Bi Ba (Long peppers) in Chinese Medicine

English: Long peppers

Chinese: 荜茇

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

Organ affinity: Large intestine Stomach

Scientific name: Piper longum

Use of Bi Ba (long peppers) 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: 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 Bi Ba 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 Bi Ba is used*

Su He Xiang Wan

Source date: 752 AD

Number of ingredients: 15 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and aromatically opens the sensory orifices. Promotes the movement of Qi. Transforms turbidity.

Conditions targeted*: Cerebrovascular accidentEncephalitis and others

Bi Ba is a deputy ingredient in Su He Xiang Wan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Su He Xiang Wan, Bi Ba reinforces the actions of warming the Middle Burner, dispelling Cold, arresting pain, and opening up areas of Stagnation. 

Read more about Su He Xiang Wan

Key TCM concepts behind Bi Ba's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Bi Ba belongs to the 'Herbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold' category. Herbs in this category are used for Internal Cold with Qi Deficiency and/or Yang Deficiency. In the Yin and Yang system of thought 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 Bi Ba is Hot in nature. This means that Bi Ba typically helps 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 Bi Ba can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Bi Ba also tastes Bitter. 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. Bitter ingredients like Bi Ba tends 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 Bi Ba is thought to target the Large intestine and the Stomach. In TCM the Large Intestine receives the "impure" parts of the digested food from the Small Intestine, absorbs the remaining fluids and excrete the remainder as feces. The Stomach on the other hand 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 Bi Ba

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


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 Bi Ba as food

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