Every home should have a few useful remedies on hand for the early stages of common illnesses. Chinese medicine offers some great ready-made formulas (“patent medicines”) but you won’t find information about how to use them on the product labels. Figuring out what’s safe and appropriate even for mild illnesses can be very difficult. Here’s a list of some excellent Chinese herbal products that your medicine cabinet shouldn’t be without.
First, some commonsense precautions: The suggestions listed here are for uncomplicated conditions. A professional Chinese herbalist can customize a formula for more complex or severe problems. There are a lot of Chinese patent medicines, and each is best for a specific application. A qualified herbalist can give you guidance on those, too. If you are on prescription medications, you may need to confirm with an herbalist and/or doctor that taking specific herbal formulas are OK for you.
Meanwhile, the products listed below may be all you need to deal with relatively mild problems. They are convenient to keep at home, and can save you the time and expense of a doctor’s office visit. Having a home health care kit ready to go will also allow you to begin treatment of common illness while they are still in an early stage and easiest to resolve.
Common Colds and Flu
Ban Lan Gen Chong Ji is a favorite for prevention, and comes in a powder that dissolves into hot water to make a tasty drink. It includes a combination of Southern Isatis root, dandelion and viola with cane sugar. It is a staple beverage in China. It can be continued if you do catch a cold.
Chuan Xin Lian is an herb with excellent anti-viral properties that is commonly used to treat colds and flu. The taste is bitter, but a sugar-coated version is available. It has a strong effect against “heat” conditions such as an inflamed throat.
Gan Mao Ling is a relatively modern formulation using herbs that are not commonly seen in traditional formulas, but that are known to have good anti-viral effects. Small doses are great as a preventative (for example, when you know you’ve been exposed) and higher doses are used if a cold and flu sets in. It is common to combine Gan Mao Ling and Chuan Xin Lian.
Yin Qiao San is a traditional formula available in pill and tea forms. It is especially useful for a cold accompanied by a sore throat.
Bi Yan Pian is a good general formula for sinus infections and inflammation. It can be used when sinus problems are the predominant sign in a common cold, or with allergies that affect the sinuses.
The Neti Pot is an ancient Indian device for irrigating the nasal passages and sinuses with saline solution. Some people use it for preventative care, but it is particularly useful during an acute infection. Modern versions are easy to use and clean. Some come with pre-measured packages of a gentle, buffered saline solution.
Vinegar is of course not unique to Chinese medicine, but it makes a wonderful gargle for sore throat. Use a high quality cider vinegar – not a distilled type. You can cut it down with apple juice or water if the taste is too strong.
Curing Pills (Kang Ning Wan) are great for acute indigestion and other short-term digestive problems. They are sometimes used for relief after overindulging in alcohol.
Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San is a classic formula that is excellent for cases of “stomach flu” with short-term symptoms like fever and chills, headache, fullness in the chest, pain in the stomach and abdomen, nausea and diarrhea. It can also be very good for a bout of nausea and/or diarrhea without flu signs.
Yin Care is a liquid solution of many different herbs. At different levels of dilution, it can be applied externally for problems including acne, poison ivy, nail fungus, and yeast infections.
Ching Wan Hung ointment is a classic salve for burns, including sunburn. It is soothing and cooling, and is also suitable for hemorrhoids. (Be careful with clothing – it can stain.)
Yun Nan Bai Yao is a famous medicine used to stop bleeding (it was used in the Vietnam War for emergency treatment of gunshot wounds). It can be taken internally, but is most appropriate in a first aid kit for cuts and mild trauma with bleeding. The capsules can be opened and the powder shaken onto the cut to quickly stop bleeding (apply pressure too!).
Essential Balm is an excellent all-purpose balm with menthol, camphor, peppermint, eucalyptus, clove and cinnamon. It’s a good alternative to Tiger Balm.
Po Sum On Oil is an excellent invigorating oil for muscle and joint pain, tightness and bruises. It contains cinnamon, dragon’s blood resin (from a plant, not a mythical beast), peppermint and tea oil in an oil base that is slippery enough to make it a good massage oil.
Zheng Gu Shui is a more penetrating topical application specially formulated for trauma to bones, tendons and ligaments. Main ingredients are camphor and menthol, and it penetrates quickly without oily residue.
All of these products can probably be ordered on line, and will be carried by most Chinese herbalists. When choosing an herbalist, look for one who has National Board Certification in Chinese herbal medicine (or who is certified as a Diplomate of Oriental Medicine, which includes the herbal certification). Many licensed acupuncturists have good herbal training, but many do not – licensing requirements and education are different in every state. The products themselves should be Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certified to ensure they are free of contaminants. Avoid products that use filler ingredients or dyes.
Keeping these precautions in mind, you’re now ready to do some shopping. You’ll be delighted to find how much relief you can get from herbal products. With some new additions to your medicine cabinet, you’ll be better prepared for minor medical problems, and better able to participate in your own health care.