Mu Li ke (Oyster shells) in Chinese Medicine

English: Oyster shells

Chinese: 牡蛎壳

Parts used: The shell

TCM category: Herbs that anchor and calm the SpiritHerbs that pacify Internal Liver Wind and stop Tremors

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Salty

Organ affinity: Bladder Gallbladder Kidney Liver

Scientific name: Ostrea

Other names: Mu Li

Use of Mu Li ke (oyster shells) 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: Collect shells and dry. Crush before use

Dosage: 15 - 30 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Calms and anchors the spirit. Moistens Dryness. Softens and removes lumps. Nourish the Yin and subdues the overflowing of the Yang,

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Mu Li ke may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Palpitations Insomnia Dizziness Tinnitus Scrofula Abdominal bloating Night sweats Urinary incontinence Abnormal uterine bleeding Leukorrhea Vaginal discharge Headache Restlessness

Contraindications*: Oyster shells should not be used by those who are Cold and weak nor by those with high fever without sweating.

Common TCM formulas in which Mu Li ke is used*

Mu Li San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Inhibits sweating . Stabilizes the exterior.

Conditions targeted*: Excessive sweatingPostpartum excessive sweating and others

Mu Li ke is a king ingredient in Mu Li San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Mu Li San, Mu Li ke salty and slightly cooling. It restrains the Yin, anchors the floating Yang, inhibits sweating, and relieves irritability. 

The combination of the key and deputy herbs, one of which benefits the Nutritive level and the other the Protective level, is especially effective in treating this condition.

Read more about Mu Li San

Feng Yin Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Extinguishes and pacifies Wind with heavy medicinals. Calms the Mind. Clears Heat.

Conditions targeted*: EpilepsyStroke and others

Mu Li ke is a king ingredient in Feng Yin Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Feng Yin Tang, Mu Li ke is heavy in nature and is used to pacify the Wind. It also calm the Mind

Read more about Feng Yin Tang

Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Rectifies relationship between Yin and Yang. Harmonizes Heart and Kidney. Stabilizes and secures Essence.

Conditions targeted*: EnuresisUrinary incontinence and others

Mu Li ke is a deputy ingredient in Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang, Mu Li ke pulls the action of the formula into the Interior, particularly the Heart

Read more about Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang

Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang

Source date: 1918 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Sedates the Liver. Axtinguishes Wind. Nourishes the Yin. Anchors the yang.

Conditions targeted*: HypertensionRenal hypertension and others

Mu Li ke is a deputy ingredient in Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang, Mu Li ke can restrain Fire and extinguish Wind

Read more about Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang

Chai Hu Gui Jiang Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Harmonizes and releases the Lesser Yang. Removes Stagnation . Warms the Interior. Dispels Cold.

Conditions targeted*: Common coldMalaria and others

Mu Li ke is a deputy ingredient in Chai Hu Gui Jiang Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Chai Hu Gui Jiang Tang, Mu Li ke assists the action of the key herbs by focusing on the lurking Heat in the Interior.

It has a long history in the treatment of malarial disorders. Its cooling action is of undoubted importance, its ability to soften and thereby remove constraint is equally useful. It is also recommended for expelling pathogens from the Greater Yang, Lesser Yang, and Terminal Yin Channels.

Read more about Chai Hu Gui Jiang Tang

Gu Chong Tang

Source date: 1918-1934

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Augments Qi . Strengthens the Spleen. Stabilizes the Penetrating Vessel. Stops bleeding.

Conditions targeted*: Dysfunctional uterine bleedingPostpartum bleeding and others

Mu Li ke is a deputy ingredient in Gu Chong Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Gu Chong Tang, Mu Li ke is frequently used to stop Body Fluid leakage (secure leakage)

The combination of Dragon bones and Oyster shells focuses on stabilizing the Penetrating Vessel. It also works with the key herb to strenghten the Original Qi of the Lower Burner. 

Both ingredients should be calcined as this process enhances their astringent, binding properties further. 

Read more about Gu Chong Tang

Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan

Source date: 1682 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Stabilizes the Kidneys. Binds up the semen.

Conditions targeted*: Sexual dysfunctionChyluria and others

Mu Li ke is an assistant ingredient in Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

Read more about Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan

E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang

Source date: the Qing dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Yin. Nourishes Blood. Calms the Liver. Extinguishes Wind.

Conditions targeted*: EncephalitisMeningitis and others

Mu Li ke is an assistant ingredient in E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang, Mu Li ke sedates the rising Yang and extinguishes Wind.

Read more about E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang

Qing Re Gu Jing Tang

Source date: 1988

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Empty Heat. Tonifies the Kidney Yin. Stops bleeding. Supplies Body Fluids.

Conditions targeted*: MetrorrhagiaThreatened miscarriage and others

Mu Li ke is an assistant ingredient in Qing Re Gu Jing Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Qing Re Gu Jing Tang, Mu Li ke calms the Liver by benefiting the Yin and anchoring Floating Yang.  It also prevents leakage of Body Fluids and removes Stagnation. 

Read more about Qing Re Gu Jing Tang

Chai Hu Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Unblocks the three Yang warps. Sedates and calms the Spirit.

Conditions targeted*: NeurosisDepression and others

Mu Li ke is an assistant ingredient in Chai Hu Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Chai Hu Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang, Mu Li ke is a mineral substance that weighs down and calms the floating spirit.

Read more about Chai Hu Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang

Tu Si Zi Wan

Source date: 1253 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Kidneys. Prevents abnormal leakage such as urinary incontinence or seminal emissions.

Conditions targeted*: Urinary incontinenceSeminal emission and others

Mu Li ke is an assistant ingredient in Tu Si Zi Wan. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Tu Si Zi Wan, Mu Li ke assists the key herbs in strengthening the Kidney Qi. 

Read more about Tu Si Zi Wan

Key TCM concepts behind Mu Li ke's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Mu Li ke belongs to the 'Herbs that anchor and calm the Spirit' category. These herbs are substances that tranquilize the Mind and treat symptoms such as restlessness, palpitations, anxiety or insomnia. They tend to have sedative properties by weighing the Qi downwards and should generally be used for a limited time only.

Furthermore Mu Li ke is Cold in nature. This means that Mu Li ke 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 Mu Li ke can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Mu Li ke 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 Mu Li ke 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 Mu Li ke is thought to target the Bladder, the Gallbladder, the Kidney and the Liver. In TCM the impure water collected by the Kidneys that cannot be used by the body is sent to the Bladder for storage and excretion as urine. Similar to modern medicine, in TCM the Gallbladder stores and releases bile produced by the Liver. It also controls the emotion of decisiveness. 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 the Body Fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on Mu Li ke

Oyster shell electrolysate may favorably influence osteoporosis by providing a readily available source of calcium.1

Sources:

1. Fujita T, Fukase M, Miyamoto H, Matsumoto T, Ohue T. (1990). Increase of bone mineral density by calcium supplement with oyster shell electrolysate. Bone Miner. , 11(1):85-91.