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Herb Gallery

Xuan Shen (Scrofularia ningpoensis)

  • Botanical name: Scrofularia ningpoensis
  • Common name: Scrofularia, Ningpo figwort root
  • Literal name translation: dark root
  • Family: Scrophulariaceae, figwort family
  • Part used in Chinese medicine: root
  • Major Chinese medicine actions:
  • Nourishes yin, moistens dryness, clears heat, cools blood,
    softens hardness, dissipates nodules
Scrofularia ningpoensis

Photo Credits:
Photo 1: Scrofularia ningpoensis; 06/2007; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute

Growing and Propagation

Blooming with small flowers from June to October, plant is small and not particularly showy. It is easy to grow, preferring moist to wet soil and full sun to partial shade. Seeds ripen from September to November and can be sown in spring or autumn in a cold frame, then planted in the garden in the summer. Plants can also be propagated by division in the spring. Larger plant clumps can be planted directly into the garden, but smaller clumps do best when grown in a cold frame in a lightly shaded place until they are established. Plants are hardy to USDA zone 6.

Harvesting and Preparation

For medicinal use, the best quality Xuan Shen roots are big, thick and heavy. They should have a thin outer bark and the cross section should be solid, black and smooth. Thin, small roots with a woody texture or having holes in the center are considered poor quality.


The genus Scrophulariaceae contains about 200 species of plants and is so named because they were found to be useful in treating scrofula, a condition resulting from an infection in the lymph nodes of the neck causing a painless mass to develop. Scrophularia ningpoensis is among the most medicinal species of the plant and is native to east Asia. It grows wild in gullies, thickets and bamboo forests, especially in wet places such as along streams and at the edges of rivers.

Xuan Shen is sometimes known as Yuan Shen, or “primal root”. It was given this name during the Qing dynasty because the name of the Kangxi emperor Xuan Yu contained the same character “xuan” as that of the herb. It became taboo to use “xuan” other than for his name, and so the herb name was changed. Though after his reign it was again called Xuan Shen, it is still sometimes referred to as Yuan Shen.