Red Root: a Common Western Herb Used in a Chinese Medicine Practice

Red Root A Common Western Herb Used In A Chinese Medicine Practice

photo credit: Scott Kloos – Pacific Northwest Medicinal Plants

Master Lymphatic Cleanser:

Red Root – Ceonthus Americanus / Ceanothus Velutinas

by Rylen Lee Feeney, Diplomate of Chinese Herbs (NCCAOM)


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If you are a gardener then you know that Ceanothus is often referred to as wild lilac and does well in sandy, dry soil – making it a great drought resistant planting choice for Pacific Northwest gardens. Ceanothus is a low lying scrub that has a dense woody root system that dives deep with large branches. The inner bark is pink to dark dried blood red, hence the the name. They are known for their resilience, able to withstand forest fires and or to grow back from the ashes of fire to nourish the forest floor.

There are over 50 species of Ceanothus genus native to the United States. The traditionally used Ceanothus Americus is native to the Eastern Coast, but the West Coast Ceanothus Velutinas is an equal variety and shares the same properties as it’s East coast cousin.

Herbalists more commonly referred to this medicinal plant as Red Root. It has a rich history of Native American use and used as a replacement to imported tea (camilla sinesis) by the early American settlers.  When using medicinally we usually use the root, although the leaves can be brewed as a mild astringent.

Red Root is a superior lymphagogue.  What is a lymphagogue you ask? Simply put it is a substance the promotes lymph production and flow. Red Root is a lymphatic cleanser, reducing congestion in the the glandular system, liver and spleen.  We can use it to reduce and disperse fluid filled cysts anywhere in the body.  Additionally consider this herb for chronic sore throats, tonsillitis and enlarged lymph nodes, lymphedema, and for restoring the spleen after the acute phase of mononucleosis.  It also has a history of use for clearing mucus from the head and lungs, and relieving digestion stagnation. 

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From an Eastern energetic perspective, Red Root has a direct effect on the spleen, liver, and lungs. It is cool to neutral in temperature, bitter and astringent in flavor, and it invigorates blood and drains damp. This makes it a go-to western herb for the treatment of: uterine congestion with a sensation of heaviness in the uterus; long, dragging or heavy periods; damp heat in the Liver causing distention and constipation; engorgement of lymphatic tissues with sluggishness; cysts and phlegm.

Pacific northwest plant wildcrafter and herbalist Scott Kloos notes “I love plants that have two seemingly opposite properties.  The tannins in the root bark tighten and tone tissues, whereas the saponins open and restore flow, making red root and excellent remedy for damp stagnations of all sorts.”  I couldn’t agree more! I am captivated by the holistic adaptive quality of plants. Red Root’s magic lies in it’s ability to flush the hepatic portal veins thereby stimulating the flow of fresh blood and clearing lymphatic congestion resulting from heavy foods, poor digestion, sluggish liver, and fluid accumulation this allows for a healthier immune system and better nutrients to the body tissues.

Think of reaching for red root to treat damp patterns, Chinese medicine herbalists can use it in formulas in place of poria, (Fu Ling) or coix seed (Yi Yi Ren), treating damp heat or cold depending on the nature of the other herbs chosen.

Try the following effective western lymph stimulant and cleanser for the treatment of chronic reoccurring sore throats and swollen glands:

Throat and Gland Refresh


*Equal parts of the following herbs can be prepared into a tincture or a standard decoction (a medicinal herb water preparation method).

  • Red Root   
  • Cleavers 
  • Propolis    
  • Usnea 
  • Echinacea angustifolia

Dosage of tincture would be 40-60 drops 3-4 times a day.
Dosage of decoction would be 4 – 6 oz. up to 3 times a day.


Note: This formula can also be used as an adjunct treatment internally for cleaning the lymph system when treating  acne.

Don’t use in pregnancy, lactation or if patient is taking blood thinning meds.

* for instructions on how to make tinctures and decoctions consider reading Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech



The study and use of herbs are one of Rylen’s greatest joys! She has been utilizing and practicing herbs for over 30 years.

Explore this fascinating topic in Rylen’s 6 week course:


Western Herbs Used in a Chinese Medicine Practice Class

August 29th – October 10, 2017


Cost: $300 (discounts available)

Eligible for 15 CEU hours
book now



Works Cited

Cech, Richo, and Sena Cech. Making Plant Medicine. Horizon Herbs, 2000.

Holmes, Peter. The Energetics of Western Herbs: Treatment Strategies Integrating Western and Oriental Herbal Medicine. Vol. 2. Snow Lotus, 1998.

Kloos, Scott. Pacific Northwest Medicinal Plants: Identify, Harvest, and Use 120 Wild Herbs for Health and Wellness. Timber Press, 2017.

Tierra, Michael. Planetary Herbology: an Integration of Western Herbs into the Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Systems. Edited by David Frawley, Lotus Press, 1988.

Tilgner, Sharol. Herbal Medicine: from the Heart of the Earth. Wise Acres, 2009.

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