Clam shells (Há Ké) in Chinese medicine

Clam shells

Chinese: 蛤壳

Pinyin: Há Ké

Parts used: The shell

TCM category: Cool herbs that transform Phlegm and stop Cough

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Bitter

Meridian affinity: StomachKidneyLung

Scientific name: Meretrix lyrata or Cyclina sinensis

Other names: Chinese venus. Black clam, Iron clam or Korean cyclina clam

Use of clam shells (Há Ké) 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 practitionner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Collect shells and dry. Crush before use.

Dosage: 10 - 15 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Clears heat and resolves phlegm. Softens hardness and reduces nodules. Stops pain by inhibiting acid secretion.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which clam shells may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Phlegm Chest pain Bloody sputum Scrofula Goiter Eczema Coughing Edema Stomach rumble Burns

Common TCM formulas in which clam shells are used*:

  • For goitre, lymph node swellings, glandular swellings, or nodules on the neck combine clam shells with sargassum, kombu and oyster shells.

Key TCM concepts behind clam shells' properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), clam shells are plants that belong to the 'Cool herbs that transform Phlegm and stop Cough' 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. The herbs in this category are Cold in nature so they treat the later stages of the Stagnation: Hot and Dry-Phlegm with symptoms such as cough, goiter or scrofula.

As suggested by its category clam shells are plants that are Cold in nature. This means that clam shells typically help 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 clam shells can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Clam shells also taste Bitter. The so-called "five elements" theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like clam shells tend 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 clam shells are thought to target the Stomach, the Kidney and the Lung. In TCM the Stomach is responsible for receiving and ripening ingested food and fluids. It is also tasked with descending the digested elements downwards to the Small Intestine. The Kidneys do not only regulate the urinary system but also play a key role in the reproductive system and the growth and aging process of the body. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the body fluids that nourish the body.