In Chinese medicine, the flavor of an herb or food tells you something about its actions. That’s because, each flavor; sweet, salty, pungent (spicy), bitter and sour all have a different effect on your body and the organ systems affected. In general:
- Sweet affects your Stomach and Spleen, and is often used to help your digestion
- Salty is associated with your Kidney and Bladder systems, and tends to affect the regulation of water in your body
- When you eat enough of a pungent food, it can make your nose run, which is an extension of your respiratory system. The pungent (spicy or acrid) flavor affects your Lungs
- The bitter flavor is related to your Heart (think bitter chocolate!)
- Sour foods and herbs are often used to treat your Liver
With that in mind, this month’s herbs are both pungent in nature, so the first thing you know about them is that they can be used in some way to treat Lung conditions. They are:
Bai Jie Zi is white mustard seed. In addition to being pungent, this herb is warming. It’s used to warm and regulate the Qi in your Lungs and transform phlegm.
It’s also important to know that in Chinese medicine, phlegm arises from too much moisture that congeals and causes problems, and it can be visible or invisible. A productive cough, a runny nose or sinus infection involves visible phlegm. However, invisible phlegm can accumulate and cause lumps, swellings, joint pain, boils and oozing sores. The action of Bai Jie Zi is to warm and transform phlegm of all kinds, which makes it a good choice in treating both visible and invisible phlegm conditions—in your Lungs and throughout your body.
Radish seed or Lai Fu Zi is pungent and also sweet, which means it addresses problems in the Lungs and Spleen/Stomach. So while it helps to reduce phlegm, radish seed is often used to treat something called food stagnation. Caused by eating too much food, the wrong kind of food or digestive problems, food stagnation means that your food is not moving through your digestive system as it should. It can cause bloating, stomach distension, belching, foul tasting burps, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Radish seeds help move food through your gut more smoothly, and they can give bulk to your stools to alleviate diarrhea.
Lai Fu Zi doesn’t have warming properties, but it’s used to reduce phlegm and help Qi move downward. The energy of your Lungs is to move downward with each inhalation, bringing life force and energy deeper into your body. However, when you cough, that downward movement is interrupted. So the downward movement of Lai Fu Zi combined with its ability to reduce phlegm make it a good herb to treat a productive cough.
While both these herbs reduce phlegm and treat your Lungs, they also have different actions which are nuanced. Practitioners of Chinese herbal medicine understand these distinctions and when to use which herb when they prescribe a formula. At BodaHealth, any of our herbal practitioners are happy to talk with you and answer any questions you have about how herbal medicine may be helpful to you.
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Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.