English: Cynanchum roots and rhizomes

Chinese: 白前

Parts used: The root and rhizome

TCM category: Warm herbs that transform Phlegm and stop Cough

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): PungentSweet

Organ affinity: Lung

Scientific name: Cynanchum stauntonii, Cynanchum glaucescens

Other names: Willowleaf swallowwort, Glaucescent swallowwort, Prime white,

Use of Bai Qian (cynanchum roots and rhizomes) 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 the root and rhizome, remove impurities, clean and dry.

Dosage: 3-10g

Main actions according to TCM*: Descends Rebellious Qi to clear Phlegm. Relieve coughing.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Bai Qian may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Cough with abundant phlegm Wheezing

Contraindications*: Contraindicated for the patients with coughing due to Lung Yin Deficiency or Lung Qi and Kidney Yang Deficiency with Kidneys failing to receive Qi.

Common TCM formulas in which Bai Qian is used*

Zhi Sou San

Source date: 1732 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Transforms Phlegm and stops coughing. Disperses the Exterior. Spreads the Lung Qi.

Conditions targeted*: Upper respiratory tract infectionsAcute bronchitis and others

Bai Qian is a deputy ingredient in Zhi Sou San. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Zhi Sou San, Bai Qian focuses on opening the Lung Qi Stagnation, by directing the Lung Qi downward. 

It assists the key herbs in treating the root of coughing. 

Read more about Zhi Sou San

Key TCM concepts behind Bai Qian's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Bai Qian belongs to the 'Warm 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 Warm in nature so they treat the early stages of the Stagnation: Cold-Phlegm and Wet-Phlegm with symptoms of wheezing, vomiting and nausea.

As suggested by its category Bai Qian is Warm in nature. This means that Bai Qian tends 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 Bai Qian can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Bai Qian also tastes Pungent 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. Pungent ingredients like Bai Qian tends to promote the circulations of Qi and Body Fluids. That's why for instance someone tends to sweat a lot when they eat spicy/pungent food. 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 Bai Qian is thought to target the Lung. 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.