The History of Chinese Herbs: Floating Wheat

This was a cure for women’s mood swings that were due to menopause. (Image: Pixabay / CC0)
This was a cure for women’s mood swings that were due to menopause. (Image: Pixabay / CC0)

This story took place during the Taiping Xingguo period (A.D. 976-983) in the Song Dynasty. Wang Huaide was a doctor who lived in Kaifeng City. One day, he checked the Chinese herbs drying in his back yard and found a pile of wheat.

He asked his servant: “Who sold us this small-grained, low quality wheat?” The servant answered: “Zhang Dahu from Chengnan.” As Wang Huaide was about to respond, a man appeared and asked for Wang Huaide’s help. He begged: “Wang, my wife has recently become very irritable.

“She often laughs or cries for no reason. She is restless and sometimes hurts others and causes damage. It’s really scary, and I don’t know what to do. Can you help her?”

Wang felt the woman’s pulse and asked her a few questions. He smiled as he stroked his beard and said: “No need to worry. The woman has hysteria.” He prescribed licorice, wheat, and jujube for her. This prescription was from Zhang Zhongjing, a master doctor during the Han Dynasty.

He prescribed licorice, wheat, and jujube for her. This prescription was from Zhang Zhongjing, a master doctor during the Han Dynasty. (Image: See page for author [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

He prescribed licorice, wheat, and jujube for her. This prescription was from Zhang Zhongjing, a master doctor during the Han Dynasty. (Image: Wellcome Images via CC BY 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons)

This was a cure for women’s mood swings that were due to menopause. As the man was leaving with his wife and the herbs, he said to Wang: “Sir, I forgot to mention that she often sweats profusely at night and soaks her clothes.” Wang nodded and said: “I see; let’s cure her hysteria first.”

Five days later, the couple came to Wang happily to thank him. “The medicine cured everything. No doubt you are a wonderful doctor.” Wang asked them: “Shall we work on the sweating problem today?” The woman said with a smile: “No need; it’s cured too.” Wang wondered whether sweet wheat jujube soup cured sweating as well.

After that, he purposely used this prescription to treat sweating disorders for several of his patients. He used mature and plump wheat for these patients and none of them were cured. He was confused and looked into the book of Sun Simiao, known as the king of medicine during the Tang Dynasty.

At that moment, a fight between his servant and Zhang Dahu, the person who sold them wheat, got Wang’s attention. The servant held the wheat sold by Zhang and said: “I won’t accept this kind of wheat. Take this small-grained wheat home with you!”

Wang suddenly was reminded that he used this wheat on the hysterical woman. He quickly interrupted the fight and asked Zhang where the wheat came from. Zhang’s face turned red and he told the truth: “I didn’t want to waste the wheat that floated on water, so I figured that it probably didn’t matter if it was used for medicinal purposes, hence I sold it to you…”

Wang understood what happened as he listened, and told his servant: “Let’s take it and put it in a separate place, and we’ll label it ‘floating wheat.’”

Later, Wang used the floating wheat to cure patients with sweating disorders and it worked every time.

In the third year of the Taiping Xinguo period, Wang and his doctor friends Wang Hu, Zheng Qi, and Chen Zhao did painstaking research on Zhang Zhongjing’s medicinal book. They wrote another book, which included the effects of floating wheat. From that time on, floating wheat became a popular prescription, and it is still being used today.

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