Ethics and Orange-Leaf Water

A health story from ancient China
March 21, 2014 Updated: March 21, 2014

In ancient China, the renowned masters of traditional Chinese medicine were known for cultivating ethical behavior. They often avoided material gain and wealth, and pledged their life to the service of others. Their efforts to save people’s lives and relieve their suffering are now the basis of many folk legends.

One such legend involves a famous physician called Su Dan, who lived during the benevolent rule of Emperor Wen of China’s Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.). Su Dan was an excellent physician, but never charged patients for treatment. Due to his virtuous character, people called him the Immortal Su.

One year, Su Dan had to leave his home to further his education. Before departing, he said to his mother: “According to the theory of Five Movements and Six Qi, I deduced that there will be a typhoid epidemic next year. Many will suffer from severe fever and chills. Please boil an orange leaf with a liter [quart] of well water, and serve the concoction to patients. When they have been cured, don’t accept any compensation, as I never do.”

[Editor’s note: The theory of Five Elements and Six Qi is a theory that relates manifestations in the body to seasonal and cosmic changes].

The typhoid epidemic occurred as predicted by Su Dan, and his mother followed his instructions and cured many patients. Later, more patients traveled long distances to receive the well water and orange leaf medication and the remedy saved many people’s lives.

Orange leaf is now used in Chinese herbal medicine to cleanse the liver, help circulate qi (vital energy), and is an expectorant (medicine to help discharge mucus).

Hence, the story of Su Dan’s orange well water has been passed down from generation to generation, and the phrases “aromatic orange well water” or “coiling dragon orange well water” have become words of praise for a practitioner of Chinese medicine who exhibits noble conduct.

China Gaze is the English edition of the popular Chinese website and newspaper Kanzhongguo, which offers a window into the philosophy, culture, and beauty of China’s 5,000-year-old civilization.