Other Names

Cold food powder, cold mineral powder, fivemineral

powder, han-shih, han-shih san, han-shi

powder, medicinal powder made from the five

minerals, wu-shi

The Chinese politician He Yan (in office 240-249

C.E.) was one of the most important philosophers

of the Wei dynasty. After trying the han-shi

powder, he reported enthusiastically, "When one

takes the five mineral powder, not only are diseases

cured, but the mind is awakened and opened to

clarity" (in Wagner 1981,321).

The purported inventor or discoverer of the

drug, Huangfu Mi (215-282 C.E.), commented:

In recent times, He Yan has devoted his time to

music and esteemed sex, and when he took the

drug for the first time, he attained an additional

clarity of consciousness, and his physical

strength gradually grew stronger. [Because

of this], everyone was soon passing the drug

around in the capital city.... After his death,

the number of those who took it grew even

larger, and this did not change over time. (In

Wagner 1981,321)

The poet Su Shi (1036-1101) listed the main

ingredients of the drug:

It began with He Yan, that the people took

stalactites with aconite and uninhibitedly

abandoned themselves to wine [= sake] and

sex in order to extend their lives. In his youth,

He Yan was rich and respected, why should it

be such a surprise that he took the han-shi

powder in order to satisfy his desires? (In

Wagner 1981,321)

Although there is some connection between

the efficacious powder and the recipes of Taoist

alchemy, han-shi was used chiefly as an agent of

pleasure (Strickman 1979, 168). It was generously

consumed in circles that were already interested in


From the Wei period on [after 220 C.E.], one

encounters wine [pressed from grapes] in a

totally new context. It was consumed by the

feudal class with a consciousness-expanding

and potency-promoting drug-the han-shi

powder. According to the instructions of the

inventor Huang-fu Mi, the drug needed to be taken with hot, high-quality wine in order for

its effects to be released. The literature of the

time contains various reports of wine societies,

which were actually drug parties. The

combined effects of wine and drugs sometimes

caused things to get out of control. For

example, it was said that the wealthy Shi

Ch'ung would use so-called beautiful women

to encourage his guests to drink wine at his

banquets. In the event the guest did not drink

to complete excess, the woman would be executed.

(Majlis 1981,318)

Many han-shi consumers-and not only Taoists

and/or alchemists-also experimented with such

other drugs as sake, wine, brandy (alcohol), and

psychoactive mushrooms (Wagner 1973; Wagner

1981,322; cf. Strickman 1979 and Cooper 1984,23,

54, 62*). Unfortunately, we do not yet know the

identity of these psychoactive mushrooms (cf.

"Polyporus mysticus"). It also appears that the hanshi

powder was often used in the context of Taoist

sexual practices and sexual magic exercises.

Yii Chia-hsi (1938) has conducted research

into the recipe or recipes for making han-shi powder,

but only imprecise details are known:

The recipe for the drug is known. In addition

to various ingredients containing calcium

(stalactites [e guan shi], oyster shells [mu 11],

both ground) and numerous herbs, it contains

above all the poisonous aconite. Unfortunately,

no pharmacologist has studied this

complex drug to date, so that we provide no

information about experiments or theoretical

effects. (Wagner 1981, 321)

Unfortunately, Yii Chia-hsi did not indicate

whether the e guan shi (literally "gooseneck

stones" =stalactites) and oyster shells (most likely

Crassostrea gigas [Thunberg 1793])416 were pulverized

or burned/slaked. But it seems likely that

this was a slaked lime, for the recipes for all known

psychoactive products that are mixed with lime

require slaked lime (i.e., calcium hydroxide); cf.

Areca catechu, Erythroxylum coca, Nicotiana tabacum,

and betel quids. In addition to stalactites,

Shen Kuo names an additional plant ingredient:

Atractylodes macrocephala Koidz. (cf. sake). He considers the effects of the powder to be a product of

SYnergistic interactions between its components:

When a person ingests many minerals in one

medicine, then the minerals must be able to

work in synergy, and when in addition a

person further stimulates them with medicinal

plants, then the effect must be .very

strong. Thus, when the powder of the five

minerals is combined with different medicinal

plants, one should use only an extremely small

amount of mineral powder, for one must

produce the effects with only small amounts

of additives. (Shen Kuo 1997, 127 f.*)

Shen Kuo then mentions Sun Simajao, who

claimed that poison sumac (Rhus toxicondendron

1. [syn Toxicondendron quercifolium (Michx.)

Greene]) and kudzu vine (Pueraria lobata [Willd.]

Ohwi [sYn. Dolichos lobatus Willd., Pueraria thunbergiana

(Sieb. et Zucc.) Benth., Pueraria hirsuta

(Thunb.) Scheid. non Kurz]) were effective substitutes

for the dangerous five mineral powder (Shen

Kuo 1997, 129*).

Aconite is the only psychoactive ingredient (cf.

Aconitum spp.) known to be present in the powder.

It is possible that it reacts with the lime and

the other herbs in a SYnergistic manner, although

Su Shi claims that the other plants are not significant.

In addition, the inebriating effects of alcohol,

which was used as a carrier substance, should not

be underestimated or forgotten.

It would be truly interesting to reconstruct the

recipes and perform pharmacological tests on

humans with them. However, caution is advised,

for the Chinese literature also contains descriptions

of unpleasant side effects, emaciation resulting

from chronic use, and death from overdose

(Wagner 1981,322 f.).

Mailis, Brigitte. 1981. Alkoholische Getranke im

Alten China. In Rausch und Realitiit, ed. G.

Volger, 1: 314-19. Cologne: Rautenstrauch-JoestMuseum

fur Volkerkunde.

Needham, Joseph, and He Ping-Yii. 1959. Elixir

poisoning in mediaeval China. Janus 48.

Strickman, Michel. 1979. On the alchemy ofT'ao

Hung-ching. In Facets in Taoism, ed. Holmes

Welch and Anna Seidel, 123-92. New Haven and

London: Yale University Press.

Wagner, Rudolf G. 1973. Lebensstil und Drogen im

chinesischen Mittelalter. T 'oung Pao 59:79-178.

---.1981. Das Han-shi Pulver-eine "moderne"

Droge im mittelalterlichen China. In Rausch und

Realitiit, ed. G. Volger, 1:320-23. Cologne:

Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum fur Volkerkunde.

Yu Chia-hsi. 1938. Han-shih san k'ao. In Fu-jen

hsiieh-chih 7:29-63. (In Chinese.)

Top Contributors