Huang Bai

Botanical name: Phellodendron amurense
Common name: Pehllodendron bark, Amur cork tree bark
Literal name translation: yellow fir

Family: Rutaceae, citrus or rue family
Part used in Chinese medicine:  bark

Major Chinese medicine actions:
Clears damp heat from lower burner, drains Kidney fire downward,
resolves fire toxin

Huang Bai

Huang Bai

Huang Bai

Huang Bai

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 2: Phellodendron amurense; 10/2004; author Kurt Stueber; permission under GFDL
Photo 4: Phellodendron amurense; 2007; author Jean-Pol Grandmont; permission under GFDL

Phellodendron amurense is the most common species used for the herb Huang Bai, and is commonly referred to as Huang Bo. Phellodendron chinensis is also an acceptable species and is referred to as Huang Pi Shu. The tree gets its common name, Amur cork tree, because the bark is soft and cork-like to the touch.

This deciduous tree is native to east Asia, growing in forest valleys and on mountainsides. The yellow inner bark of the tree indicates the presence of the alkaloid berberine, which contributes greatly to the medicinal value of the herb. The presence of this alkaloid in Chinese herbs generally imparts a yellow color and bitter taste, and the herb name often includes “Huang”, meaning “yellow”.

Growing and Propagation

The tree grows between 30-45 feet tall and the width is even greater as the branches are broad and spreading, eventually becoming almost flat topped when mature. It is cultivated in botanical gardens as a specimen tree for its attractive form and interesting ridged bark. The flowers are small and greenish-yellow, blooming in late May and early June. Female trees bear pea-sized fruits that are aromatic when crushed.

Phellodendron requires full sun to grow well, though it is tolerant of many soil and pH conditions as long as it is well drained. It does best with rich, moisture retentive soil, but can survive in drought conditions and can self-sow to the point that it may become invasive. It is frost tender and hardy to USDA zone 3.

The tree is best propagated by seed sown in the fall and kept in a cold frame through the first winter, and then planted in a permanent location in the spring after the last frost. Both a male and female tree must be planted to produce seed.

Harvesting and Preparation

For medicinal use, good quality Huang Bai consists of thick bark that