Kombu (Kūn Bù) in Chinese medicine

Kombu

Chinese: 昆布

Pinyin: Kūn Bù

Parts used: Dried thalline

TCM category: Cool herbs that transform Phlegm and stop Cough

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Salty

Meridian affinity: StomachKidneyLiver

Scientific name: Laminaria japonica or Ecklonia kurome

Other names: Kelp, Dasima, Hai dai

Use of kombu (Kūn Bù) 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, 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 kombu 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 kombu are used*:

Key TCM concepts behind kombu's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), kombu 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 kombu are plants that are Cold in nature. This means that kombu 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 kombu can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Kombu also taste Salty. 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. Salty ingredients like kombu tend 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 kombu are thought to target the Stomach, the Kidney and the Liver. 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. The Liver is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and body fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on kombu

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

Sources:

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 kombu as food

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