Chinese Herbs for Colds and Flu

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15-Jan-2013 07:49 AM

Matthew Bauer

Posts: 211

 With a bothersome flu season upon us, I thought I would share some of my protocols for using herbs for colds and flu. I have found great success for my family and patients using this approach. I like to use patient herb formulas due to their low cost. I know some people worry about quality controls of herb products coming out of mainland China but I personally am comfortable with the main manufacturers. You could of course replace these with similar formulas from our US suppliers.


There are two categories of using Chinese herbs for cold and flu; those used to build defenses as a preventative and those used when you start to catch or have caught something. As cold/flu season is upon us, I will focus this post on the second of those two.


The venerable Yin Chiao: By far, the single most important formula used at the very first stages of any cold or flu is Yin Chiao. It is known as a “surface reliever” meaning it draws qi from inner reserves to help prevent cold/flu forces from entering the body. Think of this as putting more troops along the fort walls to repel invaders. People should start slamming Yin Chiao at the very first hint of coming down with something. I actually tell my patients the best time to take Yin Chiao is the day before you get any symptoms. I say this not to be a smart aleck but because when you first realize you have a cold/flu and then think back to how you felt the previous day, you will often realize that there were subtle, early warning signs that you were under attack. I learned this from my two children who would wake-up with cold/flu symptoms and my wife and I would often realize that this was why they were acting so cranky the day before.


The most common early warning of your body beginning to fight a cold/flu is when you sleep really hard but wake up not feeling refreshed and then go through the day just feeling “off”. Take Yin Chiao at this stage and it will often stop things from going any farther. If you miss this early warning and you start to get cold/flu symptoms, Yin Chiao is still the first choice. Take full dosages that will usually be between 4-6 pills three times a day (TID).


While Yin Chiao is used at the first stages of any cold/flu, you will usually need to add additional formulas based on the other symptoms. The most common of those is sinus congestion. You would then add a sinus formula to the Yin Chiao. My two favorites are Bi-Yan and Pe Min Kan Wan.  For years, I used Pe Min as my first choice but I am now using Bi-Yan most often. After 27 years of using these formulas, I have never found any way to distinguish what patients will do better on which formula. I try one and if I am not happy with it I will switch to the other. I am using Bi-Yan more now because it is a little less expensive, comes in a bottle of 100 instead of 50, and some people may notice a slight stimulant reaction to Pe Min Kan Wan. The dosage of these formulas is the same as Yin Chiao – 4-6  TID.


If the patient’s symptoms start to affect the bronchial or lungs, then we add a lung formula – usually one of the loquat based syrups. My favorite one is Natural Herb Loquat Extract with loquat fruit, honey, almond, lotus root, licorice and mint. There are other loquat based syrups that work well but the Natural Herb Loquat Extract is very pleasant tasting and has a soothing effect. The dosage is 1 tablespoon 3-4 times a day. It can added to hot water to make a tea (my preference) or taken straight.


If the patient develops any stomach upset, we add Curning pills – the world’s greatest remedy for nausea or any kind of upset stomach. If a patient is vomiting to the degree that they can’t keep water down, they will not be able to keep Curing down either so don’t attempt it because Curing tastes terrible coming back up. Those who have brought Curing back up will likely never use it again and miss out on a truly remarkable remedy.  Curing pills are about the size of radish seeds and come in little plastic vials. The dosage is 1-2 vials TID or as needed for symptoms. We tell our patients to take one vial and if they find it helps but they still have some stomach upset 20-30 minutes later, take a second vial.


The next, very important formula is Chuan Xin Lian. This is a natural anti-viral and antibiotic that addresses “heat” symptoms. This formula is added to those above if signs of heat appear – fever, urine turning a darker, more concentrated color, and sinus or lung mucus turning darker. The normal dosage is 3-5 tid.


All the above dosages can be upped a bit if needed – adding 1-2 more pills at a time or another 1-2 tablespoons of the syrup.


Considering all of the above, a typical scenario would be someone starts to feel cold/flu symptoms, including sinus congestion, takes Yin Chiao and Bi-Yan BOTH at 4-6 TID, and then, if they get signs of heat you add Chuan Xin Lian at 3-5 TID. If they never develop heat signs, the Chuan Xin Lian can be left off. If things start to settle in the bronchial/lungs, the loquat based syrup is added. Patients may complain about taking so many pills but when they get good results, they usually are happy with it all.


I encourage my patients to have at least the Yin Chiao, Bi-Yan and Chuan Xin Lian on hand at all times as they cover the most frequently seen symptoms and taking them – especially Yin Chiao – at the earliest possible time makes them much more effective.  Even delaying by just 12 hours or so will reduce the effectiveness of Yin Chiao.


I also wanted to share my experience with treating sore throats. Many people who complain of sore throats actually are being bothered by post-nasal drainage that then irritates the throat rather than an infection in the throat. It helps to look at the throat and if you see no or just slight redness it is likely from the sinus drainage instead of the throat. The best indicator, however, is what happens when they swallow. If the soreness eases when swallowing (it may take 2-3 swallows) then it is from post-nasal mucus that is being swallowed down. If it hurts more with each swallow, it is a throat infection.   Of course, if you see marked redness and pus pockets, then this is a throat infection and Chuan Xin Lian is the main formula taken a little higher dosage of 6 TID.  The strongest herbal remedy for a local throat infection is Watermelon Frost – a fine powder that is sprayed directly on the infection. My feeling, however, is that cases that need Watermelon Frost should probably be on antibiotics but if antibiotics could not be used for some reason, Watermelon Frost is a great remedy.


I think that covers the basics. I hope this helps and feel free to ask any questions or offer your own favorite approaches.

Matthew Bauer


15-Jan-2013 07:19 PM


Posts: 2

Matt, thanks for that detailed description of the protocols that you use. A great application of the classics!
I thought I would mention a few other favorites for those patients we see who weren’t lucky enough to get a head start on their flu and have wound up with a nasty respiratory condition with a bad cough and thick phlegm. Qing Qi Hua Tan Tang is a very effective formula at clearing heat and phlegm from the lungs. If practitioners are familiar with the Institute of Traditional Medicine’s Seven Forest line of herbal formulas, the Trichosanthes Fruit Tablets are another good option and contains big dose of Gua Lou. For cough syrups that really need to kill a barking cough, I use a Planetary Herbals product called Wild Cherry Indian Bark Syrup. Tastes bad and works amazing. This can be purchased at Whole Foods and other natural health stores.
I really enjoyed learning abut your use of Chuan Xin Lian. My teachers at school were always big users of Da Qing Ye, so it is very interesting to learn another approach.
Thanks again for this interesting and applicable post, and for inviting our comments.
Jennifer Wyatt, LAc.


17-Jan-2013 02:21 PM

Matthew Bauer

Posts: 211

Thanks for your suggestions. No one knows it all. I always say the trouble with Chinese Medicine isn’t that of coming up with something that has a chance of working but sifting through all of the many things that have a chance of working and deciding what to go with. The strongest remedy for excessive coughing I had ever used was called “Bronchitis Syrup” made from rhododendron bark. Talk about tasting bad – the stuff was hard to get down – burnt like bourbon, but was amazing. You can still find a version of that but it is not the same manufacture and it is not as potent.  

Each flu season, I try to get a handle of the character of the bug. Most of the time if we catch it with the right herbs, at the right dosage and at the right time, you can stop it in its tracks quickly. Some bugs, however, once they get started will have to run their course and the best you can do is ease the symptoms a bit and speed it up a bit. I am not yet sure about what is going around now as I am just seeing my first cases.  I look to see how different patients do. If you have a patient that has a pretty strong immune system (does not get frequent colds/flu) and they have a hard time of it, it is likely the type that must run its course. I usually only catch something once every 4-5 years at most but I can feel when my body is fighting something so I make for a pretty good barometer of the strength and character of the strain. If I gain any insights about what is going around now – I will share with you guys.

Matthew Bauer