“Use herbs that are as light as the feathers of a bird for disease in the upper burner. Use herbs to lift the spleen qi and cause the stomach qi to descend in the middle burner, just like calibrating a scale that should always be in balance. Use heavy and cloying herbs to treat yin deficiency for the liver and kidney in the lower burner, like adding a heavy weight to a scale to tip the balance.
…The warm-heat pathogen attacks the body through the nose and mouth. The lung opens to the nose and the stomach to the mouth. Disease in the lung can progress to the pericardium. If untreated or treated improperly in the upper burner, the disease will progress to the middle burner. If untreated or treated improperly in the middle burner, the disease will progress to the lower burner. The progression of the disease is to begin in the upper burner and end in the lower burner.”
-Wu Tang (1758-1836) who wrote the Wenbing Tiaobian (Detailed Analysis of Warm Diseases, 1798)
This season we’re continuing our theme of exploring strategies for treating what in Chinese medicine is termed “Wind Invasion.” Earlier in the fall we looked at ways to prevent illness, through use of Jade Wind Screen (Yu Ping Feng San) and acupuncture. While prevention is always ideal, as mere mortals we’re all destined to fall ill. If a pathogen does defeat our outer line of defense and we do catch a cold or flu, we need look no further than Wu Tang’s herbal formulas.
Wu Tang’s quote exemplifies his philosophy as a physician and herbalist. He is credited with creating some of the most important (and still often used) formulas for infectious diseases in the Chinese Materia Medica. Sang Ju Yin is one of these formulas, another is Yin Qiao San. As recently as the SARS outbreak of 2003 and the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 these formulas have been officially recommended by the Chinese Ministry of Health for use by physicians to combat infections. We need not reserve them for the most serious illnesses, as they are perfectly matched for treating all sorts of upper respiratory infections in their early stages. One of the best formulas for stopping a cold with cough in its tracks is Mulberry and Chrysanthemum formula (Sang Ju Yin). To understand how this formulation is so effective, one need only look at some of the fine herbs it contains. As an accompaniment to this article, we are displaying the three herbs used in this formula in their raw form in our clinic lobby! We will rotate our herbal display seasonally in the hopes of sharing with the community some of our knowledge of herbal medicine.
Three of the key herbs in this formula are as follows:
- Xing Ren – Apricot Kernel
Properties: Bitter, Slightly Warm
Channels Entered: Lung, Large Intestine
Key Characteristics: Stops coughing and calms wheezing due to hot or cold patterns, especially good in cases of dry cough. Moistens the intestines and unblocks the bowels.
What does this all mean: Xing Ren is a wonderfully flexible herb that can be used for multiple presentations of cough. Its bitter quality also aids in digestion.
- Zhi Gan Cao – Honey Fried Licorice
Properties: sweet, neutral
Channels Entered: Spleen, Stomach, Lung and Heart
Key Characteristics: Palpitations, irregular pulse, intermittent pulse, disturbed sleep, unstable emotions, nourishing the heart, dry cough, moistening the lungs, wheezing, pain relief, diarrhea, dysentery, hypochondriac pain, epigastric pain, stomach ulcer, leg cramps from blood deficiency, sores, swellings, red lesions, eczema and itching, burns, frostbite, sore throat.
What does this all mean: Zhi Gan Cao is honey fried licorice root. Regular licorice root is used in many herbal formulas to balance the properties of accompanying herbs. Honey frying the licorice strengthens the latent tonifying properties of the root. This makes it not only a wonderfully balancing herb, but also one that can help build up the body’s natural defenses.
- Ju Hua – Chrysanthemum Flower
Properties: Pungent, sweet, slightly cold
Channels Entered: Lung and Liver
Key Characteristics: Disperses wind, clears heat, good for headache and fever. Clears liver and benefits the eyes. Good for syndromes manifesting with red, painful, dry eyes or excessive tearing, or yin deficiency of the kidneys and liver with floaters, blurry vision, or dizziness.
What does this all mean: The properties of this herb truly show that it’s “light as the feathers of a bird” as it clears any pathogenic heat from the upper parts of the body as if floating to the head upon consumption. It also smells nice.