English: Aristolochia fruits

Chinese: 马兜铃

Parts used: Fruits

TCM category: Herbs that relieve coughing and wheezing

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Bitter

Organ affinity: Large intestine Lung

Scientific name: Aristolochia debilis

Other names: Birthwort, Slender Dutchman's pipe, Pipevine, Dutchman's pipe

Use of Ma Dou Ling (aristolochia fruits) 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: Collect fruits, remove impurities, wash and dry

Dosage: 3-9g

Main actions according to TCM*: Opens the Lungs and transforms Phlegm. Clears Heat in the Lungs so as to treat cough caused by Heat or Deficiency. Lowers blood pressure for hypertension.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Ma Dou Ling may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Asthma Cough and wheezing with abundant phlegm Cough and wheezing with yellow sputum Hypertension

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used in cases of Spleen Deficiency with diarrhea or conditions of Cold and Deficiency with cough and wheezing.

Common TCM formulas in which Ma Dou Ling is used*

Bu Fei E Jiao Tang

Source date: 1119 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes the Yin. Controls coughing. Stops bleeding. Tonifies the Lungs.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic bronchitisBronchiectasis and others

Ma Dou Ling is a deputy ingredient in Bu Fei E Jiao Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Bu Fei E Jiao Tang, Ma Dou Ling clears Heat and stops the coughing. 

Read more about Bu Fei E Jiao Tang

Key TCM concepts behind Ma Dou Ling's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ma Dou Ling belongs 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 Ma Dou Ling is Cold in nature. This means that Ma Dou Ling typically helps people who have too much 'Heat' in their body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Heat in their body are said to either have a Yang Excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition Ma Dou Ling can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Ma Dou Ling also tastes Bitter. 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 Ma Dou Ling tends to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Ma Dou Ling is 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.