Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been a part of my American upbringing because my parents grew up under TCM principles and philosophies. Our family healthcare approach has evolved to be a mix of both Western and Chinese medicine along with some skepticism for each of them (see “5 Reasons Not to Rely on Doctors“). However, through generations of family trial and error, we’ve come to find a few Chinese herbal remedies that are popular, commonplace, and often more effective than Western options. Here are the top Chinese herbal remedies that sit in our medicine cabinet:
Best Chinese Medicine for Strains, Sprains, Bruising, and Soft Tissue Trauma: Yunnan Baiyao
Yunnan Baiyao is an ancient Chinese remedy for severe bleeding, trauma, bruises, sprains, strains, and pain and a whole lot more. A lot of Chinese herbal medicine is slow-acting, so it’s not easy to tell if and when they start to help. This is definitely not that kind of medicine – Yunnan Baiyao effects are almost immediate. It’s available in powder, capsule, and patch form. As I understand it, it keeps blood circulating (and not stagnating) through the applied area and also provides some pain relief. We’ve used this regularly for severe bruises, sprains, and fractures, but have not tried it for post-surgery recovery. With it, we’ve had significant swelling and sprains disappear in 1-2 days. We’ve also used the patch version for chronic, recurring pain – with about 80% success rate. There’s an interesting story behind this medicine that you can read about here. We would reach for this before any ice pack and are now using an integrative approach to speed up healing.
Best Chinese Medicine for Allergies and Sinus Infections: Bi Yan Pian
I came across this Chinese formula for allergies called Bi Yan Pian, when I was browsing this book, Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine. It’s similar to this pediatric liquid extract herbal formula called Windbreaker which I had originally been giving my child. However, this has worked way, way better and faster. It seems to work even better than Zyrtec for both me and my child. The dosing instructions for the Plum Flower brand are 4 pills, 3x a day. However, I only need 4 pills once a day and my 8 year old takes 2 pills once a day whenever we experience symptoms. During our last allergy season, we would take them only after we started having hay fever symptoms, and the pills seemed to halt the symptoms within the hour. Zyrtec often doesn’t work for us after our symptoms have already started.
Best Chinese Medicine for UTIs: Ba Zheng Tang
Ba Zheng (Eight Rectification) San or Tang seems to be the most effective remedy (in both Western and Eastern spheres) for UTIs in our experience. I wish I had known about Ba Zheng (Eight Rectification) from the beginning when my mom first started having UTIs. The UTIs became chronic after regular antibiotic use. After years of trying tons of Western remedies (D-Mannose, premarin, antibiotics, garlic pills, oregano, cranberry, you name it), I saw this formula mentioned quite a lot in my research on Chinese medicine for UTIs. It seems to be a formula that specifically targets urinary symptoms and is used for acute UTIs. After 10 years of recurring UTIs every 4-6 months, my mother stopped her last two UTIs with this formula and hasn’t needed antibiotics in 2 years! It almost seems too good to be true. I’m guessing that overcoming the last two infections without antibiotics helped to stop the cycle of antibiotics to recurrent UTI. Berkeley Community Acupuncture has helpful information on how long and how often it could be taken. It’s not meant to be taken long term. If you can’t stand pills, I also found Ba Zheng in liquid formula.
Best Chinese Medicine for All Things Female: Dang Gui
Also known as Chinese Angelica Root, dong quai, or Angelicae Sinensis Radix. This is popular as the go-to herb for any female issues. It’s apparently beneficial for men’s health as well. We’ve used it for improving regularity of menses and reducing the side effects of hormonal imbalance that women naturally go through. Don’t take during menses (only in-between periods).
Anecdotally, a friend of ours tested extremely anemic to the point that she was recommended to go through iron IV infusion. Before doing the IV, she decided to take iron pills (known to have poor absorption by the body) and dang gui for a few months first to see if she could get the numbers up without IV infusion (which can have some side effects). When she retested, she was no longer anemic and the hematologist said she could hardly believe the results as iron numbers don’t typically go up that fast through oral intake of iron pills. This is a strong- acting herb. It comes in pill form, but we have only ever used the dried root form brewed in soup. Here’s the basic recipe we use: Simple Dang Gui Soup or Tea Recipe.
Best Chinese Medicine for Immune System and Energy: Ginseng
There’s American or Asian ginseng. We’ve only tried the Asian ginseng. I see it suggested for use in a variety of ailments, but in our family we take it for primarily overall vitality, energy, and immune system strength. In our family sample size, we’ve linked it to improved asthma and allergy reactions and general sense of well-being in both the kids and adults. Depending on your body’s constitution, some may find it too strong, akin to taking a dose of caffeine. As with dang gui, it is one of the stronger herbs and and it’s important to check the contraindications for it, as it really depends on your body type and needs. Definitely read the literature on it before taking, to see if it’s a good fit for your body’s needs. This also comes in natural dried root form, and in pill and extract forms.
Best Chinese Medicine for Eye Health and Clearing Inflammation: Chrysanthemum
We take chrysanthemum flower in tea form, steeping the dried flower in hot water. To feel any benefits, you have to take it regularly for long periods of time. It’s indicated for clearing heat and inflammation in the body. There’s white or yellow chrysanthemum and they have different indications. White is mostly taken for eye health (dry eye, etc.) and visual acuity. Yellow for common cold-related symptoms. The most obvious benefit we’ve ever had from it was relief from dry eye and allergy-caused eye irritation. Here’s the basic recipe we use: Chrysanthemum and Goji Berries Tea Recipe for the Eyes
Best Chinese Medicine for Mouth Sores: Watermelon Frost
Watermelon frost is available in spray or powder form and is indicated for canker sores and sore throats. We’ve only used it topically for sores in the mouth and it seems to reliably heal the sore quickly. I see many TCM/naturopathic practitioners recommending it for sore throats, so I may try that someday.
Other TCM for injuries (sprains, strains, bruising)
Bi Yan Pian