Relieve cough and congestion with Chinese herbs

Well, it’s that time of year again. Cold, flu, bronchitis time. One of our girls was out from school four days last week with bronchitis. And last night I was up with a hacking cough and this morning knew what the topic of today’s article would be: Chinese herbals for winter symptoms.

Sure, there is a plethora of over-the-counter cold and flu products at your local drug store. Yes, Vicks Vapo Rub and NyQuil and Robitussin are the usual standbys for such things. But there are other options you may like to consider, because they’re based on years of traditions not associated with synthetic chemicals. So let’s have a look at a few of the more accessible Chinese patent herbal formulas.

Cough syrups and throat coats

When cough and sore throat come on we usually grab for lozenges and cough syrups. And why not; they’re readily available and do their job. I’d like to introduce you to two Chinese products here that work just as well, if not better, than the common brands you have been using.

The first is called Honey and Loquat Syrup (Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa). It is used for chronic and acute cough, distressed lungs holding sticky phlegm that may be yellow in color. It is also useful for relieving sinus congestion and has been found helpful in alleviating emphysema, pneumonia, and acute bronchitis. It comes in a 10 oz. bottle and adults can take 1 tbsp. three times per day as needed; children 1 tsp. three times per day as needed.

Honey and Loquat Syrup is made of loquat leaf, pummelo peel, Chinese white olive fruit, bitter apricot seed, honey tremella fruit, tender leaf, and fritillary bulb. The main ingredient is loquat leaves which originate in southeast China and now also grow in Japan. These leaves are high in calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. When concentrated into herbal syrup, the product helps resolve mucus, detoxify and acts as an antiviral agent.

The next syrup is called Sooth Herb Tea Extract (Xiao Ke Chuan). As an expectorant, it treats cough due to cold, phlegm buildup, and lung weakness, and is commonly used for relieving chronic bronchitis, cough and asthma. It is made of water, cane sugar, rhododendron leaf extract (which is black ginseng), and alcohol. Xiao Ke Chuan comes in 3.4 oz bottles and one takes 7-10 ml three times a day with hot water as needed. Note: the product is not recommended for children.

Pills, tablets and capsules

Traditionally, Chinese herbs are boiled and drank as a ‘tea’, but these days they are concentrated and made into pills, tablets and capsules. One of the best traditional Chinese herbal remedies I use for bronchitis is both a pill and a tea, called Ching Fei Yi Huo Pien. This herbal formula goes all the way back to Ming dynasty China (1300s–1600s) and is made of baikal skullcap root, Chinese rhubarb (root and stem), gardenia fruit, ballon flower root, trichosanthes root, anemarrhena (stem and root), shrubby sophora root, phellodendron bark, and hogfennel root.

This formula functions to clear lung heat, stop cough, and help increase body fluids reduced from fever-based dehydration. It comes in a box containing 12 small plastic cartridges, each containing 8 herbal tablets, of which four are taken at a time, once daily. The tablets can be taken with a mug of hot water or, as I prefer, dissolved in the hot water and drank as a ‘tea.’ Yes, the taste is unpleasant, but it works faster this way.

Ching Fei Yi Huo Pien is used for chronic bronchitis, acute tracheitis, and pulmonary abscess pheumonia which present with an abundance of sticky, yellow phlegm. According to TCM theory, the yellow phlegm (as opposed to white mucus) means there is heat and bacteria involvement. The heat causes fever, dehydration, swollen and painful sore throat, raspy cough, concentrated urine (darker color) and constipation. (Note: this formula is prohibited if pregnant and also must be stopped once the phlegm turns from yellow to white).

One of the most common formulas for cold and flu season is known as Yin Chiao. Yin Chiao comes in bottles of 96 tablets, of which four are taken at a time twice per day, given you an eight-day supply. (The number 8 is auspicious in Chinese numerology and many formulas contain 8 day supplies, interestingly). It is made of honeysuckle flower, forsythia, platycodon root, menthal, lophatherum , schizonepeta, semen sojae preparatum, cnidium heard, and burdock.

Yin Chiao works as an antihistamine, pain reliever, and fever reducer that supports the health of the respiratory system, immune system, nervous system, sinuses, stomach and bowels. It helps reduce toxic heat in the lungs and intestines, which cause (according to the theories of Chinese medicine), flu-like symptoms of swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, aching body, fever with chills, headache, sore shoulders, stiff neck. It works by promoting sweating and is most beneficial when taken for short duration (a few days only) at first sign of cold or flu.

Additional thoughts

There are many more Chinese herbal formulas for winter ailments like cold, flu and bronchitis, but these are the basics and my standbys. If you are interested in knowing more about Chinese herbs and their use in different health issues, I recommend finding a local acupuncturist or herbalist in your area and setting up a consultation.

The important thing to keep in mind is that even though I use terms here like “cold” and “flu” and “bronchitis,” TCM does not use these terms; they are Western medicine designations that we approximate to TCM terms like “exogenous wind-heat-damp” and so on. For best results with Chinese herbs it is best to get an actual diagnosis of syndrome based on symptoms, and then the best formula for you can be recommended.


Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.