Walks in the Apricot Forest: Hua Tuo and Peony

Tianyi, Ailan (Illustrator)

PureInsight | February 3, 2003

[PureInsight.org] [In Chinese, "Apricot Forest" is another term for the medical community. For more details see:
http://www.pureinsight.org/pi/articles/2003/1/23/1368.html ]

Legend has it that the famous doctor Hua Tuo of the Three Kingdoms planted different kinds of flowers and herbs in his front and back yard. He insisted on carefully tasting each herb to find its properties before prescribing it to his patients. Therefore, he had never prescribed any harmful medicine.

One day, somebody gave Hua Tuo a peony plant, which he planted in the front yard. After he tasted the leaf, stem and flower of the peony, he decided nothing was special about it, and that it had no benefits as a medicinal herb. So he didn't use peonies to treat illness.

One late night, Hua Tuo was reading books under a light, when he suddenly heard a woman crying. He raised his head and saw a beautiful grieving woman in tears, in the hazy moonlight, outside the window. Hua Tuo was somewhat puzzled and went out to the front yard, but there was no one. On the spot where he had seen the woman he found a peony plant. The thought occurred to Hua Tuo that the woman was the Peony, but almost immediately he shook his head and laughed at his silly idea. Hua Tuo said to the peony, "You have nothing unique from head to toe. How can I use you for medicine?" He went back in the room and continued with his reading. As soon as Hua Tuo sat down, he heard the woman crying again. When he went outside to check on the woman for the second time, there was again no one, except the peony. This incident repeated itself several times that night.

Puzzled by the strange incidents, Hua Tuo woke up his wife to tell her in detail what had just happened. His wife gazed upon the flowers and herbs in the garden, and said, "Every single herb and tree in this garden has been beneficial as medicine and saved numerous lives, except this peony. I believe that the peony grieves because you declared it useless as a medical herb before you figured out its properties." Hua Tuo laughed and said, "I have tasted all the herbs and learned their medicinal natures thoroughly. I have always made the best of each herb and have never missed an herb that could be beneficial as medicine. As for this peony, I sampled its leaf, stem and flower many times before I finally decided that it has no benefit as a medicine. How can you say I have wronged her?" His wife said, "You have sampled its parts above the earth. Have you sampled its root?" Hua Tuo became tired of the subject and went to sleep. His wife noticed that her husband was not as receptive to others' advice as he used to be, and began to worry that he might begin to make mistakes. Several days later, she started her menstrual period. The blood gushed out continuously, just like a spring. Moreover, she had severe and persistent cramps in the lower abdomen. Without her husband's consent, she dug out the root of the peony plant, boiled it and drank the soup. Within half of a day, the pain subsided gradually and the blood flow became regular. When she told her husband about it, Hua Tuo finally realized that he had indeed wronged the peony plant. He thanked his wife for teaching him through her experience that peony does have benefits as a medicine as it stops pain and bleeding.

Peonies are particularly beautiful in appearance. Their stems and flowers are beautiful and that is why it was named so. [Note: Peony is called "Shao Yao" in Chinese, which means "beautiful."]

Translated from:

Add new comment