Today I was asked “are there Chinese Herbs for the respiratory system?” The answer is yes. There are many herbs in Chinese Medicine for respiratory health, however there isn’t any one herb or formula that correlates exactly with any presentation of asthma, chronic cough, or allergies. Don’t misunderstand me, there are many herbs and formulas that can be used to treat asthma, chronic cough, and allergies, but the way each works with the respiratory system is slightly different. For example, in western medicine it is common to have an inhaler for asthma, and there are some very common ones prescribed for most people. However, in Chinese Medicine we look at the entire presentation of the patient, not just the western diagnosis. Let’s take a look at two different clients with asthma and how their herbal treatment could vary:
Client 1: asthma worse with exertion, sore back, weak knees, coughing and wheezing with watery copious sputum, shortness of breath with labored inhalation and smooth exhalation and edema in the legs. This presentation would be most appropriately treated with Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang, which treats excess above and deficiency below.
Client 2: asthma with coughing and wheezing of copious thick yellow sputum, labored breathing and simultaneous fever and chills. The prescription Ding Chuan Tang would be most appropriate for this presentation and treats wind-cold in the exterior with phlegm heat in the interior.
The beauty of Chinese herbal medicine is in its specificity. Both formulas have some of the same key ingredients, but how the formula addresses the presentation of the asthma is different. Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang is addressing the underlying deficiency as well as the cough and wheezing, while Ding Chuan Tang stops wheezing, clears the exterior, and transforms phlegm. They each have a different approach! Think of it as a puzzle. You may need a blue piece, and a few may look like an exact fit, but each piece is slightly different and only one specific piece will fit and complete the picture.
The ancient Chinese formulas can be modified to fit each individual patient’s needs, especially when there is more than one health concern to address. Think of treating high blood pressure, insomnia, and menopausal symptoms all together. One base formula can be modified with individual herbs to create a specific treatment for each patient. Chinese medicine is flexible and the ancient Chinese practitioners understood that while one formula may be best for a specific presentation, each person is unique and specific modifications are frequently made. Therein lies the beauty and power of Chinese herbal medicine.
I’m frequently asked, “do I have to make a tea with all those smelly herbs?” The answer is only if you want to! Herbal formulas are available in raw form (make your own tea), powder (instant tea) and patent (capsules or pill form). Please only use Chinese herbal medicine under the care of a licensed practitioner who specializes in Chinese herbs. While Chinese herbal medicine is considered safe when used appropriately, misusing herbs can cause health concerns. Always let your practitioner know if you are pregnant, or could possibly be pregnant. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below. Have a great day!
Christina Ducharme, L.Ac., MAOM