Long peppers (Bì Bá) in Chinese medicine

Long peppers

Chinese: 荜茇

Pinyin: Bì Bá

Parts used: Dried nearly ripe fruit-spike

TCM category: Herbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold

TCM nature: Hot

TCM taste(s): Bitter

Meridian affinity: StomachLarge intestine

Scientific name: Piper longum

Use of long peppers (Bì Bá) 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: The fruit is harvested when it has turned black, impurities are removed and it is dried. Crush before use.

Dosage: 1-3g

Main actions according to TCM*: Expels Cold from the Middle and Lower burner and relieves pain. Reverses the flow of Rebellious Qi. Applied topically for pain.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which long peppers may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Vomiting Diarrhea Abdominal pain Migraine Irregular menstruation

Contraindications*: Should not be used by those with Heat signs from either Excess or Deficiency.

Common TCM formulas in which long peppers are used*:

Key TCM concepts behind long peppers' properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), long peppers are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold' category. Herbs in this category are used for Internal Coldness with Qi and Yang Deficiency. In the Yin and Yang system of thought (see our explanation on Yin and Yang) Yang is Hot in nature. A deficiency of Yang will therefore lead to Internal Coldness since there will as a result be more Yin (Cold in nature) than Yang. In extreme cases this can lead to so-called 'Yang collapse' with convulsions or coma and these herbs are particularly indicated to treat such scenarios.

As suggested by its category long peppers are plants that are Hot in nature. This means that long peppers typically help people who have too much "cold" in their body. 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 long peppers can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Long peppers also taste Bitter. 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. Bitter ingredients like long peppers tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing heat, drying dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what organs and meridians they target. As such long peppers are thought to target the Stomach and the Large intestine. 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 Large Intestine on the other hand receives the "impure" parts of the digested food from the Small Intestine, absorbs the remaining fluids and excrete the remainder as feces.

Research on long peppers

Piper longum and its component piperine could have immunomodulatory and antitumor effects.1

Sources:

1. ES Sunila, G Kuttan (2004). "Immunomodulatory and antitumor activity of Piper longum Linn. and piperine". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Volume 90, Issues 2–3, Pages 339-346

Use of long peppers as food

Long peppers are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Roast Asparagus with Long Pepper Gremolata.