and pharmacology. Art of Medicine Press.
  2. Roh, E. J. (2020). Shang Han Jin Gui Formula User’s Manual. Bareun Herb Publishing Co. (Korean)