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Traditional Chinese Medicine for Coughs, Colds, Flu, and Allergies
Last Updated: 09/14/2011
by Bill Schoenbart and Ellen Shefi

Traditional Chinese medicine uses herbs to treat the common cold, the flu, coughs, and allergies. Just as many Americans turn to over-the-counter medications for these ailments, people in China turn to herbal formulas, many of which are based on traditional formulas that have been in use for more than two thousand years.

This article describes traditional Chinese patent medicines that are formulated to relieve cough, cold, flu, and allergy symptoms. Patent medicines are an inexpensive and convenient way to administer Chinese medicinal herbs. Most of the medicines come in the form of easy-to-swallow, tiny round pills (wan) or tablets (pian), but syrups and teas are also used.

The first traditional Chinese medicine we'll discuss treats a condition most of us have experienced: nasal congestion and runny nose due to allergies or the common cold. Continue to the next section for detailed information.

Traditional Chinese Nose Inflammation Pills
Chinese nose inflammation pills are an effective herbal remedy for nasal congestion, runny nose, and cold and allergy symptoms.

Chinese name: Bi Yan Pian (bee yahn pyen)
Also known as: Nose Inflammation Pills

Acute or chronic nasal congestion, allergies, runny nose due to common cold

Dispels wind cold or wind heat, clears the nasal passages

Bi Yan Pian is one of the more popular over-the-counter medicines. It is highly effective for nasal or sinus congestion as in the common cold, allergies, rhinitis, and sinusitis. The major herbal decongestants in this formula are magnolia flower (xin yi hua), Angelica dahurica (bai zhi), and Xanthium (cang er zi). These three herbs are effective individually, but their synergistic effect upon the nasal passages and sinuses is nothing short of remarkable.

After prescribing this remedy dozens of times over the years, the only side effect one experienced practitioner has seen is some dryness in the mouth and throat. This occurred in only two cases, and it was alleviated by decreasing the dose.

This example points to the need for assessing each case and prescribing an herbal remedy based on the individual's constitution. The individuals who experienced excessive dryness both had an underlying yin deficiency, which means that their body's ability to maintain a moist environment was impaired. Herbs that have a drying nature, as in this formula, tend to push that imbalance even further.

Bi Yan Pian can be used for sinus infections; it contains heat-clearing herbs such as Phellodendron (huang bai), forsythia (lian qiao), Anemarrhena (zhi mu), and wild chrysanthemum (ye ju hua). When treating an infection, it is best to be as aggressive as possible, since it can quickly progress to a more serious condition. For this reason, this patent formula is often combined with one that focuses more on clearing infections such as Chuan Xin Lian Antiphlogistic pills.

In addition, when treating any infection with herbs, it is essential to begin taking the herbs as early as possible, take them regularly until the infection is gone, and then continue them for a day or two after the symptoms are gone. This last step is important because if treatment is discontinued early, it is possible to kill off enough bacteria to alleviate symptoms while still leaving enough behind to multiply again. Once an infection has been partially cleared with herbs and allowed to come back, it is much more difficult to clear it with the same herbs in a second round of treatment.

Until recently, the disadvantage of using Bi Yan Pian has been the presence of artificial dyes in the tablet coating. Some of the batches also contained traces of Western over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.[Ed. Note: The Suigetsu Shop is careful to carry only approved remedies with no Western pharmaceutical additives.]

Traditional Chinese Cough Syrup

Those suffering from a dry cough can benefit from this traditional Chinese cough syrup, which moistens the lungs and helps loosen phlegm.

Chinese name: Chuan Bei Pi Pa Gao (chwahn bay pee pah gow)
Also known as: Fritillaria Loquat Syrup

Cough due to lung heat or dryness, with phlegm that is difficult to expectorate; a dry cough with no or little phlegm

Clears lung heat, moistens the lungs, stops coughing

This soothing syrup is appropriate in cases of lung dryness that is due to wind heat, common colds, or smoking. Its chief ingredients are Fritillaria (bei mu) and loquat leaf (pi pa ye). Loquat leaf is especially useful for a heat-type cough, which is a cough with sticky phlegm that is difficult to expectorate. Loquat leaf comes from the same tree that produces the small delicious loquat fruits (Eriobotrya japonica).

Fritillaria, the other chief ingredient, is an expectorant that is moistening to the lungs, an important action when a cough is nonproductive.

Traditional Chinese Anti-inflammatory Tablets

Traditional Chinese anti-inflammatory tablets have a combination of three herbs that makes a potent antibacterial and antiviral medicine.

Chinese name: Chuan Xin Lian (chwahn shin lyahn) Antiphlogistic Tablets
Also known as: Andrographis Anti-inflammatory Tablets

Inflammation due to excess heat, swollen glands, severe sore throat, viral infections, bacterial infections

Clears heat, clears toxins, cools the blood, reduces inflammation

This powerful antibacterial and antiviral formula contains just three herbs: Andrographis leaf, Isatis root, and Taraxacum root (dandelion). The combination of these ingredients produces a pronounced cooling effect on toxic heat throughout the body. Some of the bacterial infections this patent medicine treats are acute sore throat, swollen glands, lung abscess, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and dysentery. It can also be used for viral infections such as influenza and hepatitis.

The chief ingredient, Andrographis paniculata (chuan xin lian), has been shown to inhibit the Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Shigella organisms that can cause various infections. It is extremely bitter -- its name in Chinese translates to "pierce the heart lotus," meaning it is so bitter, its flavor "pierces the heart."

One herbalist recalls that while working in a Chinese herbal pharmacy some years ago, he noticed an extremely bitter taste in his mouth. When he turned around, he saw that a teacher had opened the drawer containing the Andrographis, 20 feet from where he was standing! Because of its bitterness, Andrographis is usually taken in pill form.

The second ingredient, Isatis tinctoria (ban lang gen), also has antiviral and antibacterial actions. Its broad antimicrobial effect has been shown to inhibit the bacteria that cause dysentery, salmonella, strep infection, and typhoid. Isatis has strong antiviral action against hepatitis and encephalitis. This is highly significant, since Western medicine has virtually no weapons against viral infections.

The third ingredient is the much-maligned dandelion (pu gong ying), a major medicine in both Western and Chinese herbalism. Traditionally used for breast abscesses, jaundice, and urinary tract infections, dandelion has impressive antibacterial effects against the pathogens that cause strep throat, pneumonia, dysentery, meningitis, diphtheria, and tuberculosis -- all from a plant that is relentlessly sprayed with herbicides by the unsuspecting suburban homeowner!

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