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Treating Viral Infections with Chinese Herbal Medicines – The Complete Guide

Treating the Common Cold, Influenza, and other acute viral infections

By John Staversky, certified clinical herbalist

Introduction—A Bit of History

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory developed slowly over thousands of years in China. First came the concepts (out of Chinese culture at large) that undergird how they thought about the relationship between heath and nature. For example:

  • the Tao is the natural way of the universe and that healthy living flows out of this awareness of natural processes
  • the complementary balancing nature of Ying and Yang
  • the web of relationships among the 5 elements of nature (air, water, fire, earth, and metal) and their correspondences with a wide variety of aspects of life (e.g. emotions, health, colors, the seasons, the directions of the compass)

In fact, the very idea that the processes of the body follow certain natural rules and that health comes out of an understanding of the rules of living had already been codified by about 300 BC in a book called the Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine). But the first clinical discussion of health and disease came around the end of the Han Dynasty (c. 220 AD) in a book called the Shang Han Lun (Treatise on Cold Damage Diseases) compiled by Zhang Zhongling. In this work, the author describes an etiological theory of how one gets sick and then discusses a number of different herbal formulas for curing the patients he treats.

At its most basic level, one gets sick when an external pathogenic influence (referred to in TCM as wind, cold, damp, heat, and/or summer heat) invades the exterior layers of the body. The Wind is said to strike, and this Wind carries with it one of the other four “pernicious influences” into the exterior layers of the body. The Shang Han Lun, then, focused on attacks of Wind-Cold (given the cool, damp climate of the part of China where this theory developed). In a Wind-Cold attack, the symptoms we see are those we associate in modern times with the early stages of the common cold: the runny/stuffy nose, low-grade fever, body aches, and sore throat.

What happens next, according to TCM theory, depends on the ability of the body’s Wei (Defensive) Qi to expel the pathogen while it is still in the exterior layer of the body. If the Wei Qi is stronger than the invading pathogen, then the pathogen is vented out of the body and the patient does not get any worse. But on the other hand of the Wei Qi is weaker relative to the strength of the invading pathogen, then the pathogen sinks down into the interior of the body and it can be said that the Wind-Cold has turned to Wind-Heat. Wind-Heat (for the purpose of this discussion) is best thought of as the array of symptoms one shows when a cold settles in: low-grade fever, sore throat, body aches, and a dry cough.

So this theory of external disease put forth in the Shang Han Lun—that a pathogen invades from the outside and makes you sick (i.e. a Wind-Cold invasion)—existed in China for a very long time as the standard. But remember again that it developed in northerly climes where it is relatively cold and damp. So although people might have had the chills, runny nose, and lethargy characteristic of Wind-Cold, it would take days for the pathogenic influence to sink to the interior of the body to produce the more severe symptomology associated with Wind-Heat (this is another way of saying that because of the nature of their geography and climate, colds generally took a long time to “heat up” and turn into turn into the “flu”).

So through China’s long history (as their medical theory developed), diseases characterized by excess heat were not all that common; and when they did occur, they tended to start out cold, stay cold for days, turning hot only over a long period of time. So there just was not a great emphasis in TCM disease theory (based out of the Shang Han Lun) on “warm” diseases (or the herbs that specifically dealt with them).

But a new theoretical approach to deal with “warm pathogen diseases” (diseases that hit hard, fast, and above all “hot”) crystalized in the 18th century as new diseases appeared. These diseases (like diphtheria, malaria, and others of microbial origin characterized by acute, rapid on-set and burning fevers) did not start out relatively mild and “heat up” over time– instead they tended to hit communities hard and fast and create epidemics. The appearance of these new kinds of sicknesses and disease epidemics eventually led to a theory of Warm diseases—called the Wen Bing disease theory. This theory of warm diseases focused on dealing with invading pathogens that were so virulent that they quickly overwhelmed the body’s Wei Qi (moving quickly through the exterior layers of the body) and went straight to the interior where they created an excess of toxic heat. In dealing with these types of diseases, the physician’s goal emphasizes “clearing heat and resolving toxins”.  Many of the herbs that clear heat and resolve toxins (and the formulas they comprise) were discovered/re-discovered and emphasized during this period of history.

Many more herbs that clear heat and resolve toxins have been discovered since the 1950’s when the Maoist government sent medical personnel throughout the length and breadth of China to find obscure herbs that the villagers in the countryside knew about. They brought this information back, and slowly but surely it has been incorporated into the contemporary practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This has led to the creation of wholly new formulas (e.g. Gan Mao Ling (featured below)) as well as to the modifications of others that have their origins in the Wen Bing movement.

The Formulas

The point of the history lesson above is to explain that there are two basic strategies for dealing with diseases that originate from exterior pathenogenic influences invading the body. One can either:

  1. Address the infection/invasion while it is still in the exterior layers of the body, in which case the treatment strategy is called Release Exterior; or
  2. Deal directly with microbial invasions that are creating imbalance (i.e. toxic heat) within the interior of the body. In this case, the treatment strategy is to Clear Heat and Resolve Toxins.

In this blog post, we will look at eight different Chinese herbal formulas that use these two treatment strategies to address sickness caused by Wind-Heat (viral) attacks. In the clinic these formulas are most commonly used in treating colds and flu, although they do have wider applicability to address other viral conditions.

The first two formulas we will look at in this article are Sang Ju Yin Wan (Clear Wind Heat Teapills) and Yin Qiao. They address the earliest stages of a Wind-Heat attack via the treatment strategy of releasing the exterior—that is, venting the external pathogen before it has a chance to sink down into the interior.

The next two formulas address acute viral infections that have started sinking down into the interior layers of the body to varying degrees; they are: Gan Mao Ling and Zhong Gan Ling. These formulas, while still venting the exterior to a lesser degree than Sang Ju Yin and Yin Qiao, shift the focus toward using anti-viral herbs to eliminate the pathogens from the interior (referred to in TCM as the function of Clear Heat/Resolve Toxins).

The last group of formulas to be addressed in this article are excellent Clear Heat/Resolve Toxin formulas that address other interior viral infections/conditions not necessarily related to the upper respiratory tract. These are Chuan Xin Lian Wan, Ban Len Gen Wan, Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin (Universal Benefit Teapills) and Wu Wei Xiao Du Wan (Five Flavor Teapills).

Group 1: Sang Ju Yin and Yin Qiao Wind—Heat pathogen in the exterior/early stage cold/flu

1.1 Sang Ju Yin (Mulberry Leaf and Chrysanthemum Drink)

When to use Sang Ju Yin (Wan)Sang Ju Yin (Wan) is the first of two Release Exterior formulas to be discussed. It is appropriate for addressing the early stages of the common cold or flu with the specific symptom of a dry cough. Other symptoms that this formula is useful for are: low-grade fever, dry/mild sore throat, watery or red eyes, and headache. This formula is most effective when used within 12-24 hours of symptoms developing and should be discontinued if the cough begins producing phlegm (i.e. develops into Wind-Heat in the Lungs). It should also be discontinued if the fever, sore throat, and body aches/fatigue worsen—this is a sign that the viral attack has moved into the Interior and needs to be addressed with other formulas.

Sang Ju Yin may also be appropriate for use in the early presentation of other conditions caused by invading heat toxins such as conjunctivitis, measles, chicken pox, and influenza.

Detailed Formula Breakdown:

This formula addresses the initial stage of a warm pathogen disease. The pathogen enters the body through the nose and mouth, first moving into the collateral channels of the Lungs where it obstructs and disrupts the normal flow and function of Lung Qi. Sang Ju Yin, then, works to:

  1. Release the warm pathogen from the collateral Lung Channels before it has a chance to sink into the interior of the Lung; and
  2. Disseminates (moves) the Lung Qi which has been obstructed by the pathogen.

Sang Ju Yin itself comprises eight herbs. The chief herbs are Sang ye (mulberry leaf) and Ju hua (chrysanthemum flower), which function to release the exterior (release the invading pathogenic influence (Wind-Heat) from the exterior layers of the body).

Two of the deputies in this formula, Lian qiao (forsythia) and Bo he (mint) are present to help the two chief herbs with their release exterior function. Lian qiao has anti-viral properties as well (something not known in classical times but nonetheless a beneficial aspect of this herb), and Bo he has the additional quality of bringing heat up from the interior to the exterior layers of the body before venting that heat out.

Sang Ye also has the specific function of helping to arrest cough, as do Xing ren (apricot pit) and Jie geng (platycodon). Sang ye specifically facilitates the flow of Lung Qi in the collateral channels of the lung (i.e. helps with early stages of a cough), and Xing ren and Jie geng work together to manipulate the Qi dynamic in the lung more generally; thus these three herbs work together to stop coughing before it can sink down into the lungs and create phlegm (i.e. turn to Lung Heat).

Lu gen (phragmites rhizome) assists in this formula by moistening the Lungs (helps with dry cough/overall balance in the Lung), and Gan cao (licorice root) clears additional heat and harmonizes the actions of the other seven herbs.

1.2 Yin Qiao (Honeysuckle and Forsythia (Tablets)

When to use Yin Qiao: Yin Qiao is indicated for the early stage of acute onset cold and flu marked most notably by low grade fever and sore throat. Other symptoms indicating the use of this formula are headache, aching shoulders and neck, and thirst. It is most effective when taken within 12-24 hours of the earliest symptoms of sore throat and/or achiness.  For myself, I take 3 tablets every three hours until the either the sore throat and/or achiness goes away or the symptoms get worse. It should be noted that like Sang Ju Yin (above), the main treatment strategy of this formula is to release the exterior; therefore, once the viral pathogen works its way into the interior with more pronounced symptoms (e.g. higher fever, worsening sore throat, and/or the dry cough develops into a phlegmy, productive cough associated with some kind of chest/bronchial infection), its use should be discontinued and another formula to deal with Lung Heat w/toxins should be chosen.

Yin Qiao was also used classically as a pediatric formula and is appropriate for pediatric ear infection, tonsillitis, and a range of childhood viral diseases such as measles and chicken pox; however, please consult a trained TCM practitioner when administering this formula for children. The tablets in the bottle are formulated for adults—so while it is possible for a layperson to reduce the dosage for a child that weighs a fraction of what an adult does, it is not possible to modify the formula (like an herbalist can when mixing powders or raw herbs) to take into account the sensitivity with which a child’s system will process the herbs (nor to closely monitor their progress and make fine adjustments as treatment progresses).

Detailed Formula Breakdown: The main focus of this formula is to drive the viral pathogen out of the exterior layers of the body. The two chief herbs that do this are Jin yin hua (lonicera) and Lin qiao (forsythia). They are assisted in this task by Jing jie (Schizonepeta) and Bo he (mint), which also function to bring heat up and out of the interior—this means that by their very “inside 🡪 outside” nature they are fighting the Wind-Heat’s (virus and its symptoms) tendency to go deeper into the body.

It should also be noted that Jin yin hua and Lin qiao (which comprise roughly 35% of this formula) are ascending and dispersing herbs that also have anti-viral properties. This increases the effectiveness of this formula because it means that these two herbs are fighting the virus in the exterior layers of the body at the same time they are working to drive it out.

Dan dou chi (fermented soybean) is a cooling herb which reinforces the effect of driving Wind-Heat out of the body.

Dan zhu ye (lophatherum) is another cooling herb that clears heat in the Qi meridians. It is included in Yin Qiao in order to cool fever.

Niu bang zi (arctium/burdock fruit) has a cold nature and its function is to disperse Wind-Heat toxins (i.e. symptoms of the cold/flu). In this formula it is added to alleviate sore throat.

Gan cao (licorice root); Gan cao is here again as a harmonizing agent for the formula. It has heat clearing properties as well, so it fits with the overall “direction” of Yin Qiao.

Group 2: Gan Mao Ling and Zhong Gan Ling—Pathogen sinking into the interior/severe cold & flu

2.1 Gan Mao Ling

When to use Gan Mao Ling: Gan Mao Ling is a modern formula developed in Taiwan that has become quite popular for use in fighting respiratory viruses (colds and flu) since its introduction in 1988. While it is appropriate for use with early stage cold and flu (like Yin Qiao), its function is weighted a bit less toward the release exterior function and a little more toward the clear heat/resolve toxin function. This means that it contains a greater percentage of anti-viral herbs (roughly 75% of the formula) that are meant to attack the virus as it is starting to sink into the interior of the body. There is still some release exterior function happening with this formula, but the emphasis is shifting because the person is now presenting with such symptoms as: increasing fever (w/chills), worsening sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches, swollen glands, and stuffy/blocked sinuses and/or sinus headaches—in short, what we might call the “severe cold/flu stage”.

This formula is appropriate to take at the first sign of cold and flu symptoms (5 tablets every three hours); in fact, it is especially effective if taken in conjunction with Yin Qiao. If taken together, you get a very strong release exterior effect (from the Yin Qiao) combined with the strong anti-viral herbs in Gan Mao LIng—a potent one-two punch. Remember, though, that Yin Qiao is contraindicated if the cold and flu symptoms get worse—not so with Gan Mao Ling however, as Gan Mao LIng is meant to deal with Wind-Heat between the exterior and interior layers of the body (called Shaoyang syndrome in TCM language); therefore you can keep taking it as the cold and flu symptoms get worse (although as Wind-Heat sinks fully into the Lungs you will need most likely see diminishing returns and should consult your TCM trained health care practitioner in order to change treatment strategies).

One other note: this is an energetically “cold” formula and can thus be the source of stomach distention, pain, and/or loose stools, in which case its use should be discontinued.

Detailed Formula Breakdown:

The two chief herbs in this formula, Gang mei gen (ilex root) and San cha ku (evodia leaf), plus Ban lan gen (itasis root), all function to Clear Heat and Resolve Toxins—that is, they are strong anti-viral herbs (that make up roughly ¾ of this formula).

Jin yin hua (lonicera) and Ye ju hua (wild chrysanthemum) clear heat and release the exterior. Ye Jin Hua is exceptionally strong in this regard and is effective at addressing sore throat.

Huang jing zhi (polygonatum) is added to this formula to help sooth dry cough and also to help tonify the middle (i.e. help to digest and process such an energetically cold formula).

2.2 Zhong Gan Ling (severe cold & flu formula)

This is another modern formula that is appropriate for use after the initial stages of cold and flu have passed (after the first 24-48 hrs. of onset of symptoms) and the pathogens have begun to sink into the interior (the shaoyang stage of illness). Generally speaking, this formula addresses cold and flu when symptoms have become severe but not yet developed into a chest infection like bronchitis or pneumonia. Specifically, this formula addresses high fever and aching muscles in the shoulders and neck. Again, it should be noted that this is another energetically “cold” formula and prolonged use can cause upset stomach and/or loose stools, in which case the dosage should be lowered/monitored accordingly.

Detailed Formula Breakdown:

Zhong Gao Ling treats invasion by external pathogens that have reached the shaoyang stage. At this point it is no longer appropriate to try to release the pathogen through the exterior layer; rather, herbs that clear heat and resolve toxins must be directed to the blood level where they can attack the viruses that are causing the symptomology  of “severe” cold and flu (fever of 101.5 and higher, severe sore throat and head and body aches).

Being a modern formulation, the chief-assistant-deputy model of formulation was not used. Instead, several herbs with strong anti-viral properties have been combined to resolve toxins and clear heat:

Mao dong qing (pubescent ilex root) and Ma bian cao (verbena) are anti-viral herbs that travel to the blood level to resolve toxins and clear heat

Shi gao (gypsum) and Ban lan gen (itasis root) reduce fever; Qing hao (artemisia) is another heat-clearing herb that enters the body at the blood level to assist Shi gao and Ban lan gen in getting deeper into the interior to combat fever (often referred in TCM as “blazing fire”).

Ge gen (pueraria) and Qiang huo (notoptergium) are potent wind dispelling herbs that release the muscle layer to ease painful tension and spasming in the neck and shoulders. Additionally, because these two herbs travel to an exterior locus of the body, they provide essential balance to a formula that contains five other herbs that go to the blood level to do their work. Ge gen and Qiang huo do this by providing an “up and out” pathway for the body to expel toxins.

Group 3: Other Anti-Viral Formulas

3.1 Chuan Xin Lian Wan (Andiographis Pill)

Chuan Xin Lian Wan is an anti-viral formula indicated for an acute heat toxin attack (w/inflammation) in the throat, liver, and/or lymph glands. I use it most commonly in the clinic for clients with cold and flu characterized by sore throat, but its applications are much wider: it can be effective in treating viral tonsillitis, viral hepatitis, measles, mumps, and herpes simplex and zoster.  It can also be used as a general, system-wide heat-toxin removal formula or combined with other formulas to target specific areas (e.g. used with Long Dan Xie Gan Wan to address the herpes virus and other liver disorders or with Qian Lie Xian Wan for damp-heat/infections in the urinary tract).

Detailed Formula Breakdown:

Chuan Xin Lian Wan contains three anti-viral herbs:

Chuan xin lian (andiographis) is specific to the throat, appropriate for treating sore throat and swollen lymph glands, tonsillitis and other such conditions.

Ban lan gen (itasis root) works to reduce fever (clear heat) and resolve toxins throughout the body. It also has the property of removing congealed blood from the throat (called “throat bi (obstruction)” in TCM language).

Pu gong ying (Asian dandelion): this herb goes directly to the liver channel and thus is helpful in addressing viral conditions in the liver. Additionally, Pu gong ying helps detox the liver after it has cleaned the lymph.

3.2 Ban Len Gen Wan

Ban Lan Gen Wan is another TCM formula used for the used for the prevention and treatment of virus-related respiratory diseases such as influenza. It is especially effective at reducing high fever and reducing inflammation, whether this inflammation is specific to a certain area of the body or of a more generalized nature.

Detailed Formula BreakdownBan Lan Gen Wan, like Chuan Xin Lian Wan is composed of three anti-viral herbs, making it effective at addressing Toxic heat conditions in the body. The differences lie in the emphases of three herbs in this formula:

Ban len gen (itasis root) is known for going down into the interior levels of the body to clear heat—in other words, this presence of this herb in this formula is for the purpose of reducing high fever. It also works in tandem with Zi hua di ding (viola) to address conditions in which there is a build up of toxins/swelling in the throat (swollen glands, sore throat, tonsillitis etc…). Zi hua di dang clears heat toxins and reduces swelling and inflammation generally, and the Ban lan gen removes congealed blood through to the liver for cleansing (i.e. treats stagnation). So whereas Chuan Xin Lian Wan’s emphasis is on sending an anti-viral herb directly to the throat to outright kill viruses, Ban Lan Gen Wan’s emphasis is more to reduce system-wide fever/infection with a secondary emphasis on swelling and toxicity in the throat.

The third herb in the formula is Pu gong ying (Asian dandelion) which we first met above in formula 3.1 (Chuan Xin Lian Wan). In the new formula Ban Len Gen Wan, it again serves the function of clearing heat and removing toxins from liver, helping the body to heal completely from a viral attack.

3.3 Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin  (Universal Benefit Drink to Eliminate Toxin)

This is a classical formula (developed over 800 years ago) to deal with virulent disease outbreaks and epidemics resulting from the influx of foreigners into China.  It has both anti-viral and anti-bacterial herbs within it and thus is an excellent choice for acute onset cold and flu (Wind-heat invasion) marked by high fever, sore throat, and swollen glands (excellent for strep throat as well).

Detailed Formula Breakdown

The chief herbs in this formula are Huang qin (Chinese skullcap) and Huang lian (coptis root). These two herbs have both anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities to them and are go-to herbs in the Chinese Medica for resolving Damp-Heat conditions. in the Plum Flower version of this formula, these two herbs are processed by being stir-fried in wine to help direct them to the head and neck, where the Wind-Heat pathogen is invading.

Lian qiao (forsythia) and Ban lan gen (itasis root) are also present in this formula in slightly smaller proportions for their anti-viral and heat clearing actions.

There are three herbs in this formula specific to aiding the throat: Niu bang zi (burdock fruit—which is also used in Yin Qiao (formula 1.2) for the same purpose, Ma Bo (lasiosphaera/puffball), which clears heat specifically in the lungs and throat, and Xuan shen (scrophularia/figwort root), which is the main herb in this formula that directly addresses toxic swelling in the lymph glands (caused by all the other anti-microbial herbs doing their job).

Other herbs in this formula works in varying ways to help expel Wind from the body (i.e. arrest a pathogenic influence that is sinking into the interior of the body and push it up and out): Chai Hu (bupleurum), Sheng ma (cimicifuga rhizome), and Huang qin (Chinese skullcap) combine to take Wind-Heat that is trapped between interior and exterior layers (shaoyang stage) and releases it through the muscle layer.  Jie geng (platycodon) assists in the function through its quality of dispelling phlegm from the lungs and throat (i.e. an “up and out” directionality to its nature). Lian qiao (forsythia) is also an herb with exterior-releasing properties.

3.4 Wu Wei Xiao Du Wan (Five Flavor Teapill)

This formula was originally created in the 1700’s to treat boils, carbuncles, and other hard sores as well as infected wounds accompanied by infection and high fever (when a blood poisoning was a deadly serious threat). In the modern clinic, it is indicated for a variety of conditions in which there is an inflammatory response marked by heat, redness, pain, and swelling (e.g. infected wounds, scrofula, and other skin infections) as well as a variety of other conditions (e.g. blood infections, urinary tract/kidney infections, impetigo, and mastitis). This can also be a helpful formula for dealing with conditions not responding well to antibiotics.

Detailed formula Breakdown

This formula addresses fire toxins that accumulate in the body and create hard sores that are red and painful. The chief herb in this formula is Jin yin hua (lonicera), which functions here to pull heat out of the qi and blood levels and dissipate the swellings caused by that heat. The remaining four herbs in this formula are also cooling, anti-viral herbs and which reduce swellings and disperse clumps: Zi hua di dang (viola), Tian kui zi (semiaquilegia– this herb is specific for use with hardened, infected sores), Pu gong ying (Asian dandelion), and Ye ju hua (wild chrysanthemum flower)

Single Herbs used in Anti-Viral Formulas

Ban lan gen

English Name: isatis root

Pharmaceutical name: Radix Isatidis

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Toxin-Eliminating Herbs

Properties: Ban lan gen enters the Heart and Stomach channels. It is bitter in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Ban Lan Gen?: Ban Lan Gen is the root of the itasis plant, originally native to China and India, but now cultivated in the West as well. The roots are harvested in the autumn, sun-dried, and sliced for use as medicine.

TCM actions of Ban Lan Gen: Ban Len Gen has excellent properties to clear heat and remove toxins from both the exterior and interior layers of the body. It cools the blood (which helps reduce fever) and benefits the throat, and eliminates toxins from the body.

Bo He

English Name: Mint

Pharmaceutical Name: Herba Menthae

Medica Category: Wind-Heat Releasing Herbs

Properties: Bo He enters the Lung and Liver channels; it is acrid in nature and cool in temperature.

What is Bo He?: Bo He is the aerial parts of the common mint plant (Mentha haplocalyx Briq.)

TCM properties of Bo He: Bo He releases the exterior and clears heat and is used to vent pathogens out of the exterior (especially for complaints related to the head, eyes, and throat). Because of its ascending nature, it can be used with other herbs in formula to bring interior heat up and out of the body as well.

Chai Hu

English Name: Bupleurum, Chinese thorowax root

Pharmaceutical Name: Radix Bupleuri

Literal Translation: “Kindling of the Barbarians”

Medica category: Wind-Heat Releasing Herbs

Properties: Chai Hu enters the Liver and Gallbladder channels. It is bitter and acrid in nature and cool in temperature.

What is Chai Hu?:  Chai hu is the unprocessed root of the Bupleurum plant (Bupleurum chinensis DC. or Bupleurum scorzonerifolium)., a perennial native to China and Japan but now dispersed throughout North America as well.

Primary TCM Actions of Chai Hu: In the formula Pu Ji Xiao Du Win, Chai hu (in combination with Sheng ma and Dan dou chi) works to expel pathenogenic wind that is trapped between the interior and exterior layers of the body (helps in resolving shaoyang syndrome).

Chuan xin lian

English Name: andrographis

Literal Translation: “penetrate the heart lotus”

Pharmaceutical name: Herba Andrographis

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Toxin-Eliminating Herbs

Properties: Chuan xin lian enters the Lung, Stomach, Large Intestine, and Small Intestine channels is bitter in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Chuan Xin Lian?: Chuan xin lian is the dried flowers and stems of the andrographis plant (Andrographis paniculate). This is another very bitter herb (like Ban lan gen) with anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

TCM actions of Chuan Xin LIan: Chuan xin lian clears heat and eliminates toxins in cases where the symptoms present as sore throat, headaches, fever, and cough—that is, Wind-Heat symptoms.

Andrographis is known in Western herbology to be specific to the throat—it works well for sore throat that have that sharp, “razor blade” pain when you swallow.

Dan dou chi

English Name: fermented soybean

Pharmaceutical name: Semen Sojae Praeparatum

Medica Category: Wind-Heat Releasing Herbs

Properties: Dan dou chi enters the Lung and Stomach channels. It is acrid, sweet, and slightly bitter in nature nd cold in temperature.

What is Dan dou chi?: Dan dou chi are black soybeans that are press-steamed, fermented, and the sun-dried before being used as medicine.

TCM actions of Dan dou chi: Dan dou chi has a release exterior/heat clearing effect and can release both Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat pathogens. Its effects are mild, which makes it a good choice to use singly (i.e. eaten as food) for elderly or febrile patients; furthermore, it works to clear Stomach heat that can lead to food stagnation in these same older/febrile patients with poor digestion.

Dan zhu ye

English Name: lophatherum

Literal Translation: “bland bamboo leaves”

Pharmaceutical name: Herba Lophatheri

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Fire-Purging Herbs

Properties: Dan zhu ye enters the Heart, Stomach, and Small Intestines. It is sweet and bland in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Dan Zhu Ye?: Dan Zhu Ye comes from a type of Asian bamboo that grows as a long-leaved grass (Lophathenum gracile Brongn.). The leaves are harvested in the late summer, separated from the roots and spica, and dried for use as medicine.

TCM actions of Dan Zhu Ye: Dan zhu ye clears Heart and Stomach heat that shows up as the symptoms of irritability and thirst; additionally it promotes urination.

It also has an ascending and dispersing nature and thus clears heat form the exterior levels of the body.

Gan cao

English Name: licorice root

Pharmaceutical name: Radix Glycyrrhizae

Medica Category: Qi-Tonifying Herbs

Properties: Gan Cao enters the Spleen, Stomach, Lung, and Heart channels. It is sweet in nature and neutral in temperature.

What is Gan Cao?: Gan Cao is the dried and sliced root of the common licorice plant.

TCM actions of Gan Cao: Gan Cao is used in Sang Ju Yin and Yin Qiao to clear heat from the qi (exterior level), to moisten the Lungs (to help with dry cough), and to harmonize the functions of the different herbs in each formula.

Ge Gen 

English Name: kudzu, pueraria root, East Asian arrowroot

Pharmeceutical Name: Radix Puerariae

Medica Category: Wind-Heat Releasing Herbs

Properties: Ge Gen enters the Spleen and Stomach channels; it is sweet and acrid in nature and cool in temperature.

What is Ge Gen?: Ge Gen is the root of the kudzu plant (Pueraria lobata in the wild); the cultivated variety of the plant is called (Pueraria thomsonii Benth.), and the Chinese herb derived from the root of  this cultivated form of Kudzu is called Gan Ge.

TCM properties of Ge Gen: Ge Gen has an ascending nature and is indicated for expelling Wind-heat from the exterior. It also generate fluids—this helps alleviate thirst and dry mouth.

Huang Qin

English Name: scutellaria, Baikal skullcap root

Pharmaceutical name: Radix Scutellariae

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Dampness-Drying Herbs

Properties: Huang qin enters the Lung, Gallbladder, Stomach, and Large Intestine channels. It is bitter in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Huang Qin?: Huang qin is the dried (but otherwise unprocessed) root of the Baikal Skullcap plant (Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi).

TCM actions of Huang Qin: Huang Qin is one of the “three yellows”, which are three herbs in the Chinese Medica used to clear damp heat and resolve fire toxins. In general, Huang Qin is best at clearing this heat in the lungs, stomach, and large intestines. It has both anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and treats a wide variety of heat related disorders in which the patient had a greasy yellow tongue coating and a rapid and slippery pulse.

In the formula Pu Ji Xiao Du Wan this herb is stir-fried in wine to direct its action to the head and throat where the Wind-Heat toxin is attacking.

Huang Lian

English Name: coptis root

Pharmaceutical name: Rhizoma Coptidis

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Dampness-Drying Herbs

Properties: Huang Lian enters the Heart, Liver, Stomach, and Large Intestine channels. It is bitter in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Huang Lian?: Huang Lian is the dried, unprocessed root of the Coptis plant (Coptis chinensis Franch)

TCM actions of Huang Lian: Huang Lian is one of the “three yellows”, which are three herbs in the Chinese Medica that clear damp heat and resolve fore toxins. In general, Huang Lian is used in Chinese medicine to address gastro-intestinal complaints, diarrhea, and bacterial infections. Its nature is to travel to the Liver and Stomach (to clear dampness and heat); in the formula Pu Xi Xiao Du Wan, it is stir-fried in wine to direct its anti-bacterial effect to the lungs and throat.

Jie geng

English Name: platycodon

Literal Translation: “solid and straight root”

Pharmaceutical name: Radix Platycodonis

Medica Category: Phlegm-Resolving Herbs

Properties: Platycodon enters the Lung channel. It is bitter and acrid in nature and neutral in temperature.

What is Jie Geng?: Jie geng is the dried root of a perennial plant called the balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorum (Jacq.) A. DC.) native to much of East Asia.

TCM actions of Jie Geng: Jie geng enters the Lung where it works to dispel phlegm and ventilate the Lung channels; it is used to treat coughs with profuse sputum, alleviate sore throat, and address  hoarseness in the voice.

Because Jie geng enters only the Lung channel, in formula it guides other herbs that clear heat and resolve toxins to the lungs to more effectively treat Wind-Heat invasions.

Jin yin hua

English Name: lonicera flower, honeysuckle flower

Pharmaceutical name: Flos Lonicerae

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Toxin-Eliminating Herbs

Properties: Jin yin hua enters the Lung, Stomach, and Large Intestine channels. It is sweet in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Jin Yin Hua?: Jin yin hua is the dried flower of the Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica—one of over 200 different kinds of honeysuckles of the genus Lonicera).

TCM actions of JIn Yin Hua: Jin yin hua is used in Chinese medicine to clear heat and remove toxins before they have sunk down into the interior layers of the body. It has a wide variety of applications depending on the other herbs with which it is combined in formula. It is most notably used as one of the chief herbs in the formula Yin Qiao to clear hear from the exterior layers of the body.

Jing jie

English Name: schizonepeta

Pharmaceutical name: Herba Schizonepetae

Medica Category: Wind-Cold Releasing Herbs

Properties: Jing jie is acrid in nature and slightly warm in temperature.

What is Jing jie?: Jing jie comes from a flowering plant resembling a thistle. Schizonepeta tenuifolia is the genus and species used medicinally; the aerial parts are harvested in late autumn/early and dried before being used.

TCM actions of Jing jie: Jing jie is used in formula to release the exterior in cases of either Wind-Cold or Wind Heat. It also has the related but separate function of dispelling wind, which makes it appropriate for venting rashes and alleviating itching.

Ju Hua

English Name: Chrysanthemum Flower

Pharmaceutical Name: Flos Chrysanthemi

Medica Category: Wind-Heat Releasing Herbs

Properties: Ju hua enters the Lung and Liver channels; it is acrid and sweet in nature and cool in temperature.

What is Ju Hua?: Ju hua is the unprocessed blossom of the plant chrysanthemum morifolium (minus stem and leaves).

TCM properties of Ju Hua: Ju Hua dispels Wind-Heat form the exterior layers of the body. It has an ascending nature and thus is especially effective at addressing complaints (due to Wind-Heat invasion) such as headache, dry/red eyes eyes, dizziness, and dry mouth and throat.

Lian Qiao

English name: forsythia fruit

Pharmaceutical name: Fructus Forsythiae

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing Herbs

Properties: Lian Qiao enters the Lung, Heart, and Gallbladder channels; it is bitter in nature and cool in temperature

What is Lian Qiao?: Lian Qiao is the ripening fruit of the Forsythia plant (which is green in color, sometimes referred to as Qing Qiao). Fully ripened forsythia fruit can be used as well—they are referred to as is Liao Qiao in Chinese nomenclature– but are considered to be less effective that the semi-matured, green fruits.

TCM actions of Lian Qiao?: Lian Qiao has an ascending and dispersing nature and is used to clear heat and eliminate toxins from the exterior layers of the body (i.e. clears exterior wind heat). In other contexts it can be used in formula to clear heat from the interior of the body as well (i.e. from the blood/nutritive level).

Lu gen

English Name: phragmites root

Pharmaceutical name: Rhizoma Phragmatis

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Fire-Purging Herbs

Properties: Lu gen enters the Lung and Stomach channels. It is sweet in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Lu Gen?: Lu gen is the rhizome of the common aquatic reed Phragmites (Phramites communis Trin.), a name given to several species of wetland grasses with feathery flowers and hollow stems that can grow up to 15 feet high. The rhizomes that are used medicinally are prepared by digging up the stalks and removing the fibrous root material. The skin is then peeled off the remaining rhizome and dried in the sun.

TCM actions of Lu Gen: Lu gen clears heat and generates fluids in the Lung and Stomach. It is used in San Ju Yin to help counter the heat and dryness in the lungs and throat that comes with a Wind-Heat invasion.

Ma bian cao

English Name: verbena

Pharmaceutical name: Herba Verbenae

Medica Category: Blood-Invigorating and Stasis-Removing Herbs

Properties: Ma bian cao enters the Liver and Spleen channels. It is bitter in nature and cool in temperature.

What is Ma Bian Cao?: Ma bian cao is known in English as (European) Verbena (Verbena officinalis). It is a perennial herb that blooms in the late summer with its distinctive blue flowers, and is also known by other common names, such as (blue) vervain, wild hyssop, and holy herb (Christian legend holds that this herb was used to tend to Jesus’ wounds on the cross). Today it is cultivated around the world, and although in Western herbal use the single herb is commonly steeped in hot water and drunk as tea, in Chinese medicine the aerial parts of the plant are dried and ground up for use in formula.

TCM actions of Ma Bian Cao: Ma bian cao invigorates the blood (circulation) to remove stasis and disperse masses.

Ma Bian Cao also clears toxic heat from the blood (interior) level of the body and is added to Zhong Gao Ling to help alleviate severe sore throat.

Ma Bo

English Name: lasiosphaera, puffball

Pharmaceutical name: Lasiosphaera seu Calvatia

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Toxin-Eliminating herbs

Properties: Ma bo enters the Lung channel. It is acrid in nature and slightly cool in temperature.

What is Ma Bo?: Ma Bo is the fruiting body (sporocarp) of the puffball mushroom (Lasiosphaera fenzlii Reich., Calvatia gigantean (Batsch ex Pers.) Lloyd. or Calvatia lilacina (Mont. et Berk.) Lloyd.). They are harvested when ripe in the late summer/early autumn. The hard skin is peeled off; it is then cut into cubes and pounded into powder for use as medicine.

TCM actions of  Ma Bo: Ma Bo is commonly used to clear heat and eliminate toxins from the the upper body. It is included in the formula Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin to treat sore/swollen throat and loss of voice.

Mao dong qing

English Name: ilex pubescentis

Pharmaceutical name: Radix Ilicis Pubescentis

Medica Category: Blood-Invigorating and Stasis-Removing Herbs

Properties: Mao dong qing enters the Heart channel. It is bitter and astringent in nature and neutral in temperature.

What is Mao Dong Qing?: Mao dong qing is the dried, sliced root of a type of holly plant (ilex pubescens Hook et Am.).

TCM actions of Mao Dong Qing: Mao dong qing is used in the formula Zhong Gan Ling for its actions of clearing heat, and eliminating toxins in the interior levels of the body. It also treats coughing and sore throat caused by lung heat.

Niu bang zi

English Name: arctium, burbock fruit

Pharmaceutical name: Fructus Arctii

Medica Category: Wind-Heat Releasing Herbs

Properties: Niu Bang Zi enters the Lung and Stomach channels. It is acrid and bitter in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Niu Bang Zi?: Niu Bang Zi is the ripe fruit of the Burdock plant (Arctium lappa L.) which is dried and pounded into a powder for medicinal use.

TCM actions of Niu Bang Zi: Niu Bang Zi clears heat and dispels wind in the head and neck; its use in Yin Qiao is to address the sore throat that comes with a Wind-Heat attack.

Pu gong ying

English Name: (Asian) dandelion

Pharmaceutical name: Herba Taraxaci

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Toxin-Eliminating Herbs

Properties: Pu gong ying enters the Liver and Stomach channels. It is bitter and sweet in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Pu Gong Ying?: Pu gong ying is dried dandelion (all parts of the plant).

TCM actions of Pu Gong Ying: Pu gong ying is an anti-viral herb that goes directly to the Liver to clear heat and eliminate toxins. In the context of Wind-Heat formulas, it both fights the invading viral pathogens (in general) and also assists the Liver in cleaning the lymph fluid.

Qing hao

English Name: artemisia

Pharmaceutical name: Herba Artmeisiae Annuae

Medica Category: Deficiency-Heat Clearing Herbs

Properties: Qing hao enters the Liver, Gallbladder, and Stomach channels. It is bitter and acrid in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Qing Hao?: Qing Hao is the dried stems and leaves of the artemisia plant (Artemisia annua L….   other common English names for this plant are sweet wormwood and sweet annie). It is harvested in before the flowers appear; the stems and leaves are dried but otherwise unprocessed for use as medicine.

TCM actions of Qing Hao: Qing Hao is most notably used to treat the alternating fever and chills of malaria. More generally, it is used to clear heat in the blood levels without damaging body fluids. In the formula Zhong Gan Ling, it combines with Shi gao and Ban lan gen to help reduce fever.

Qiang huo

English Name: notopterygium

Pharmaceutical name: Rhizoma et Radix Notopterygii

Medica Category: Wind-Cold Releasing Herbs

Properties: Qiang Huo enters the Urinary Bladder and Kidney channels. It is acrid and bitter in nature and warm in temperature.

What is Qiang Huo?: Qiang Huo is the dried, sliced roots and rhizomes of the flowering plant (Notopterygium incisum Ting. in the Family Apiaceae) that grows naturally in the mountain scrubs and grasslands in West and Central China. The plants are harvested in the winter and spring; the roots are cleaned of their fibrous material, dried, and sliced for use as medicine.

TCM actions of Qiang Huo: Qiang Huo releases wind, cold, and dampness from the exterior layer to relieve pain—it is used in Zhong Gao Ling (in combination with Ge Gen) to relieve aching neck and shoulders that come with a severe cold or flu.

Sang ye

English Name: mulberry leaf

Pharmaceutical name: Folium Mori

Medica Category: Wind-Heat Releasing Herbs

Properties: Sang Ye enters the Lung and Liver channels. It is bitter and sweet in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Sang Ye?: Sang Ye is the dried, unprocessed leaf of the mulberry tree (Morus Alba L.)

TCM actions of Sang Ye: Sang Ye clears heat from the Lungs—it is most notably used to dispel cough (especially in formula with Xing Ren) but it also helps with the other symptoms of associated with Wind-Heat.

Sang Ye also clears heat from the Liver (calms rising Liver Yang) to assist with the Wind-Heat symptoms of red, dry, itchy eyes.

Sheng ma

English Name: cimicifuga

Pharmaceutical name: Rhizoma cimicifufae

Medica Category: Wind-Heat Releasing Herbs

Properties: Sheng ma enters the Lung, Spleen, Large Intestine, and Stomach channels; it is acrid and sweet in nature and cool in temperature.

What is Sheng ma?: Sheng ma is the Root of perennial plant Cimicifuga heracleifolia Kom., Cimifuga dahurican (Turcz.) Maxim., or Cimicifuga foetida L. of family Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family). The root is cut into pieces and dried but otherwise left unprocessed before used medicinally.

TCM actions of Sheng Ma: Sheng ma is an herb with ascending and dispersing qualities that is used to vent the exterior. In the formula Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin, its actions combine with those of Chai hu and Dan dou chi to perform this function.

Shi gao

English Name: gypsum

Pharmaceutical name: Gypsum Fibrosum

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Fire-Purging Herbs

Properties: Shi Gao enters the Lung and Stomach channels. It acrid and sweet in nature and very cold in temperature.

What is Shi Gao?: Shi Gao is fibrous gypsum, a mineral composed mostly of calcium and sulfur with a satiny, silky sheen to its surface.

TCM actions of Shi Gao: Shi Gao clears heat from the Lung and Stomach and is used in formula to reduce high fevers (“sedate fire” in the qi levels). It also has the quality of not having a drying effect (unlike many other heat-clearing herbs). Note, though, that it is energetically very cold and thus should not be used long term (only until the fire has been sedated).

Tian kui zi

English Name: semiaquilegia root

Pharmaceutical name: Radix Semiaquilegiae

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Toxin Eliminating Herbs

Properties: Tian kui zi enters the Liver, Spleen, and Urinary Bladder channels. It is sweet and bitter in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Tian Kui Zi?:  Tian kui zi is the dried, sliced root of the semiaquilegia plant (a native of South-East Asia).

TCM actions of Tian Kui Zi: Tian kui zi is used specifically to dissipate hardened, infected nodules/sores created as a by-product of excess heat in the qi and blood levels of the body.

Xing ren

English Name: apricot seed

Pharmaceutical name: Semen Armeniacae Amarum

Medica Category: Coughing and Wheezing-Relieving Herbs

Properties: Xing ren enters the Lung and Large Intestine channels.

What is Xing Ren?: Xing ren is the dried kernel of the pit of a ripe apricot. The kernels are pounded into a powder for use as medicine.

TCM actions of Xing Ren: This herb enters the Lungs with a downward action to help stop the coughing that is symptomatic of the initial phases of a Wind-Heat invasion.

Xuan shen

English Name: scrophularia, Chinese (or Ningpo) figwort root,

Pharmaceutical name: Radix Scrophulariae

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Blood-Cooling Herbs

Properties: Xuan shen enters the Lung, Stomach, and Kidney channels. It is bitter, sweet, and salty in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Xuan Shen?: Xuan shen is the roots of the Chinese (Ningpo) Figwort (Scrophularia ningpoensis) that is native to the Yangtze River Valley, Shaanxi, and Fujian provinces in China. It a perennial herbaceous plant; its roots are harvested in the winter after the leaves and stems have withered, dried, and sliced (but otherwise unprocessed) for use as medicine.

TCM actions of Xuan Shen: Xuan shen is a heat clearing herb that also eliminates toxins and disperses nodules and swelling. It is added to Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin to directly address toxic swelling in the lymph glands associated with Wind-Heat attack.

Ye ju hua

English Name: wild chrysanthemum flower

Pharmaceutical name: Flos Chrysanthemi Indici

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Toxin-Eliminating Herbs

Properties: Ye ju hua enters the Lung and Liver Channels. It is bitter and acrid in nature and cool in temperature.

What is Ye Ju Hua?: Ye ju hua is the unprocessed anthodium (compacted flower parts & calyx) of the wild chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum indicum L.) minus the stem and leaves.

TCM actions of Ye Ju Hua: Ye ju hua is a heat clearing herb used to treat carbuncles, furuncles, and other hardened sores as well as sore throat and red. Itchy eyes.

Zi hua di ding

English Name: viola

Literal translation: “purple flower earth herb”

Pharmaceutical name: Herba Violae

Medica Category: Heat-Clearing and Toxin-Eliminating Herbs

Properties: Zi hua di ding enters the Heart and Liver Channels. It is bitter and acrid in nature and cold in temperature.

What is Zi hua di ding?: Zi hua di ding is the entire dried plant Viola (Viola yedoensis Makino). In China it grows naturally in the Southern Yangtze River valley and on Southward. The entire plant is harvested while in flower and dried for use as medicine.

TCM actions of Zi hua di ding: Zi hua di ding clears toxic heat, reduces abscesses, and cools the blood. It is used in Five Flavor Teapills formula (Wu Wei Xiao Du Wan) as an ingredient to helps dissolve hardened sores that are caused by toxic heat and in the formula Ban Lan Gen Wan to address sore throat and swollen lymph glands.

The fresh juice of this herb can help reduce swelling and toxicity of insect and snake bites (used topically for this purpose).

Gang mei gen & San cha kuThese are the two chief anti-viral herbs used in the formula Gan Mao Ling and have been placed at the end of this section because they are Taiwanese herbs that are not found in the Chinese Medica (to include the modern textbooks).

Gang mei geng is ilex root. It enters the Lung channel, is bland in nature and cool in temperature; San cha ku is evodia leaf, which is bitter in nature and cold in temperature. Both of these herbs function to clear heat, resolve toxins, and disperse wind (i.e they are strong anti-viral herbs to combat Wind-Heat).

 

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