English: Lily bulbs

Chinese: 百合

Parts used: Dried fleshly scale leaves of the bulb

TCM category: Tonic herbs for Yin Deficiency

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Organ affinity: Heart Lung

Scientific name: Lilium lancifolium, Lilium brownii or Lilium pumpilum

Use of Bai He (lily bulbs) 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: Wash the bulb, strip its leaves, boil them quickly in water, dry them.

Dosage: 6 to 12g.

Main actions according to TCM*: Clears Heat and stops cough due to either Lung Yin Deficiency or Lung-Heat. Clears Heat from the Heart and calms the Spirit (Shen).

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Bai He may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Whooping cough Sputum Palpitations Restlessness Insomnia Bronchitis Pneumonia

Contraindications*: Should not be used by those with Wind-Cold conditions when there is Phlegm, nor should it be used when there is Spleen Deficiency with diarrhea.

Common TCM formulas in which Bai He is used*

Bai He Gu Jin Tang

Source date: 1573 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Lung and Kidney Yin. Lubricates the Lung and clears phlegm.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic bronchitisChronic pharyngitis and others

Bai He is a king ingredient in Bai He Gu Jin Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Bai He Gu Jin Tang, Bai He moistens and nourishes Dryness in the Lungs, and clears Heat.

Read more about Bai He Gu Jin Tang

Bai He Di Huang Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 2 herbs

Formula key actions: Moistens the Lungs. Enriches the Body Fluids. Clears Heat and cools the Blood .

Conditions targeted*: Acute febrile diseasesPerimenopausal syndrome and others

Bai He is a king ingredient in Bai He Di Huang Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Bai He Di Huang Tang, Bai He is sweet, slightly bitter, and cooling, despite that the Classic Materia Medica calls it sweet and neutral. 

Its main indications, in ancient and modern practice, is to clear and drain Heat, as well as direct it downward.

The Classic of the Materia Medica and Miscellaneous Records states that it 'governs pathogenic Qi' and 'governs chills and fevers', which refers to the herb's ability to open up areas of clumping, and its action of unblocking, facilitating, draining, and guiding out. It is due to slippery and moistening nature. 

Classic of the Materia Medica also says that it tonifies the Middle and augments the Qi. It also calms the Mind and strengthens the ability to resolve things. This indicates the elimination of pathogenic Heat and recovery of normal Qi. It does not mean this sweet, cold herb tonifies the Qi.

Read more about Bai He Di Huang Tang

Xin Yi Qing Fei Yin

Source date: 1617

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Spreads Lung Qi. Clears Heat. Unblocks the orifices (specifically the nose) .

Conditions targeted*: Nasal polypsSinusitis and others

Bai He is a deputy ingredient in Xin Yi Qing Fei Yin. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Xin Yi Qing Fei Yin, Bai He enhances the Yin and moisten the Lungs so as to offset damage to the Lung Yin caused by the drying herbs in the formula and the stagnant Heat inherent in this disorder. 

Dwarf lilyturf root and Lily bulb work together for this purpose. 

Read more about Xin Yi Qing Fei Yin

Key TCM concepts behind Bai He's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Bai He belongs to the 'Tonic herbs for Yin Deficiency' category. Tonic herbs are used for patterns of Deficiency, when one lacks one of the 'Four Treasures' (Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang). Yin tonics have a heavy, moist nature. They either nourish the Kidneys and Liver or moisten the Lungs and Stomach. Extreme Yin Deficiency often translates into a 'burn-out', unfortunately more and more common among people today. It is worth mentioning that another great remedy against Yin Deficiency is a lot of rest and sleep; no herb will ever be able to replace this!

Furthermore Bai He is Cold in nature. This means that Bai He 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 Bai He can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Bai He also tastes 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. Sweet ingredients like Bai He tends 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 He is thought to target the Heart and the Lung. In addition to regulating Blood flow, in TCM the Heart is believed to be the store of the 'Mind' which basically refers to someone's vitality. 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 Bai He

Lily bulbs from Lilium lancifolium have anti-inflammatory effects.1


1.OK Kwon, MY Lee, JE Yuk, SR Oh; et al (2010). Anti-inflammatory effects of methanol extracts of the root of Lilium lancifolium on LPS-stimulated Raw264.7 cells. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Volume 130, Issue 1, Pages 28-34

Use of Bai He as food

Bai He is also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Stir-fried lily bulb and celery.