Integrative Medicine Blog

Chinese Herbal Formulas and the Common Cold

Rebecca Rice L.Ac., MSAOM Saturday, March 11, 2017
Istock chinese medicine and cold

Not all Chinese herbal formulas for the common cold are alike.

Breaking it down to specific cold-related symptoms, there are 18 commonly used formulas used for cough, and 8 standard formulas used for nasal congestion. Each formula is comprised of a different combination of typically 5-12 herbs. Aside from the standardized preparations, each formula can be tailored to the individuals presentation and capacity to heal by adding or subtracting individual herbs from the standard formula.

The method of deducing which formula one should take is dependent upon the evaluation of the tongue and the pulse in addition to symptom presentation. Concerning the cold, is the expectorant thick or thin, green, yellow or clear? Are there chills or fever? Is the cough productive or non-productive, worse at night or with movement? Is there a headache or muscle stiffness? Is there aversion to cold or heat?

Take the case of a common cold that starts with a mild fever, headache and sore throat, and a rapid floating pulse. This type of cold will be best remedied by a combination whose focus is to ‘clear heat’ and ‘relieve toxicity’. One such formula is Yin Qiao San, a cooling formula whose ingredients are:

  • Honeysuckle, peppermint, fermented soy bean, forsythia, bamboo leaf, licorice root, edible burdock and balloon flower

One would not use the same formula to address a cold stemming from ‘wind cold’. This could drive the pathogen further, disrupting the defensive qi of the body. Symptoms of a wind cold type of common cold are: spontaneous sweating, dry cough, stiff neck, fever and chills, clear nasal discharge and a pulse that is bound and floating. One suitable formula used for the common cold due to ‘wind cold’ is Gui Zhi Tang, comprised of the following herbs:

  • Cinnamon, white peony, fresh ginger, jujube, and honey fried licorice

The beauty of herbs is their ability to reduce the symptoms while addressing the body’s natural defenses in an entirely pragmatic way. What a gift we have in nature!

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