The Story of Gold in Chinese Medicine

The Story of Gold Juice 

Originally published at

Did the words Chemistry and Alchemy derive originally from the Chinese term “Gold Juice?”  Where are Gold and Silver placed in the Pharmacopoeia of the Daoist Alchemists?  What trails have they left in Asian medicine, and where are they today?

A fascinating article, Gold And Its Relationship To Neurological/Glandular Conditions, from the International Journal of Neuroscience, claims:

The Chinese were the first to prepare and use red colloidal gold as the alchemical drug of longevity. The word alchemy derives from two Chinese words: Kim (gold) and Yeh (juice). Kimyeh (gold juice) entered the Arabic language as kimiya, and with the definite article, al, the arabic word for the red colloidal gold was alkimiya, which in the Western world, gave the word alchemy. The procedure for the preparation of red colloidal gold is still in use today in India, prescribed by Ayurvedic physicians for rejuvenation and revitalization in old age under the name of Swarna Bhasma (red gold).

It remains to be shown that red colloidal gold can be made by grinding gold leaf to a dust with other substances (other than strong acids).

An important figure in this history is Ko Hung (Ge Hong) who wrote his classic “The Master Who Embraces Simplicity” (Bao Pu Zi/Pao P’u Tzu) around 320 A.D.  In one of the only English translations of this work, by James Ware through the MIT Press, gold is discussed at length.  There are many obvious factuality issues with the claims in the work, but the subjects of discussion are an important historical document.  This book contains the first written description of distillation of alcohol, making it very important in the history of science and drinking.  Here is the beginning of Chapter 4, Gold and Cinnabar:

The volumes I have studied as I examined writings on the nurturing of life and collected recipes for acquiring everlasting vision must number in the thousands; yet there was not one amongst them that did not insist that reverted cinnabar and Potable Gold were the things of highest importance.  These two, it seems, mark the peak of the divine process leading to geniehood [immortality/enlightenment]. (page 68).

And in Chapter 11, Genie’s Pharmacopoeia [Ware translates Immortal as Genie], page 178 says:

“At the top of the genie’s pharmacopoeia stands cinnabar.  Second comes gold; third silver; fourth, excrescences [magic mushrooms/spiritual fungus]…”

In this text, which is awkwardly translated in many places, with several author-added question marks as to his own translations, there is mentioned the “Chin I Ching” which would now be romanized the “Jin Yi Jing,” and is translated literally as the “Gold Juice Classic.”  Ware translates it in the index as Potable Gold, with a question as to whether that is mercuric oxide.  It is the phrase “Chin I” which is purported to have given rise to the Arabic “Chem-Y.”  Cinnabar, the first substance mentioned, is mercury sulfide, a naturally occurring mineral which is red in color, and when heated, oozes shiny mercury, leaving sulfur behind.  This can be transformed and turned back into the red compound, becoming a purer chemical compound as impurities are cleared away.  While it is well known that mercury is a lethal neurotoxin, it is less recognized that pure cinnabar may have been a relatively safe natural antibiotic which mostly passed through the gastrointestinal tract, killing the numerous parasites which were a common feature of the ancient world.  The symptoms of mild mercury poisoning would complicate the matter, and figure into my interpretation of Ko Hung’s writings–he was apparently having visual and auditory hallucinations and was more than tinged by a sort of superstitious social paranoia.  Still, his work documents early Taoist alchemical beliefs and early scientific knowledge, and cements gold and silver as important parts of the early Chinese materia medica.

The main challenge with using gold medicinally is making it soluble in a liquid which isn’t toxic to humans on its own.  This is where colloidal gold comes in.  The red/purple color of gold nanoparticles is certainly an alchemical indicator–if an author of old talked about a red or purple gold juice, there is a significant chance that they managed to make some sort of gold colloid.  One of the main uses of colloidal gold has been the production of ruby glass, which still can only be made with gold nanoparticles.  The wikipedia entry above mentions that it was rediscovered in the 17th century, after apparently being lost before.  The key to non-electric production of this type of red gold is a mix of acids called “aqua regia” or “water royal/King’s Water,” nitric acid and hydrochloric acid mixed.  Individually, these do not dissolve gold, but together they do, and after boiling off the acids, one is left with gold chloride (III) that can be redissolved in molten glass or refined to medicines, etc.  The chloride part of that is still caustic, and thus the search to make it usable often involved buffering that.  The gold itself is inert, and has an affinity for nerve tissue.

Gold is a prescription medicine today which has led to complete remission of rheumatoid arthritis and related inflammatory conditions, though it has fallen out of use in contrast to some other arthritis drugs such as Methotrexate.  The gold injections are noted for causing side effects such as mouth sores.  Personally, I suspect that those symptoms are more from the carriers and preservatives than from the gold.  I’ve been sublingually using rather high doses of colloidal gold made with Karl Reinhart’s amazing machine (his site seems to be gone from the internet) and, though I’m historically prone to mouth sores from acidic foods, I haven’t had any side effects.  I do feel neurological sharpening of the senses, including sharper visual perception, more accurate typing, and a calm sense of well-being and ‘inner fullness of light.’  This has been a repeated experience over months of using and not using colloidal gold.  Reading some of the testimonials on the internet about athletes who have discovered colloidal gold improves their reaction times and accuracy rings true with me, and I would love to see more good research done on this matter.

Gold is at least an interesting trace mineral, if not an essential trace mineral.  The Meridian Institute’s article reports from other studies:

“In the male reproductive system, Skandhan and Abraham (1984) measured gold in semen, and noted that, “this is the richest source of gold reported in biological materials” (p. 587). They also speculated that, since gold was not seen in one pathological sample with asthenozoospermia, that may be an indication that reduction of this trace element led to this pathology.

Kauf, Wiesner, Niese, and Plenert (1984) measured the amounts of a number of trace elements in the hair of newborn infants. They noted, “The investigation of trace elements in the hair of babies resulted in the remarkable observation that in the first three months of life zinc, copper and gold contents shows a considerable increase to multiple levels of the birth values, followed by a decrease.It must be emphasized that gold, although classified as a non-essential trace element, behaves in the hair of infants just like the physiologically important essential trace elements zinc and copper” (p. 299).”

It’s telling that the highest natural sources of gold which are common foods are the nuts:

Chinese Medicine has long promoted nuts to improve sex function/fluids as well as brain function.  Of course, the multiple trace minerals and essential fatty acids are involved in the tonic properties of nuts, but the presence of gold makes them an unusually important supplemental food.

Also from the Meridian Institute’s article is a promising study showing a 20% increase in IQ from about 30 mg of colloidal gold per day for 4 weeks:

Abraham, McReynolds, and Dill (1998) explored the potential of colloidal gold as a nervine. Encouraged by pilot work suggesting improved cognition and well-being (Abraham, 1996), they conducted a study to see if gold could improve cognitive functioning. They tested cognitive ability using the Wechsler Intelligence Scales (WAIS-R) before and after four weeks on colloidal gold at 30 mg/day. After four weeks on colloidal gold, there was a 20% increase in IQ scores. The effect of the colloidal gold persisted in three subjects after one to two months off gold, whereas in two subjects who took the test three months after stopping the gold, IQ scores were down to baseline levels. While a study of this small size is very preliminary, it is encouraging evidence of the potential of gold as a nervine, and as a demonstration of a non-toxic preparation.

By the way, at $1100 per troy ounce, 30 mg of gold costs $1.06 (3.5 cents per mg).  Since other studies have shown gold to be beneficial in much lower doses (2 mg/month-7 cents!), if gold in small amounts is this beneficial to the nervous system, it is a practical and economical therapy.

Back to the original question about the etymology of alchemy, it is known for sure that it is derived from the Arabic al-kimiya.  However, some sources say that came from the Greek around 300 CE.  It is the Indian author Mahdihassan who appears to be the main academic promoting the Chinese origin of the word Alchemy.  He writes:

The theory generally accepted maintains that Alchemy arose at Alexandria as a child of Greek culture. It has two names, Chemeia as the earlier and Chumeia as the later. There is another theory that Alchemy arose in China. Its founder was the aged ascetic who longed after drugs of longevity. He first tried jade, next gold and cinnabar, but the ideal was a drug which was red like cinnabar and fire-proof like gold. But what was actually prepared was red colloidal gold or “calcined gold,” by grinding gold granules in a decoction of an herb of longevity. It was called Chin-I; Chin = gold and I = plant juice. In Fukin dialect Chin-I = Kim-Iya. This was Arabicized, by pre-Islamic Arabs trading in silk with China, as Kimiya, whence arose Al-Kimiya and finally Al-chemy.

Both Tibetan medicine and Chinese medicine have gold leaf in their older materia medica.  Gold is noted for calming the spirit (i.e. uplifting neurological effects) and in Tibetan medicine, silver is noted for helping stop pus (i.e. clearing infections?).  What is more interesting is that gold and silver are not part of the current materia medica in Chinese medicine, given their historical importance to Ko Hung and the alchemists.

The electrical production of colloidal silver and gold have been the breakthrough that the early alchemists, from Ko Hung to Paracelsus, would have been thrilled with.  Electricity itself is an alchemical mystery, a mysterious force transmitted as it is through copper wires.  How amazing that only recently have humans discovered how to make colloidal gold without caustic acids, using an invisible but undeniable force supplied via copper.  Similar to colloidal silver, colloidal gold is a promising medicine which is outside of the mainstream medical model of patented drugs.  This leaves a grassroots network of modern-day alchemists to research and promote the use of these natural medicines.  It could be better if a large company or government took it on as a research project for the benefit of all people, but that is as unlikely as governments making it a priority to get clean water to every human on earth.  They are far too busy lining their pockets and their corporate friends’ pockets with what has come to be the biggest ‘fake gold’ in all of history–paper money.

In Chinese herbal medicine, the two major modes of medicine are to disperse (i.e. to get rid of things) and to tonify (i.e. to build things up).  Silver, attributed to the Moon, is the premier Yin medicine to Clear Heat (i.e. kill off infections).  Its antimicrobial properties are well-documented and are not a matter of symbolic speculation, but scientific fact.  Tonics are regarded as best taken in small doses over a long period of time.  Gold, traditionally related to the Sun and Yang, seems to qualify as a premier tonic, affecting both the brain, immune system, and sex function in beneficial ways when taking in small doses over a long period of time.

It is fair to place gold and silver high on the list of sacred substances in Taoist practice as well as Chinese Medicine.  If the government/medical cartel is intent on restricting info and access to colloidal silver (which they are), it may be that these things only survive and grow in the protected category of religious sacraments.  Personally, as a Daoist Deist, I believe that proper nutrition, including higher than essential amounts of many trace elements, combined with meditation and proper exercise, can lead to higher mental and emotional functioning characterized by calm happiness, sharpened intellect, and easier access to internal experiences of blissful light.  As appropriate for a Daoist, the Yin and Yang of Inner and Outer Alchemy go together.  As a Deist, I feel that all of these secrets are hidden in nature, and it’s up to us (i.e. our species) to use the scientific method to uncover them to improve ourselves.

One final note is the role of the heavy metal lead in ADHD and anti-social and criminal behavior.  This was reported in the 70′s and has been reaffirmed now.  The article from ScienceDaily reports:

Very low levels of lead in the blood – previously believed to be safe – could be contributing to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a Michigan State University study of 150 children in the Lansing area.

The research findings support a growing body of national evidence suggesting there is no safe level of lead in the blood, said Joel Nigg, MSU professor of psychology and study director. Other studies show a link between low-level lead exposure and lower IQ.

Given this evidence that lead can affect IQ and attention negatively in small doses, and centuries of tradition claiming gold can improve mental function, how can one not ponder the significance of metals in human consciousness, as if humans learning about metals, chemistry, nutrition, and electronics are all steps towards speeding the evolution of consciousness.  My experience and intuition tell me that trace amounts of gold in the body encourage natural ethical behavior and spiritual intelligence as much as trace amounts of lead encourage anti-social behavior and lowered intelligence.  Would that our species could focus on even proper basic nutrition and avoidance of known toxins!  It seems it is up to a very few people to continue this research on their own, as usual.  It would probably be better for me to keep these things to myself, as Ko Hung implores in his writings.  Even in 320 AD, most people ridiculed many things which have become scientific fact, and believed in much that is pure superstition.

Addendum:  I just read this research manuscript on colloidal gold and silver (Clinical Applications of Gold and Silver Nanocolloids, by Guy E. Abraham, MD).  This doctor did extensive double-blind placebo controlled research and found consistent positive results with absence of toxicity.  There are several conclusions and insights in the paper worthy of reading, and the reports of improved vision, brain function, and energy from the test subjects are of course very encouraging.  They are completely in line with my personal experiences taking colloidal gold.

Why is it that almost every textbook of Chinese herbs still has several references to cinnabar, but none to gold or silver? Is it because alchemy was driven underground and became Taoist oral tradition accompanied by ancient texts buried in the Taoist Canon? There are a few faint references of Chinese cultural traditions of cooking with coins, such as putting a gold coin in the bottom of the rice while it cooks, and a Chinese New Year tradition of similar but with cake.  (If you have any addition information about these traditions, please let me know via the comments section below–I’d very much appreciate input!)

I’m taking it for granted that my readers (if I have readers other than the blog-spamming-robots) know that Cinnabar, the beautiful red mineral found naturally around the world, is a unique combination of mercury and sulfur, and when heated up in a furnace, oozes liquid mercury (I still haven’t tried this, though I bought some purified cinnabar in Taiwan for my museum. I could do a video in a test tube outdoors over a bunsen burner…). It is a very strong ‘drug’ and the fine powdered, purified (melted and recombined multiple times to eliminate the free mercury or free sulphur and other minerals in the ore) cinnabar is the origin of ‘red pills.’ It is called Dan in Chinese, and is associated with the legendary Pill of Immortality. While it is quite effective for killing bacteria and larger parasites, if the mercury is absorbed into the system, it will cause the Mad Hatter’s disease due to neurotoxicity, replete with auditory hallucinations, paranoia, and raving madness. That would be cute in a shaman on the edge of town 1000 years ago, wouldn’t it? One of my teachers attested to something I’ve seen written in that pure cinnabar just goes through the intestines without being absorbed systemically. But I wouldn’t want to test this on myself or my patients. Not with how safe colloidal silver and colloidal gold are!

That’s one of the great things about doing a therapeutic regimen of colloidal silver and gold: it is one of the only therapies around in which you know precisely what is in the preparation, and for which there is quite a bit of research and documentation as to the non-toxicity to humans of both of these naturally occurring minerals.

Gold is often found in nature in ores which also contain arsenic. It was important in the development of metallurgy to learn how to separate and purify all of these basic elements. The research into that over hundreds of years continually revised and added to what has become the Periodic Table of the Elements (mainly attributed to Mendelev, the Russian who standardized Vodka to 40%).

Eventually the world of 4 or 5 elements developed into the world of the Periodic Table of 83 Primordial Elements.  Darn, 81 would have been better for numerologists…

Even in the world of the Chinese classical Five Elements (Wu Xing Theory), the element most western acupuncturists know as ‘metal’ is Jin, or Gold literally.  Gold is the Emperor of Metals, and the second definition of Gold (this image below is from the Zhi/Zhong Wen iPhone App which is fabulous) is Metal in general, and the third is Money.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Metal (Gold) is the lung element.  The lungs control the defensive Qi (Wei Qi), generally understood as the immune system (i.e. getting frequent colds and flus is likely due to a Wei Qi deficiency, and tonifying the lungs would help to remedy it).  In a previous post, I documented Ko Hung from 320 AD as saying that in the pharmacy of the immortals, the top important things were cinnabar, then gold, then silver, then mushrooms as a category.

I was looking for when mercury was known to be toxic, and just learned that Abraham Lincoln took a popular compounded medicine with 33% mercury called Blue Mass but stopped and wrote that it made him fell angry–historians have attributed uncharacteristic pre-Civil War outbursts of anger to it.  Anyhow, it’s been known to be toxic in one way or another for a long time, perhaps to crazy Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di (the Great Wall guy).  Perhaps that alchemist did the world a favor intentionally.

Anyhow, most Chinese herbal medicine books still list cinnabar, but not gold or silver.  You have to go way back to find out about gold and silver in Chinese medicine, and there’s not much there, other than the statement that they are the most important substances around.

Chinese banks are still called Yin Hang, which means Silver Company, literally.  They, like the United States, were on the silver standard for a long time, with gold trading for higher valued items by weight since antiquity.

There is a dictionary term for Silver Needle (Yin Zhen) referring to a fine acupuncture needle.  I’ve been looking for silver needles but haven’t found them.  They would have a healthy antimicrobial effect, which would be very helpful in the clinic, especially around potentially infected, inflammed areas.  Combined with electroacupuncture, the effect could be very strong indeed.  If done too strong or for too long, the silver could tattoo (localized argyria), though that it unlikely.  I’d rather try that on myself first with a silver needle than a steel needle.  If silver can kill most viruses and bacteria in 6 minutes of contact (a number I’ve seen tossed around in studies), then a 15-30 minute acupuncture treatment would help.  It’s unlikely that much silver would come off a silver coated or sterling silver acupuncture needle without electrolysis being involved.

It’s clearly a lost tradition of Chinese medicine which I’m tracking down.  Potable Gold and Silver have been both highly regarded and highly guarded in Taoist practice and Chinese medicine.  The fact that they have been shown to be non-toxic and beneficial in humans when prepared correctly with electricity and pure water is amazing.  Only in our lifetimes has the top goal of the ancient alchemists been attained.  Even better, it is available to ordinary people of moderate means to either buy enough for themselves and their loved ones, or even learn to make it themselves (though the colloidal gold is much harder to make than the silver).

Cinnabar was a tempting teacher of chemical investigation–a rock that could be heated to produce a liquid metal.  Perhaps the true secret of cinnabar’s mercury is how to use mercury to purify gold.  And then the red color of the cinnabar is a hint as to the red color of alchemical Potable Gold.  These are the jokes of the Creator embedded in her Creation.