Common Chinese herbs and their uses

Here is a list of foods, spices, and herbs you might be able to find at the grocery store, Asian or Indian markets, health food stores, and vitamin shops. I’ll try to indicate which one and best uses.

We suggest to talk with your herbalist on use of some of these herbs in formulas that might best serve you.

Below are more related to foods, spices, and teas.

Basics: The five flavors.

Warming against wind-cold: First is a group of herbs that release the exterior. External pathogens like heat, cold, damp, dryness, etc. may invade the body and get trapped in the “Couli” a layer between the skin and muscles. Some of these herbs will help you sweat, to let it out. This is called “releasing the exterior”. This is early stages of a wind-cold (cold attacking the body) or wind-heat, febrile disease (heat attacking the body), when the ‘wei qi’ or body’s immune system is weak.

Cong Bai which is scallion/green onion is a warm, acrid herb that acts on the lungs and stomach. It is great for the early stage of cold attacking the body, it induces sweat and can help to aleve toxins. Grocery stores should carry this. 3-8g (grams). You can add this to a rice congee (porridge) with some ginger, cilantro, white pepper and add some egg or ground meat. Use tofu if vegan or vegetarian. https://www.chowhound.com/recipes/ginger-chicken-jook-rice-porridge-29184

Gu Zhi is cinnamon twig and it warming, acrid and sweet, It helps the heart, lungs and urinary bladder. This herb is great to warm the blood, warm the yang (assist body heat), assist the heart yang, and warm the channels used in acupuncture. This is easy to find at grocery stores and to add to tea. Avoid if pregnant or a hot type constitution. 3-8g

Palo Thai stew https://hot-thai-kitchen.com/kai-palo/

Sheng Jiang, which is ginger root, is warm, acrid, and assists the stomach, spleen, and lungs. It warms the stomach, disperses cold, releases the exterior, and helps to resolve toxins. This is easy to find at grocery stores, asian markets have the best quality and selection. Make a tea in morning or add to stir fry. Do not drink at night. Hot type people should not use. 3-8g

Ginger chicken https://www.dinneratthezoo.com/ginger-chicken/#wprm-recipe-container-28352

Zi Su Ye is Perilla, it is found in asian market stores and looks similar to basil. It is usally in the leafy green herbal section. It is a warm, acrid herb that helps the lungs and spleen. It warms the middle jiao (think middle digestive organs: stomach, spleen, pancreas, liver), it promotes Qi and revives the spleen. 3-8g (grams)

cooking with Perilla https://www.pinterest.com/pin/281475045446211018/

Cooling against wind-heat:

Bo He or Peppermint/Mint, is cooling, aromatic. It helps the lungs and liver, It has a upward moving direction that is good for the throat, head, and eyes. It helps against skin rashes and helps to move Liver Qi. The liver in chinese medicine is an organ in charge of spreading the Qi and blood smoothly in all directions. Caution if patient has Liver yang rising. 3-8g (grams). this is easy to find as a tea in grocery stores. I suggest adding licorice root or tincture to the tea. More on licorice down below. https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/8-benefits-of-peppermint-tea-from-inducing-sleep-to-aiding-weight-loss-and-more-1748790

Herbs the release exterior and help body aches:

Ge Gen is Kudzu which grows in Virginia. We recommend just using the refined powder they sell at health food stores as Kudzu root in capsule. This is good to have around if you catch a cold and get body aches. especially in neck and shoulders. It can be used for athletes who get tight neck and shoulders from training as well. It is a cool, sweet, and acrid herb. It helps the Spleen and stomach, and it used to release the exterior especially in those cases of achy muscles as it helps draw moisture to the muscles. 9-11g. https://www.wellandgood.com/kudzu-benefits/

Herbs that clear wind heat, Liver fire, and benefit eyes:

Ju Hua (Chrysanthemum flower) is slightly cold, sweet, and bitter, it enters the lungs and liver, where is clears heat, benefits the eyes, and can help with skin sores. Caution to use if patient has diarrhea or cold stomach. 4-15 g can be used. This tea is easy to find in asian grocery store and is made as a tea.

Make the tea https://www.lifeslittlesweets.com/how-to-make-chrysanthemum-flower-tea/

Purgatives, these are a kind of herb that can help with bowel movement.

Da huang, which is rhubard, is cold, bitter, and enters the heart, large intestines, liver and stomach. It is a herb that clears heat, transforms damp, invigorates blood, dispels blood stasis. 3-15g. Grandmothers love to make Rhubard pie. The herb is usually dried and put into teas with other herbs.

Cook rhubard https://aprettylifeinthesuburbs.com/easy-stewed-rhubarb/

Lu Hui or Aloe is cold, bitter and enters the large intestines, liver and stomach channels. It is used to drain liver fire, clear heat, and kill parasites. Aloe is now in many drinks but you need 1.5 to 4 grams and the drinks are watered down. Do not use if pregnant. Many grocery stores sell this. cooking with aloe https://www.spiceography.com/cooking-with-aloe-vera/

Herbs that clear heat and toxicity:

Jin Yin Hua, which is honeysuckle flower is used in alot of chinese medicines for fevers including medicines for SARS and COVID-19. It clears heat, vents and disperses wind-heat, and clear damp-heat in lower part of body. It is common to make tea out of this. 6-20g, there is always a shortage during epidemics or price goes up. You might be able to buy online during these times from herbal sellers. https://dailydishrecipes.com/honeysuckle-iced-tea/

Lu Duo or Mung bean, is made as a desert often in the summer. It is cold and sweet and enters the heart and stomach. It clears summerheat, and used as a antidote in Fu Zi poisoning. Fu Zi is an herb used if a patients yang qi collapses. 9-30g, should not use if having diarrhea or loose stools. It is easy to find in asian markets.

Mung beans https://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/how-to-use-mung-beans/

Xi Gua or Watermelon is good to clear heat in the summertime. It is cold and sweet, enters the heat and stomach channels. It generated fluids, promotes urination, and expels jaundice. Use only in summer and extremely hot days when outside in the heat. Grocery stores have this.

Herbs that clear damp: Damp in asian medicine is accumulated water and fat in the body. It makes people feel fatigue, heavy, tired. Moving Qi like exercises helps to relieve damp.

Yi Yi Ren or Job’s tear barely is cool, sweet/bland, and enters the lungs , spleen, stomach, and kidney channels. It facilitates resolution dampness, strengthens the spleen, clears heat and damp-heat. It can be found in asian markets. 9-30g. https://www.drinkmagazine.asia/2017/06/21/heres-need-know-jobs-tears/

Yu Mi Xu is Corn silk, that part of the corn we all disregard. It is used as a tea after it is dried. It is neutral, sweet/bland, and enters the kidney and liver channels. It is used to promote urination, reduce edema, unblock painful dribbling urination, clears damp heat in liver and gallbladder with hepatitis, great for patient with hypertension or diabetes. This is usually sold as a tea in asian grocery stores. https://topictea.com/blogs/tea-blog/corn-silk-tea

Herbs that clear wind-damp, this is damp that gets into the muscles and makes them ache and heavy.

Mu Gua or Papaya is a warm and sour herb that enters the liver and spleen. It relaxes sinews, unblocks the channels, harmonizes the stomach, transforms damp, and reduces food stagnation. I believe this is the green papaya used in Thai papaya salad “Som Tom”. 6-12g https://hot-thai-kitchen.com/papaya-salad-v3/

Herbs that transform phlegm heat. Phlegm heat is heat combined with phlegm and creates masses in the body. These herb will cool it and help remove it.

Hai Zao or seaweed, the kind often used in sushi is cold, bitter, salty and enters the kidneys, liver, lungs, and stomach. It will soften areas of hardness, clear damp-heat, and reduce edema. 6-15g. Asian markets should have. You can add to Miso soup. https://veganheaven.org/recipe/vegan-sushi/

Bi Qi or water chestnuts, those annoying crunchy vegetables in stir fry are actually medicinal. They are cold and sweet, and enter the lungs, stomach, and large intestines. They clear heat and transform phlegm. 30-120g. can be found in many markets. Best to put in a stir-fry with warming vegetables. https://www.finecooking.com/recipe/sauteed-green-beans-with-water-chestnuts-and-ginger

Aromatic herbs that transform damp. I like most of these in Chai Tea,

Bai Dou Kou is White Cardamon. It is warm, acrid, aromatic and enters the lungs, spleen and stomach. It promotes the movement of Qi, transforms damp, strengthens the stomach, warms middle jiao, and causes rebellious qi to descend (vomit, burping). This can be found in many Grocery stores or asian markets, Indian markets. The black Cardamon variation is nearly the same actions. https://www.food.com/recipe/cardamom-tea-166729

Herbs that help food stagnation. Food stagnation is a real problem we don’t think about in the west. That full and bloated feeling we get when we eat more than we need to. Walking after a big meal or even doing a round of some kind of movement like Qigong or Tai Chi Chuan helps food stagnation as well.

Shan Zha aka Hawthorn berry is great for this. I usually use a tincture and add the recommended amount into a after dinner tea drink. This herb is warm, sour, sweet and enters the liver, spleen and stomach channels. It reduces food stagnation from greasy foods and meat, invigorates blood flow, and alleviates diarrhea and dysentery. 9-12g. I use the tincture you can get at health food stores. https://blog.mountainroseherbs.com/hawthorn-elixir-for-the-heart

Herbs that regulate Qi. This is when Qi is not balanced or moving enough and can cause distention in the body and organs.

Chen Pi or Tangerine peel is used in asian cooking as “orange peel”. It can be added to teas. It is warm, aromatic, acrid, and bitter. it enters the lungs, spleen, and stomach while promoting qi flow and drying damp. 3-9g. Usually found in Asian markets. You can also add to stir fry. Orange marmalade can be put on toast or bagel. https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/148647/orange-peel-beef/

Herbs that invigorate the blood. Blood stagnation (a blood traffic jam) or blood stasis (weakness of the blood vessels) are a leading cause of pain in a patient.

Jiang Huang is Tumeric, and is used in alot of Indian dry curries and Thai wet curries. It is warm, acrib, bitter, and enters the spleen , stomach, and liver channels. It invigorates the blood, breaks up blood stasis, drives qi downward, treats wind-damp and painful obstruction. Pregnant women should not use. 3-9g. This is easy to find and make. There are many kinds of curries to try. I do suggest to rarely go out and eat some Indian or Thai food and try curry once in a while. Those foods are from hot regions of the world and spices help a person to sweat to avoid heat strokes. Take note that Indian people have the lowest rate of dementia due to the high use of this herb in their diet. https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/turmeric-recipes

Hong Hua or Safflower is warm, acrid, and enters the Heart and Liver channels. it helps to invigorate blood and stop pain. This is used in cooking oil and teas. Asian markets will have this. 3-9g. Not for pregnant or blood def. patients. https://www.thenaturalhealthmarket.co.uk/blogs/news/getting-to-know-organic-safflower-tea-html

Fan Honghua is Saffron, which is a cold and sweet herb. It enters the heart and liver channels, and is said to invigorate blood, dispel stasis, and cool blood. Saffron is sold as a tea in some markets and stores. There are some meals that can be prepared with saffron as well. 1.5-6g. not for pregnant patient. https://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/saffron-rice/

Ru Xiang or Frankincense and Mo Yao or Myrrh are warm, acrid, bitter, and enters the heart, liver, and spleen channels. They are used in a lot in “hit medicines” traditionally for martial art injuries to assist in the generation of the flesh. Both Invigorate blood, promote movement of Qi, and stop pain. I personally only use these in the hit medicine to be topically applied, or incense during meditation to invigorate the olfactory nerve as a kind of aromatherapy. Do NOT Ingest. Avoid if pregnant and do no use long time as it can cause toxicity.

Herbs that warm the interior and expel cold

Ding Xiang, is cloves. This herb is warm, acrid, and enters the kidney, stomach and spleen channels. It warms the middle jiao, directs stomach qi downward, and helps to fortify the kidney yang. This is easy to find on the spice rack and can be added to Chai tea. 1-3g.https://www.spiceography.com/cooking-with-cloves/

Xiao Hui Xiang or Fennel fruit is the seed of the fennel plant. You can get it at Indian or Asian markets. I make a tea with it. It grows wild all over Virginia and is like licorice in aroma and nature. It is a warm and acrid herb that enters the liver, kidney, spleen and stomach channels. It harmonizes the middle jiao and the warms the lower burner. 3-9g. Avoid if hot type constitution. https://www.bonappetit.com/ingredient/fennel-seed

Herbs that tonify Qi are used to strengthen where there is weakness. They are used to support the normal processes of the body when deficient from Qi (vital energy), blood, yin (fluids), or yang (body heat).

Ren Shen or Ginseng is warm, sweet and bitter. It enters the lungs and spleen. It tonifies the yuan qi on the 5 organs, nourishes yin, and stops heavy bleeding. It is used in tonic teas. usually a vegetarian or vegan would need this herb or someone with cold type constitution. This is the chinese variety and sold usually as a tincture or tea. 3-9g. caution: fire, liver yang, excess yang types.

Xiang Yang shen or American Ginseng grows wild in Appalachian and Canada regions of North America. Cool, sweet, bitter and enters the heart, kidney, and lungs. It strongly tonifies the qi and yin, cools fire from yin deficiency. This can be found in health food stores. I suggest either the tea or capsule. I normally take this as a supplementary capsule with other herbal formulas I might use that already have ginseng in it, so to have a better result with local or known ginseng sources. 3-6g.https://www.amazon.com/American-Ginseng-Wisconsin-Green-Gold/dp/B00SYY11TS

Dang Shen is Codonopsis, a neutral (does not change body temperature) and sweet, and enters the lung and spleen channels. It is often paired with ginseng. It tonifies the middle jiao, augments the spleen and lung qi. It can be found in health food stores usually around the mushroom area of store. 6-9g. Do not take if sick: cold, flu, etc.

Huang Qi or Astragalus is often paired with ginseng as well. Especially in formulas to ward off pathogens. The herbal formula Yu ping Feng San or “Jade Wind Screen” was used in the first SARS outbreak to help those on the frontline. I use the same formula in cycles at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. This herb is warm, sweet, and enters the lung and spleen channels. It helps to raise the Yang Qi (body heat) tonify the spleen and lungs, stop sweating (notice the opposite of the release exterior herbs), facilitate urination, and discharge pus. I take this in formula or the yellow herb that astragalus is can be found in health food stores or asian markets. I suggest combine with ginseng using the tea, formula, but talk to your herbalist about it first. 9-15g

Shan yao is also known as Chinese Yam. It is a herb neutral, sweet, and enters the kidney, lung and spleen channels. It tonifies the yin and Qi of the spleen, lung, and kidney. It secures the ‘essence’ which is our jing, or hormones that keep us youthful. It is used in skin cosmetics as well. Shan yao is often used in many formulas, it is not really used on its own. It can be added to soups and stews that might call for it. 9-30g. It is usually found in the herbal section of chinese grocery store. https://thewoksoflife.com/cantonese-pork-soup-carrot-chinese-yam/

Da Zao, is the herb Jujube which is like a red date. It is used in many formulas and teas. I normally buy this in a jar of honey that they make as a tonic tea in asian markets. the brand is usually korean. They have one for Ginger as well. This herb is warm and sweet, and known to enter the spleen and stomach channels. It strongly tonifies Qi and blood, generates fluids, harmonizes spleen and can moderate the toxicity of other herbs. 10-30g. https://www.yummly.com/recipes?q=jujube%20fruit&gs=c1eb43

Gan Cao is licorice root. This neutral and sweet herb enters all the channels especially heart, lung and spleen. It is used in many formulas as the envoy herb assisting other herbs. This herb tonifies the spleen qi, moistens the lungs, moderates toxicity and drains fire. I recommend to take this with peppermint tea at night and use the tincture, adding the recommended dose to the tea. 1.5 to 9g. https://store.newwayherbs.com/licorice-root–glycyrrhiza-glabra-p60.aspx

Huang jing is the herb Solomon Seal. This is a tea that can be found in asian markets. It is neutral, sweet, and enters the lungs, kidney, and spleen channels. It tonifies qi, nourishes yin and augments the jing-essence. 9-15g. Do not take if congested with phlegm. https://www.livestrong.com/article/95841-health-benefits-solomons-seal-tea/

Herbs that tonify blood. This is for deficient blood or to nourish the blood. A pallid face, dizziness, vertigo, lethargy, heart palpitations, dry skin, menstrual irregularities are signs and symptoms. These herbs help the heart, spleen, and liver the most.

He Shou Wu or Fleeceflower root is sold in health food stores as “Foti root”. It is a warm, bitter, and astringent herb that enters the liver and kidney channels. It nourishes the blood and yin and preserves the jing-essence. This is best used in a tincture. I’ll usually add a few drops to some green tea from time to time. 9-30g. Caution taking if you have loose stools, diarrhea, damp or phlegm conditions. https://www.amazon.com/Fo-Ti-Tieng-Shou-bags-517022/dp/B008X8PGLE

Dang Gui or Angelica root is an excellent herb women can use and is often in may herbal formulas that helps women. of course it is best to take this herb in a formula rather than by itself. It needs other herbs to balance it. It is warm, sweet, and acrib. It enters the heart, liver and spleen channels. It tonifies the blood, invigorates blood, regulates menstruation, and alleviates pain. 4.5 to 15g. Caution taking if you have loose stools, diarrhea, damp or phlegm conditions. https://delishhomecook.com/2017/08/12/herbal-tea-dang-gui/

Herbs that Tonify the Yang (body heat and metabolism). These herbs are warm and drying, so caution as it can injure the yin and assist fire. These are normally used with qi transformation issues where kidney, spleen, and heart are yang deficient. Yang deficiency can be sensations of feeling cold, lower back pain, weak knees and pulse. Infertility, impotence, and signs of weak kidney yang.

Dong Chong Xia Cao (Cordyceps) which is a warm and sweet herb that enters the lung and kidneys. It gently tonifies the kidney yang, augments the essence, tonifies the lungs, settles cough, and stops sweating. This is a type of fungus and often found in the mushroom section of the health food store. 3-9g. This is often used in tonic formulas and teas that include several mushrooms to assist the immune system. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cordyceps-benefits

Hu Lu Ba is the herb Fenugreek. A warm, bitter herb that enters the kidney and liver. women use it to assist in breast milk production. It fortifies primal yang, drives out cold and damp, and treats cold type pain. 4.5 to 9 grams. This can be taken as a tea. https://www.stylecraze.com/articles/amazing-health-benefits-of-fenugreek-tea/

He Tao Ren is the walnut. A warm, sweet herb that enters the kidney, intestine, and lung channels. Tonifes the kidney and lungs, alleviates lower back pain, settles wheezing, moistens the intestines and is a brain tonic. 9-15g. https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/candied-walnuts/

Yin deficiency herbs, these are used in the cases of dryness. In the lungs it may present as dry cough, dry throat, dry skin, and thirst. Stomach as lack of stomach fluids, lack of appetite, irritability, dry mouth, and constipation. Liver dryness affect the eyes making them dry, dull eyes, night blindness, dizziness and vertigo. Kidney dryness can be lower back pain, tinnitus, dizziness, warm palms, afternoon fever, and diminished sex drive.

Hei Zhi Ma is black seasame. Easy to find in asian grocery store. This herb is neutral, sweet, and enters the kidney, liver, and intestine channels. It tonifies liver and kidney, augments the yin and blood, and lubricates the intestines. This herb can be sprinkled on various foods and salads. 9-30g https://www.snixykitchen.com/black-sesame-brittle/

Xiang Yang shen or American Ginseng grows wild in Appalachian and Canada regions of North America. Cool, sweet, bitter and enters the heart, kidney, and lungs. It strongly tonifies the qi and yin, cools fire from yin deficiency. This can be found in health food stores. I suggest either the tea or capsule. I normally take this as a supplementary capsule with other herbal formulas I might use that already have ginseng in it, so to have a better result with local or known ginseng sources. 3-6g.

Substances that calm the mind: These herbs calm the shen aka the heart-mind in chinese medicine.

Ling Zhi is the Reishi mushroom. It is sold in health food stores. This herb is neutral and sweet, and enters the heart, liver and lung channels. 3-15 g. This herb calms the spirit, augments the heart qi, tonifies the heart blood, tonifies the lung qi, transforms phlegm, tonifies the qi, and nourishes the blood. This is used in alot of immune system formulas at the health food store. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9690-reishi-tea

Herbs that kill parasites:

Da Suan (Garlic bulb) is warming herb, acrid, which enters the large intestines, lungs, spleen and stomach. It helps with moving food stagnation and meat, unblocks accumulations, promotes qi movement, expels damp-cold, and kills parasites. You can cook with garlic. Garlic bread rocks. 4.5-9 grams. https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/garlic-recipes

Also see Lu Hui aka Aloe above..

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