Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica on Placenta Preparation

June 7, 2012

Most folks who prepare placentas for encapsulation, including myself, use what is called the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) method.  I’ve been looking into the history of this method, and would like to share what I have found.  I have not yet changed my approach to placenta encapsulation, but I am thinking about it.  I don’t want to be hasty, but neither do I want to continue a method for the wrong reasons, such as because everyone else does it this way.

An excerpt from Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, third edition, from the Placenta section, under “Preparation”:

Dried human placenta from a healthy primapara is preferred. It is washed in clean water, or water in which rice has been washed, the amniotic membrane and umbilical cord are removed, and the blood vessels surrounding it are lanced so that the blood can be thoroughly washed away. After the process of washing, the placenta is steamed or parboiled, then dried. It is important to ensure that all blood is removed.

There are many ways in which placenta is prepared in different parts of China. For example, in Jiangsu province the placenta is soaked for three days (or up to a week in winter) in clean water, which is changed two or three times every day to prevent decomposition. The blood vessels are lanced to eliminate blood, and the placenta is washed until the water is clear. It is then boiled until it floats, and the color of the inside and outside match. It is then baked dry at a very low temperature, after covering with a cloth to prevent it from blistering in the process. If this is done incorrectly, the placenta will be hard and heavy, and the baking process will bring out black spots. If done properly there will be no black spots, and the texture of the placenta will be soft and spongy.

In Hunan province a slightly different method of preparation is used. The newly-collected placenta is washed in water, a needle is used to prick all the blood vessels, and the placenta is soaked in alum water overnight. It is then thoroughly steamed, then rubbed with Olibanum (ru xiang) and a bit of white sorghum liquor (gin is a suitable substitute). It is then baked dry, turning frequently until it is yellow and completely dry.

After processing, the placenta still has a meaty flavor that some find nauseating. For such patients, the placenta can be encapsulated or made into pills.

Prepared Placenta

The fresh placenta is thoroughly cleaned of blood, then parboiled for several minutes in water previously used to decoct Zanthoxyli Pericarpium (hua jiao). It is then rinsed with clean water, soaked in yellow rice wine, and steamed, then baked dry. This process helps preserve the stability of the product while also reducing its unpleasant taste.

Wine-fried Placenta

The already prepared placenta is mixed with yellow rice wine, left covered briefly to absorb the wine, then dry-fried until crisp; it is powdered before dispensing. This method of preparation eliminates much of the objectionable meaty flavor and makes it easier to powder.

I was expecting to find here the commonly used formula of steaming with ginger, lemon and a pepper. Not so. Next installation, the history of the modern “TCM” method.

I’d also love to go into detail about how I think each of these preparations would be indicated or not for use during the postpartum.  For example, alum is used to stop bleeding and prevent infection, which sounds great postpartum!  As a side note, olibanum (ru xiang) is known in the west as frankincense.  I’ll talk more about that later.  Zanthoxyli pericarpium is pricklyash peel.

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Author Bio: Jasper Moon, CPM LMT (they/ them)

Perinatal care specialist. Spouse and parent. Vegan; drinks a lot of tea. Birthed our kid and also carried a surrogacy. Board game (and generally) geeky. Goat hugger extraordinaire.

Read more about Jay here.