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Apricot seeds

Chinese: 杏仁

Pinyin: Xìng Rén

Parts used: Dried ripe seeds

TCM category: Herbs that relieve coughing and wheezing

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): BitterSweet

Organ affinity: Large intestine Lung

Scientific name: Prunus armeniaca, Prunus sibirica or Prunus mandshurica

Use of apricot seeds (Xing Ren) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove the seeds from the apricot and dry them.

Dosage: 3 - 9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Stops cough and wheezing caused by either Heat or Cold. Lubricates the Intestines and relieves constipation.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which apricot seeds may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Coughing Asthma Bronchitis Dry cough Constipation

Contraindications*: This herb should be used with caution when there is Yin Deficiency and with infants. It should not be used when there is diarrhea. Eating too much may cause cyanide intoxication because apricot seeds contain hydrocyanic glycosides.

Common TCM formulas in which apricot seeds (Xing Ren) are used*

Xing Su San

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Dry-Cold. Disseminates the Lung Qi and relieves cough. Transforms thin mucus.

Conditions targeted*: Common coldBronchitis and others

Xing Ren is a king ingredient in Xing Su San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Xing Su San, Xing Ren disseminates the Lung Qi and stops coughing. 

Read more about Xing Su San

Xuan Bi Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears and resolves Damp-Heat. Unblocks the meridians. Disbands painful obstruction.

Conditions targeted*: Rheumatic feverRheumatoid arthritis and others

Xing Ren is a deputy ingredient in Xuan Bi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Xuan Bi Tang, Xing Ren regulates the Lungs' function in water metabolism.

Read more about Xuan Bi Tang

Ding Chuan Tang

Source date: 1550 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Lung Heat. Expectorant for asthma.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic bronchitisAsthma and others

Xing Ren is an assistant ingredient in Ding Chuan Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Ding Chuan Tang, Xing Ren reinforces the actions of Ephedra (Ma Huang) in expanding the Lungs and arresting the wheezing.

Read more about Ding Chuan Tang

Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan

Source date: 1584 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat. Transforms Phlegm. Directs Rebellious Qi downwards. Stops coughing.

Conditions targeted*: PneumoniaChronic bronchitis and others

Xing Ren is an assistant ingredient in Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

Read more about Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan

Da Qing Long Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Promotes sweating. Releases the Exterior. Clears Interior Heat.

Conditions targeted*: Upper respiratory tract infectionsInfluenza and others

Xing Ren is an assistant ingredient in Da Qing Long Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Da Qing Long Tang, Xing Ren directs Lung Qi downward and balances the dispersive action of the key herb here, Ephedra (Ma Huang). Also, its oily nature moderates the damage to the Lungs made by Ephedra's drying effect.

Read more about Da Qing Long Tang

Key TCM concepts behind apricot seeds (Xing Ren)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), apricot seeds are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that relieve coughing and wheezing' category. In TCM Phlegm is a condition of Stagnation of Fluids which tends to start in the Spleen and then goes to the Lungs. If this overly accumulates it thickens and becomes pathological Phlegm. Phlegm, being a form of Stagnation, often starts as being Cool and transforms to Hot as the condition progresses. Herbs that relieve coughing and wheezing treat branch symptoms of this Stagnation and tend to have antitussive, expectorant, diuretic or laxative properties.

Furthermore apricot seeds are plants that are Warm in nature. This means that apricot seeds tend to help people who have too much 'Cold' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Cold in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess(because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition apricot seeds can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Apricot seeds also taste Bitter and Sweet. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like apricot seeds tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. On the other hand Sweet ingredients tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such apricot seeds are thought to target the Large intestine and the Lung. In TCM the Large Intestine receives the "impure" parts of the digested food from the Small Intestine, absorbs the remaining fluids and excrete the remainder as feces. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought in TCM to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the Body Fluids that nourish the body.

Research on apricot seeds (Xing Ren)

Methanol and water extracts of sweet and bitter apricot (Prunus armeniaca L.) kernels display significant antimicrobial, and antioxidant activity.1

Sources:

1. D Yiğit, N Yiğit, A Mavi (2009). "Antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of bitter and sweet apricot (Prunus armeniaca L.) kernels". Braz J Med Biol Res, Volume 42(4) 346-352

Use of apricot seeds (Xing Ren) as food

Apricot seeds are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Apricot Amaretti Cookies.