Houttuynia

Chinese: 鱼腥草

Pinyin: Yú Xīng Cǎo

Parts used: Fresh or dried aerial parts

TCM category: Herbs that clear Heat and relieve Toxicity

TCM nature: Cool

TCM taste(s): Pungent

Meridian affinity: Lung

Scientific name: Houttuynia cordata

Other names: Fish mint, Fish leaf, Rainbow plant, Chameleon plant, Heart leaf, Fish wort, Chinese lizard tail, Bishop's weed

Use of houttuynia (Yú Xīng Cǎo) 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: Remove impurities and dry if using dry.

Dosage: 15 - 40 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Expels Heat and toxins. Reduces inflammation and expels pus. Dispels Damp-Heat and stimulates urination.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which houttuynia may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Lung abscess Dyspnea Dysentery Coughing Carbuncles Sores Colitis Urinary tract infection

Contraindications*: This herb is contraindicated for those with Cold from Deficiency symptoms.

Common TCM formulas in which houttuynia are used*:

Key TCM concepts behind houttuynia's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), houttuynia are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that clear Heat and relieve Toxicity' category. Herbs in this category are used to clear inflammatory and infectious conditions, referred to as 'Internal Heat' in TCM. This is why most of the herbs in this category will have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. In TCM one has too much 'Heat' in their body as a result of a deficiency of 'Yin' (which is Cold in nature, see our explanation on Yin and Yang) or, more commonly, an excess of Yang (Hot in nature). Herbs that clear Heat and relieve Toxicity treat the latter while, at the same time, removing infectious toxins from the body. As such they tend to be Cold or Neutral in nature.

As suggested by its category houttuynia are plants that are Cool in nature. This means that houttuynia tend to help people who have too much "heat" in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Cold in nature. 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 houttuynia can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Houttuynia also taste Pungent. 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. Pungent ingredients like houttuynia tend 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.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what organs and meridians they target. As such houttuynia are 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.

Research on houttuynia

The steam distillate prepared from fresh plants of Houttuynia cordata Thunb. (Saururaceae) was found to have direct inhibitory activity against herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), influenza virus, and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) without showing cytotoxicity.1

Houttuynia cordata (Saururaceae) injection (HCI) is effective in inhibiting ear edema and HCI clearly has anti-inflammatory activity.2

Sources:

1. Kyoko Hayashi, Mioko Kamiya, Toshimitsu Hayashi (1995). Virucidal Effects of the Steam Distillate from Houttuynia cordata and its Components on HSV-1, Influenza Virus, and HIV. Planta Med, 61(3): 237-241. doi: 10.1055/s-2006-958063

2. HM Lu, YZ Liang, LZ Yi, XJ Wu (2006). Anti-inflammatory effect of Houttuynia cordata injection. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 104, Issues 1–2, Pages 245-249

Use of houttuynia as food

Houttuynia are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Fish mint salad.