Kun Bu (Kombu) in Chinese Medicine

English: Kombu

Chinese: 昆布

Parts used: Dried thalline

TCM category: Cool herbs that transform Phlegm and stop Cough

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Salty

Organ affinity: Kidney Liver Stomach

Scientific name: Laminaria japonica or Ecklonia kurome

Other names: Kelp, Dasima, Hai dai

Use of Kun Bu (kombu) 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 impurities, rinse, cut and dry

Dosage: 9 - 15 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Softens hardness, Cools Hot phlegm. Encourages urination and lessens edema.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Kun Bu may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Goiter Edema Lymphadenitis Swollen lymph nodes

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Coldness due to Spleen and Stomach Deficiency.

Common TCM formulas in which Kun Bu is used*

San Zhong Kui Jian Tang

Source date: 1336 AD

Number of ingredients: 17 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat and resolves Toxicity. Reduces swelling. Induces ulceration. Moves the Blood and dispels stasis .

Conditions targeted*: GoiterScrofula and others

Kun Bu is a deputy ingredient in San Zhong Kui Jian Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In San Zhong Kui Jian Tang, Kun Bu is salty, transforms Phlegm and softens hardness. 

Read more about San Zhong Kui Jian Tang

Key TCM concepts behind Kun Bu's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Kun Bu belongs 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 Kun Bu is Cold in nature. This means that Kun Bu 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 Kun Bu can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Kun Bu also tastes Salty. 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. Salty ingredients like Kun Bu tends to have a draining effect in the body because they clear accumulations, remove Phlegm and soften hard lumps.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Kun Bu is thought to target the Kidney, the Liver and the Stomach. According to TCM, 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. The Liver on the other hand is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and the Body Fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions. 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.

Research on Kun Bu

Short-term dietary supplementation with kelp significantly increases both basal and poststimulation thyroid-stimulating hormone.1


1. Clark CD, Bassett B, Burge MR. (2003). Effects of kelp supplementation on thyroid function in euthyroid subjects. Endocr Pract. , 9(5):363-9.

Use of Kun Bu as food

Kun Bu is also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Kombu Seaweed Salad or Miso Soup.